The Battle of the Bulge, Kurt Vonnegut, and Slaughterhouse-Five

Selected from Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac” at  http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org  …

It was on this day in 1944 that the Battle of the Bulge began. It took place in the Ardennes forest, a snowy mountainous region of Belgium, France, and Luxembourg and lasted for more than a month. It was the last major German offensive, and it was the bloodiest battle of World War II for Americans troops. While estimates about the number of American casualties differ, the U.S. Defense Department lists 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded, and 23,000 missing.

Among those taken as prisoner of war by the Germans was a young infantry scout named Kurt Vonnegut. (books by this author) He’d only been in the front lines for five days when he got trapped behind enemy lines and taken prisoner. Within a month, he was sent over to Dresden and put to work in a factory producing vitamin-enriched malt syrup for pregnant women. He and his fellow American prisoners were detained in and slept at an underground warehouse in Dresden that had been a meat-packing facility and storage locker before the war. The building was marked “Schlachthof-fünf”: “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

Then, in February 1945, about two months after the Battle of the Bulge began, British and American forces started firebombing Dresden. The firestorm created by the massive Allied bombings killed nearly all of Dresden’s residents, but Vonnegut and other POWs survived because they were three stories underground, in that meat-storage locker.

Vonnegut published his novel Slaughterhouse-Five in 1969, a quarter century after he was captured at the Battle of the Bulge and a witness to the Dresden firebombing. In it, he wrote:

“It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Sam, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.

And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”

The Battle of the Bulge ended on January 25, 1945, after Hitler agreed to withdraw German troops from the Ardennes forest. Less than two weeks later, Allied leaders met at Yalta to discuss occupying post-war Germany.

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Published in: on December 17, 2009 at 3:02 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.


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