Ed Driscoll

Vonnegut And Dresden

In NRO’s new Weblog, “The Tank” , devoted to all things military, W. Thomas Smith Jr. has a post on Kurt Vonnegut’s days as a WWII soldier:

Kurt Vonnegut was a 22-year-old Army scout with the 106th Infantry Division near St. Vith, Belgium when the Germans launched a surprise attack through the Ardennes, beginning the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944.Quickly separated from his unit, Vonnegut wandered for a few days behind enemy lines before being captured. He then was sent to Dresden as a POW.

The defining moment of Mr. Vonnegut’s life was the firebombing of Dresden, Germany, by Allied forces in 1945, an event he witnessed firsthand as a young prisoner of war. Thousands of civilians were killed in the raids, many of them burned to death or asphyxiated. “The firebombing of Dresden,” Mr. Vonnegut wrote, “was a work of art.” It was, he added, “a tower of smoke and flame to commemorate the rage and heartbreak of so many who had had their lives warped or ruined by the indescribable greed and vanity and cruelty of Germany.”His experience in Dresden was the basis of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” which was published in 1969 against the backdrop of war in Vietnam, racial unrest and cultural and social upheaval.

Slaughterhouse-Five was but one book (along with its big-budget 1970s Hollywood movie version) that helped craft the modern image of Dresden. A couple of years ago, I wrote a lengthy post on some of the other factors that shaped Dresden’s modern reputation, as well as a powerful recent book that redefines things a bit closer to what the reality probably was in WWII.