20 May 2009

Kurt Vonnegut

Monday started reading "Mother Night" by Kurt Vonnegut. I started by reading the introduction, also written by Vonnegut in 1966. I was shocked to read what was written there. Not only does this man have a pretty good way with words, but something was revealed to me that I found very interesting.

Months ago I read "Slaughterhouse Five". I had never read it before, knew I should have, and did. It was a very good book. It is about an American WWII POW who was sent to a work camp in Dresden. He works at a factory that makes prenatal vitamin elixir. He is housed in the basement of a slaughterhouse. As the story unfolds he witnesses the firebombing of Dresden by Allied forces. It was an excellent book.

Then I read the introduction to "Mother Night". Here it what he wrote...

"This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don't think it's a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is; We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
My personal experience with Nazi monkey business was limited. There were some vile and lively native American Fascists in my home town of Indianapolis during the thirties, and somebody slipped me a copy of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, I remember, which was supposed to be the Jews' secret plan for taking over the world. And i remember some laughs about my aunt, too, who married a German German, and who had to write to Indianapolis for proofs that she had no Jewish blood. The Indianapolis mayor knew her from high school and dancing school, so he had fun putting ribbons and official seals all over the documents the Germans required, which made them look like eighteenth-century peace treaties.
After a while the war came, and I was in it, and I was captured, so I got to see a little of Germany from the inside while the war was still going on. I was a private, a battalion scout, and, under the terms of the Geneva Convention, I had to work for my keep, which was good, not bad. I didn't have to stay in prison all the time, somewhere out in the countryside. I got to go to a city, which was Dresden, and to see the people and the things they did.
There were about a hundred of us in our particular work group, and we were put out as contract labor to a factory that was making a vitamin-enriched malt syrup for pregnant women. It tasted like thin honey laced with hickory smoke. It was good. I wish I had some right now. And the city was lovely, highly ornamented, like Paris, and untouched by war. It was supposedly and "open" city, not to be attacked since there were no troop concentrations or war industries there.
But high explosives were dropped on Dresden by American and British planes on the night of February 13, 1945, just about twenty-one years ago, as I now write. There were no particular targets for the bombs. The hope was that they would create a lot of kindling and drive firemen underground.
And then hundreds of thousands of tiny incendiaries were scatted over the kindling, like seeds on freshly turned loam. More bombs were dropped to keep firemen in their holes, and all the little fires grew, joined to one another, became one apocalyptic flame. Hey presto: fire storm. It was the largest massacre in European history, by the way. And so what?
We didn't get to see the fire storm. We were in a cool meat-locker under a slaughterhouse with our six guards and ranks and ranks of dressed cadavers of cattle, pigs, horses and sheep. We heard the bombs walking around up there. Now and then there would be a gentle shower of calcimine. If we had gone above to take a look, we would have been turned into artifacts characteristic of fire storms: seeming pieces of charred firewood two or three feet long- ridiculously small human beings, or jumbo fried grasshoppers, if you will.
The malt syrup factory was gone. Everything was gone but the cellars where 135,000 Hansels and Gretels had been baked like gingerbread men. So we were put to work as corpse miners, breaking into shelters, bringing bodies out. And I got to see many German types of all ages as death had found them, usually with valuables in their laps. Sometimes relatives would come to watch us dig. They were interesting, too.
So much for the Nazis and me.
If I'd been born in Germany, I suppose I would have been a Nazi, bopping Jews and gypsies and Poles around, leaving boots sticking out of snowbanks, warming myself with my secretly virtuous insides. So it goes.
There's another clear moral to this tale, now that I think about it: When you're dead you're dead.
And yet another moral occurs to me now: Make love when you can. It's good for you.
Iowa City, 1966"

So...Slaughterhouse-Five" is not total fiction!? He based that story on his own experiences? Damn!

BTW...I like the way Vonnegut writes. He is a very interesting man.

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