War as ‘Obscene Brutality’

September 26, 2008

“[The Iraq war] broke his heart. … It wasn’t until the Iraq war and the end of his life that he became sincerely gloomy.”
— Mark Vonnegut, introduction to “Armageddon in Retrospect,” by Kurt Vonnegut (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008)

All Vonnegut people know he was a POW in Dresden, spinning experience into “Slaughterhouse Five,” a most-anti-war work (probably the best, though, others might argue about “Catch 22,” but of course, that wasn’t Vonnegut).
He died in 2007, and his son, Mark Vonnegut, has since discovered some of dad’s unpublished papers/letters/reflections which eventually bled into just about all of Kurt’s enormous, multi-genre portfolio.

In this particular one, and after being led through 1945 Dresden, we cut to the chase:

  • The night they came over, we spent in an underground meat locker in a slaughterhouse.
    We were lucky, for it was the best shelter in town.
    Giants stalked the earth above us.
    First came the soft murmur of their dancing on the outskirts, then the grumbling of their plodding towards us, and finally the ear-splitting crashes of their heels upon us – and thence to the outskirts again.
    Back and forth they swept: saturation bombing.
    “I screamed and I wept and I clawed the walls of our shelter,” an old lady told me.
    “I prayed to God to ‘please, please, please, dear God, stop them’.
    But he didn’t hear me.
    No power could stop them.
    On they came, wave after wave.
    There was no way we could surrender; no way to tell them we couldn’t stand it any more.
    There was nothing anyone could do but sit and wait for morning.”
    Her daughter and grandson were killed.

Read the whole piece — back story and its ‘wink, wink” at timesonline.

While we’re on the subject, let’s NOT change the subject…
Review of Armageddon in Retrospect from New York City’s, The Indypendent:

  • “It is these short, pithy, bon mots that gave Vonnegut his shine throughout his writing career and his talents are on luminous display here.
    Even after he focused on his art (the sketches in Armageddon deserve a separate review altogether), the wisdom kept flowing as in Confetti #46: “In the U.S.A. it’s winners vs. losers and the fix is on.”
    Armageddon can be recommended to all who felt that Vonnegut articulated their frustrations with the world, and to those who haven’t, this is an entertaining gateway book to the rest of his work.”

Some hard-case, dumb-ass general reportedly once said, “War is Hell” — obviously the clown didn’t fully understand obscene brutality as nightmare in a meat locker.

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