Simeon's Reviews > Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
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Jan 03, 2014

it was amazing
bookshelves: literature, classic, sci-fi, apocalypse
Read from June 15 to 16, 2012

There are some terrible reviews of SH5 floating around Goodreads, but one particularly awful sentiment is that Slaughterhouse-Five isn't anti-war.

This is usually based on the following quote.

"It had to be done," Rumfoord told Billy, speaking of the destruction of Dresden.
"I know," said Billy.
"That's war."
"I know. I'm not complaining"
"It must have been hell on the ground."
"It was," said Billy Pilgrim.
"Pity the men who had to do it."
"I do."
"You must have had mixed feelings, there on the ground."
"It was all right," said Billy. "Everything is all right, and everybody has to do exactly what he does. I learned that on Tralfamadore."
For context, Mr. Rumfoord is an old military historian described as "hateful and cruel" who wants to see weaklings like Billy exterminated.

On Tralfamadore, Billy was introduced to the revelation that all things happen exactly as they do, and that they will always happen that way, and that they will never happen any other way. Meaning, time is all at once. The aliens, incidentally, admit to destroying the universe in a comical accident fated far into the future, and they're very sorry, but so it goes. <- passive acceptance

The entire story up to this point has been about Billy, buffeted like a powerless pathetic leaf in a storm, pushed this way and that by forces entirely outside his tiny purview. He lays catatonically in a hospital bed after the plane crash and the death of his wife, and all the time traveling back and forth from Dresden where toddlers and families and old grannies and anti-war civilians were burned alive in a carefully organized inferno (so it goes), and Billy is about ready to agree to absolutely anything.

It can't be prevented. It can't be helped.

You're powerless, after a while. What hope have we, or anyone caught in the middle of a war, or even the poor soldiers who are nothing but pawns and children (hence the children's crusade), to influence these gigantic, global events?

Therefore, Billy agrees with the hateful, the cruel Mr. Rumfoord, who is revising his military history of WWII, having previously forgotten to mention the Dresden bombing, which cost twice as many innocent lives as the nuking of Hiroshima. Women and children, not evaporated instantly, but melted slowly by chemicals and liquid flame, their leftovers, according to Billy, lying in the street like blackened logs, or in piles of families who died together in their little homes.


Incidentally, how can anything be pro-war or anti-war? Because being anti-war is a bit like being anti-conflict, anti-death, and anti-suffering. Is there a book that's pro these things? Is there a book that touches on the subject of war and is not against it?

We don't support wars, though we are sometimes forced to accept them. Anyone who thinks that the bombing of Dresden was necessary is delusional.

It's like saying, "yo, look how they bombed these innocents - that shit was wrong! Let's go bomb some innocents, too."

That's the sad truth of it.
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Reading Progress

06/15/2012 page 250
91.0%

Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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Simeon How long has it been? I was getting around to reading SH5 for ages before I finally had the chance.


Perrystroika The idea that Pilgrim's conversation with the Air Force historian represents agreement on his part with the official version of things is ridiculous. The book has no message and no center. Pilgrim is a shattered and fragmented individual. All the book says is "I'm here. I survived." The very book's existence is a demand for recognition of suffering that has been left out of the official versions of history. That's what Rumford's acknowledgment of Pilgrim's existence means. What he says after that sounds like excuses. Pilgrim's nonresponses ironize and contextualize Rumford's small reasons. From the standpoint of the cosmos, Billy's perspective, the view of a dead man, we are all just dust.


message 3: by Simeon (last edited Jun 22, 2012 10:25AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Simeon Perrystroika wrote: "From the standpoint of the cosmos, Billy's perspective, the view of a dead man, we are all just dust."

Really well said. I completely agree.


message 4: by Liz (new) - rated it 4 stars

Liz This was an amazing review! I hate it when people say that Vonnegut "trivialized" the war when in fact, its the complete opposite.


Kyle Well put. It's annoying when people mistake Billy's resignation to Dresden as a tacit admittance by Vonnegut himself that war is so terrible that we should look away. The Tralfamarodian ethos isn't meant to be a positive one


Kealan O'ver have only recently discovered that one of the most depressing things that one can do is to go to the page of a book you love and filter the reviews by one-star to see the absolute drivel that falls out of your computer screen. Thanks for getting it.


Paul I read Slaughterhouse Five this week and I'm a bit annoyed that I'd been put off trying it by the war/sci-fi themes. I'm even more glad I didn't read that other review beforehand - I was baffled by how wrong it was. Thanks for this!


Kealan O'ver Paul wrote: "I read Slaughterhouse Five this week and I'm a bit annoyed that I'd been put off trying it by the war/sci-fi themes. I'm even more glad I didn't read that other review beforehand - I was baffled by..."

Awesome :D


Barney Pite its satire


Kinan Abbas there are a lot of books that are pro-war. like, stories about brave men who go to Vietnam to kill the bad guy are pkind of pro war. but pro-war ideologies have largely deminished since World war 1 ande after


Callie Rose Tyler I'm slightly confused by your review...you say "Incidentally, how can anything be pro-war or anti-war? Because being anti-war is a bit like being anti-conflict, anti-death, and anti-suffering. Is there a book that's pro these things? Is there a book that touches on the subject of war and is not against it?"

When I read this book I didn't feel like it was anti-war, and I view being anti-war as a bit of a naive concept in general for the very reasons you stated. I felt like it was showing the harsh realities of war, and was definitely not painting it with a heroic brush but overall I got the sense that the Tralfamadorian philosophy does hold true, things happen and you are powerless to stop them. 'So it goes' might not be a positive mantra but doesn't it hold true, people die whether there is a war going on or not.


Maggie Gammons "Do you know what I say to people when I hear they're writing anti-war books? . . . I say, 'Why don't you write an anti-glacier book instead?'"


Andrew Obrigewitsch If this book is pro war, then so is 1984, and all quit on the Western Front. Some not too bright people don't get irony at all.


Robert Mills The one thing that every misses about the former general is he probably sent men to their deaths flying bombing raids. Dresden was covered up by the allies just like coventry was covered up. It's after the fact that historians have to deal with and explain how using civilians is a time honored and horrific tactic in war. The pilot of the the Hiroshima bombing to his death said it was a necessary to drop the bomb.


message 15: by Jesse (new) - added it

Jesse Efymow Kinda like the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.... The books more realistic then you think


message 16: by Jesse (new) - added it

Jesse Efymow Kinda like the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.... The books more realistic then you think


message 17: by Greg (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg Z Simeon, I think in light of today, of what we see on TV, of beheadings, of what we now know about WW2, in light of Desert Storm and 9/11, we've unfortunately been desensitized. Some reader's may not feel as reader's felt in 1969. I can understand why some reader's might not feel the "antiwar" themes. And isn't that sad? We are now so jaded by beheadings that some can't see an antiwar message? That's horrible.


message 18: by Vijay (last edited Jan 17, 2016 08:16PM) (new) - added it

Vijay Albeit I agree with this review, the Dresden bombings were much less severe than the atomic bombings with a confirmed death toll of 25k(supported by a research conducted by the Dresden city council in 2010) whilst the death toll of the atomic bombings on Hiroshima was a conservative estimate of 150k.


message 19: by Gilkesl (new)

Gilkesl Everything Vonnegut writes is satire.


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