Slaughter House Five is a True War Story
Slaughter house five is a true war story that fits into Tim O’Brien’s standard because a war story is never moral, a true war story embarrasses you, and true war story cannot be believed.
“War story is never moral” (O’Brien, 68). There are never wars without people killing, and people dying. Vonnegut proved that wars never really end because people read live the horrors over and over again. Even when the last person that was in a war dies the images and the stories will remain and pull a new set of people under its ungodly spell. Vonnegut uses many examples to jar the reader into a new understanding of what war really is. Just when you think it could not be more disgusting, it is. Billy Pilgrim clearly loses his mind in Slaughterhouse Five. Billy recounts the stories he hears from Nazis, “And he told me about the concentration camps and about how the Germans had made soap and candles out of the fat of dead Jews and so on” (Vonnegut, 10). This evidence clearly proved the depravity of war, because any person with a sense of morals will be disgusted by soap and candles made out of dead people.
The soap and candles came up again in this book, but proved another point of the immorality of the war. “The British had no way of knowing it, but the candles and the soap were made from the fat of rendered Jews and Gypsies and fairies and communists, and other enemies of the State” (96). A true war story is mixed with an acceptance of unbelievable circumstances and a willingness to look the other way just to get through the war. The British didn't know that they were using soap made from dead people. One can imagine if they heard this they probably would not believe it. Because hindsight is always 2020 the British soldiers who use this soap will reassure themselves that they did not cause the harm that came to the Jews in these concentration camps and it simply was not their fault. This is an example of people benefiting from the war only because of suffering of others.
It is unimaginable that Allied soldiers were not aware of the death and destruction during the war. It is probably self-preservation that allows people to pretend like they were not a cause of the pain suffered by others. “There isn’t anything we can do about them, so we simply don’t look at them” (117). This is immoral because people are suffering, and some people just ignore it like it has nothing to do with them, this is very selfish. That selfishness probably allow them to continue on. They really have no other option. Just like Billy Pilgrim, who stopped in the middle the street because he was just done with this war. And just like Billy Pilgrim if you give up you will be captured by the Nazis and probably killed. So although it is immoral you can imagine that people did the best that they could just to survive the war.
Vonnegut goes out of his way to try and represent every type of soldier. There are the Billy Pilgrim's of the world who are passive and kind and then there are soldiers who go looking for trouble. Lazzaro was probably a jerk back in the United States as well as in the war. He is an example of a soldier who is immoral by nature, not necessarily by war. ““It’s the sweetest thing there is,” said Lazzaro. “People fuck with me,” he said, “and Jesus Christ are they ever fucking sorry. I laugh like hell. I don’t care if it’s a guy or a dame. If the President of the United States fucked around with me, I’d fix him good”” (138-139). Lazzaro here is completely out of his mind, he will revenge if you do anything bad to him, no matter you mean it or not. This is also the type of people that liked war. The bullies of the world will find a way to wage war wherever they are, on the home front or on the Western front.
“You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you” (O’Brien, 69). It will make you think, how a human being can do such thing to another. Also in O’Brien’s book, it described a horrible story where a bunch of soldiers are just playing around and one of them stepped on a mine, and died. He used this to prove the embarrassment by showing how unguarded these “kids” are and not realizing the situation they are in. In an effort to make their day a little more bearable they play silly games, not understanding how much danger they are in. Some of these soldiers are 18 years old. At 18 years old you should be tossing Frisbees at the beach not picking up body parts after a mine explosion.
In Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, he tells a war story in Billy Pilgrim's point of view. “Billy was preposterous-six feet and three inches tall, with a chest and shoulders like a box of kitchen matches. He had no helmet, no over coat, no weapon, and no boots. On his feet were cheap, low-cut civilian shoes which he had bought for his father’s funeral” (Vonnegut, 32-33). Billy's lack of preparedness for going to war is a perfect example of why war is futile. You would think one of the richest nations on the planet would have enough money to buy shoes for its soldiers. Billy was not prepared to be a soldier both in his mind and in his appearance. The point of Vonnegut's book is that nobody is ever prepared for war. Is it embarrassing fact and it sounds unmanly somehow but human beings are just not meant to blow each other to bits for little scraps of land far from home. Billy was obviously forced into this war. He honestly doesn't care who wins or loses he just wants to go home. Billy understands his personality is not a good fit for any type of war, let alone a vicious war like World War II. His embarrassment at not being able to do the simplest things is a reminder that soldiers were plucked from society they did not choose to be in this war.
