The blood of Dresden

Following is an extract from Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut in which he describes the scenes  of ‘obscene brutality’ he witnessed as a prisoner of war in Dresden which inspired his classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five.

Dresden before the allied bombing

It was a routine speech we got during our first day of basic training, delivered by a wiry little lieutenant: “Men, up to now you’ve been good, clean, American boys with an American’s love for sportsmanship and fair play. We’re here to change that.

“Our job is to make you the meanest, dirtiest bunch of scrappers in the history of the world. From now on, you can forget the Marquess of Queensberry rules and every other set of rules. Anything and everything goes.

“Never hit a man above the belt when you can kick him below it. Make the bastard scream. Kill him any way you can. Kill, kill, kill – do you understand?”

His talk was greeted with nervous laughter and general agreement that he was right. “Didn’t Hitler and Tojo say the Americans were a bunch of softies? Ha! They’ll find out.”

And of course, Germany and Japan did find out: a toughened-up democracy poured forth a scalding fury that could not be stopped. It was a war of reason against barbarism, supposedly, with the issues at stake on such a high plane that most of our feverish fighters had no idea why they were fighting – other than that the enemy was a bunch of bastards. A new kind of war, with all destruction, all killing approved.

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