Today is Veteran’s Day in the United States, a day commemorating all the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces. It is also, modestly ironically, the birthday of Kurt Vonnegut, a noted pacifist who died earlier this year. His opinions on war were formed while a soldier in World War II and a prisoner of war during the fire bombing of Dresden. He wrote the novel Slaughterhouse Five about his experiences in the war.
In his autobiographical collage Palm Sunday, he includes an introduction to a special edition of Slaughterhouse Five. I’ve excerpted a portion below:
Time marches on—and the key events in this book, which is the fire bombing of Dresden, is now a fossilized memory, sinking ever deeper into the tar pit of history. If American school children have heard of it all, they are surely in doubt as to whether it happened in World War One or Two. Nor do I think they should care much.
I, for one, am not avid to keep the memory of the firebombing fresh. I would of course be charmed if people continued to read this book for years to come, but not because I feel there are important lessons to be learned from the Dresden catastrophe. I myself was in the midst of it, and learned only that people can become so enraged in war that they will burn great cities to the ground and slay the inhabitants thereof.
That was nothing new.
He was being much too modest and self-effacing. The Dresden bombing is still remembered in no small part because of his book, which in now part of the post-war literary canon.
He goes on to declare himself to be the only person to profit from the Dresden atrocity. As a veteran, he witnessed first hand the terror and horror war can inflict on the civilian population. On this day where we remember the veterans that proudly serve our just and noble fights, we must also remember that wars kill more than soldiers and that all life is worth protecting.