Billy probably looks like a simpleton to the guards from Germany. He was almost suicidal by the time he got caught standing in the middle of the street, just waiting to be shot. “Billy stood there politely, giving the marksman another chance. It was his addled understanding of the rules of warfare that the marksman should be given a second chance. The next shot missed Billy’s kneecaps by inches” (33). This is another good example of why war is embarrassing. It is embarrassing that a nation as powerful as the United States would be forced to send unprepared, kindhearted, simple people like Billy Pilgrim into a war. Billy would never be the type of soldier that could defend himself in this type of situation. Billy would never be the type of soldiers United States needed to fight this war. Nonetheless he was sent there with no shoes, no code, no helmet and was expected to somehow survive. That he retreated into a space in his mind where he would make up crazy stories about aliens shouldn't be a surprise to anybody.
Vonnegut uses poor Billy over and over again to show the vicious circle that is more. You need to be evil and take care of yourself and close off your mind to what is really going on around you to survive a war. Billy Pilgrim couldn't possibly survive a war he's just to kind of person. It is not in him and kill somebody. His manner of dress probably looked absurd to the German soldiers. But let's remember that the German soldiers were also unprepared for war. They were dressed shabbily and didn't have the right kinds of weapons either. Billy Pilgrim's appearance was absurd. “The Germans found him to be one of the most screamingly funny things they had seen in all of World War II. They laughed and laughed” (90). They were right of course Billy looked ridiculous. You cannot create a soldier out of clay and expect him to fight. Just because Billy was called up to serve did not mean that he was necessarily able or ready to do so.
It is also very embarrassing that Billy’s wife, Valencia is killed by poisoning, because she is rushing to see Billy in a hospital.“In many cases a true war story cannot be believed” (O’Brien, 71). Another absurd situation that Vonnegut creates is the needless death of Billy's wife Valencia. She dies on a safe street, in the safe suburban neighborhood she has lived in for years. Billy managed to survive, somehow, and yet death finds him anyway. Just like O'Brien says a true war story sounds ridiculous.
Many wars happened with an unbelievable reason. World War I for example, it all happened with the assassination of a prince in a small country, and it turned out to be a giant war all across the world, causing millions of deaths. We may never really know the real reasons that World War II happened. What we do know is that Billy Pilgrim somehow managed to survive the war and came home a broken man. It is clear he has some form of PTSD and everything he is experiencing is because his mind simply cannot accept and comprehend the horror that he has seen during the war.
Vonnegut tells his war story in an unbelievable way that at first it seems like he is telling his own experience with the war, but then he changed the whole book by making Billy the narrator. Not only that, Billy can time travel. “Billy is spastic in time, has no control over where he is going next” (Vonnegut, 23). There has scientific evidence that time travel exists, this is a very unbelievable factor in the book. Jumping around time also catches readers off-guard. Billy always time travels at the most random part. This made the story even more unbelievable because it is very hard to follow the story at one timeline. Now that we understand that Billy has PTSD and he is slowly losing his mind you can understand how he would think time travel was real. Of course this is just one more ridiculous four-story that Billy has to tell. This time the war story has to do with aliens but it could just have easily been about the POW camp where he almost died.
Billy cannot deal with his life back in the United States. He brings up crazy stories about being kidnapped at inopportune times as an excuse why his mind may be somewhere else but his body is at an event. “He said he had been kidnapped by the Tralfamadorians on the night of his daughter’s wedding” (26). It is a myth that if aliens even exists; Vonnegut added this to his book to make it seems more unbelievable. Vonnegut understands that although men had their bodies come back from the war and they looked unharmed they really were deeply scarred by what they had seen during World War II. Many men came back very different creatures after the war. PTSD is just now beginning to be understood.
Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five successfully told a war story that matches O’Brien’s standard of a real war story. It also had an effective impact on reader’s view on war. The reader cannot help but be moved by what Billy Pilgrim saw during the war. These are were stories you hardly ever hear. The bombing of Dresden was even more devastating than the atomic bomb in Japan, yet people rarely talk about it. Slaughterhouse Five was a real war story and one that I hope our nation never has to go through again.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1990. Print.
Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five, Or, the Children’s Crusade: A Duty-dance with Death. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.