Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s existential and metafictional text, Slaughterhouse Five, discusses the relationship between warfare and civility in the aftermath of World War 2. This novel expounds the theory behind societal pandemonic reinforcement through political carnage and explains how Vonnegut and those around him faced this commotion.
Moreover, the book discusses the role society plays in the acquisition of peace in the international community by introducing characters, each bringing their own set of opinions on war. Bearing this in mind, Slaughterhouse-Five is dedicated to Mary O’Hare, a character introduced early on in the book, because Vonnegut understands how the detriments of war reach far beyond that of the battlefield by influencing non-troopers and the future through unreasonable glorification in its causatum.
World War 2 was the largest and most violent armed conflict in the history of mankind, however, the half-century that now separates the modern era from this event has exacted its toll on our collective knowledge. While World War 2 continues to absorb the interest of military scholars and historians, a generation of Americans has grown to maturity largely unaware of the political, social, and military implications of a war that, more than any other, influenced men and women outside the battlefield.
Kurt Vonnegut dedicates Slaughterhouse-Five to Mary O’Hare because she was a nurse forced to tend to the needs of wounded soldiers who had fought on the frontlines. Kurt Vonnegut commends the medical profession, which he expands upon as he writes about the army apparatus through his recognition of how a nurse, “is a lovely thing for a woman to be,” (Vonnegut 15). The agony of war echoes through the cavities of a dying heart and across the fabric of society, not just the bullet holes in soldiers.
More than 59,000 nurses served in the American Army Nurse Corps during World War 2. Nurses operated closer to the battlefield than ever before and within the “chain of evacuation” established by the Army Medical Department, nurses served under fire in field and evacuation hospitals, on hospital trains and ships, and as flight nurses aboard transport planes. The skill and dedication of these nurses contributed to the extremely low post-injury mortality rate among military forces in every theater and arena of the war.
In hospitals, the blood-spattered entry led to walkways where soldiers lay on the floor awaiting medical attention. As a continuous stream of wounded servicemen arrived, appalling shortages of supplies became apparent. Doctors performing surgeries exchanged instruments back and forth from one table to another. Doctors and nurses used rags as face masks and operated without gloves. The life of a nurse in this time period was not a life of comfort nor was it a life of enjoyment and entertainment. The stress created was enough to rival that of a trooper as both parties were forced to either die on the field or watch a brother in arms die.
Nurses and the wounded were susceptible to malaria, beriberi, dysentery, and dengue fever. Without a doubt, war was not limited to troopers and firearms. In his attempt to the liberate the concealed reality of war, Vonnegut feels as though it is necessary to acknowledge an individual who experienced a different manifestation of these horrors to add to the gravity and magnitude of the situation. The line draw to Mary O’Hare not only expounds candor but adds an element of weight to the assertions made by Vonnegut.
The English term, “future”, is defined by the Collins Dictionary as “the prospective or potential condition of an individual; the change to achieve, succeed, or attain.” Given the everlasting nature of time, change will always take place in the future and with children being a sentient representation of this, change can only be fulfilled through children. The children of today will one day mature to be the adults of tomorrow, however, wars concocted by inconsequential and frivolous causes have the ability to plague the future.
The little boys and girls involved in the Children’s Crusade were sold in North Africa as slaves when two monks, alleged servants of God, “got the idea of raising [child armies] in Germany and France … Most of the children were shipped out of Marseilles, and about half of them drowned in shipwrecks. The other half got to North Africa where they were [auctioned],” (Vonnegut 20-21). If not for the glorification of such evils, these children would not have passed in vain. War and its experiences are often portrayed through assorted layers of pampering illusion constructed like strips of heartwarming insulation around the unadorned, unbearable abomination of what really takes place.
War is depicted by a multitude of fatal flaws, troopers firing down their own aircraft and planes ripping across the sky setting loose a volley of firepower on their own men, just to name a few. It encompasses the deliberate shooting of military officers by their own men, dismemberment of bodies, sadistic behavior, cowardice and betrayal, and the unnecessary slaughter of civilians. The many moments of contingency, confusion, and accident are rationalized subsequently per their design.
Much of the reality of warfare is obscured and hidden behind a retrospective campaign of glorification and prettification and garnishment. For example, war criminals will be “played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them,” (Vonnegut 18). War correspondents censor a large proportion of the unpalatable realities with the ostensible reason being the preservation of public innocence and support.
The underlying effect of the sanitized and euphemized continues to remain mixed with falsified information where it presents either a world without a complicated code of evil or where all evil is easily displaced onto one recipient. These indeterminates the tendency of war to descend to levels of barbarism, to acts of slaughter like the firebombing of Dresden, that have no military value and lack any form of moral meaning, and even without these things, war is at its best killing, wounding, maiming, and harming – apathetic masochism.
The equivocation of the truth and the propaganda utilized to inspire the lust for death in the new generation, like a drop of poison in a barrel of water, can set the light of the future ablaze sending it on a path of bloodshed and violence. While one may argue that sacrifice is necessary to prevent nations from being crushed by tyranny, one must take into consideration that it is the very war that one relies on to “preserve tranquility” that promotes mayhem and turmoil.
Using the city of Dresden as an example, as the Americans arrived in boxcars, the doorways “framed the loveliest city that most of the Americans had ever seen. The skyline was intricate and voluptuous and enchanted and absurd. It looked like a Sunday school picture of Heaven … Every other bit city in Germany had been bombed and burned ferociously. Dresden had not suffered so much as a cracked windowpane,” (Vonnegut 189).
The “Florence on the Elbe” was one of the world’s most beautiful cities owing to its architecture and artistic treasures. Vonnegut had hoped that Slaughterhouse-Five would make itself useful by attempting “to give an English-reading public a bird’s-eye view of how Dresden came to look as it does, architecturally; of how it expanded musically, through the genius of few men, to its present bloom; and it calls attention to certain permanent landmarks in art that makes it Gallery the resort of those seeking lasting impressions,” (Vonnegut 21-22).
It is without a doubt that the city of Dresden was a highlight of the world that sparkled amongst the concrete jungle, however, it only took one campaign to wipe Dresden off the Earth. From February 13th to the 15th 1945, British airliners released 2,400 tons of explosives and 1,500 of incendiary bombs onto the cathedral city of Dresden. In a mere few hours, 35,000 civilians had been incinerated. Civilians had become a green-brown liquid with their skeletons protruding from their carcasses.
The cowering people had melted. Legions of adults had shriveled to three feet in length. Children under the age of three had been vaporized. What military advantage was there to gain in the “pursuit of peace”? In what way did the destruction of Dresden lead to the of the war? The city of Dresden was a geographic casualty that provided no value in the midst of war. Dresden was vaporized for the sake of destruction. War is not necessary to preserve peace amid nations. The life of a World War 2 soldier is not a life embellished with simple pleasantries and commiseration, rather, it is quite the opposite. The physical, mental, and emotional torment that one must endure is an internal battle that has consumed the souls of many veterans and their families.
In his endeavor to divulge the cruelties of war, Kurt Vonnegut dedicates Slaughterhouse-Five to Mary O’Hare because he understands how the wave of death ripples beyond the battlefield where it ultimately forces non-troopers to participate in this gruesome conflict while simultaneously plaguing the future through glorified fabrications. Pain has no limitless and the barrage of waves that pound families around the world force individuals to become pulled into conflict. The novel’s dedication to Mary O’Hare, given her occupation in addition to the violation of our future’s integrity, embolden this revelation thereby exposing the demons humans become when given a rifle and bullets.