Slaughterhouse Five


She said about what you would expect her to say. There was a baby. And so

When I got back to the office, the woman writer asked me, just for her own
information, what the squashed guy had looked Eke when he was squashed.

I told her.

'Did it bother you?' she said. She was eating a Three Musketeers Candy Bar.

'Heck no, Nancy,' I said. 'I�ve seen lots worse than that in the war.'

Even then I was supposedly writing a book about Dresden. It wasn�t a famous air raid
back then in America. Not many Americans knew how much worse it had been than
Hiroshima, for instance. I didn�t know that, either. There hadn�t been much publicity.

I happened to tell a University of Chicago professor at a cocktail party about the raid as
I had seen it, about the book I would write. He was a member of a thing called The
Committee on Social Thought. 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.

All could say was, 'I know, I know. I know.�

The Second World War had certainly made everybody very tough. And I became a
public relations man for General Electric in Schenectady, New York, and a volunteer
fireman in the Village of Alplaus, where I bought my first home. My boss there was one
of the toughest guys I ever hope to meet. He had been a lieutenant colonel in public
relations in Baltimore. While I was in Schenectady he joined the Dutch Refonned
Church, which is a very tough church, indeed.

He used to ask me sneeringly sometimes why I hadn�t been an officer, as though I'd
done something wrong.

My wife and I had lost our baby fat. Those were our scrawny years. We had a lot of
scrawny veterans and their scrawny wives for friends. The nicest veterans in
Schenectady, I thought, the kindest and funniest ones, the ones who hated war the most,
were the ones who�d really fought.

I wrote the Air Force back then, asking for details about the raid on Dresden, who
ordered it, how many planes did it, why they did it, what desirable results there had been
and so on. I was answered by a man who, like myself, was in public relations. He said
that he was sorry, but that the infonnation was top secret still.

I read the letter out loud to my wife, and I said, 'Secret? My God-from whom?'

We were United World Federalists back then. I don�t know what we are now.
Telephoners, I guess. We telephone a lot-or /do, anyway, late at night.

A couple of weeks after I telephoned my old war buddy, Bernard V. O'Hare, I really
did go to see him. That must have been in 1964 or so-whatever the last year was for the
New York World's Fair. Eheu, fugaces labuntur anni. My name is Yon Yonson. There
was a young man from Stamboul.

I took two little girls with me, my daughter, Nanny, and her best friend, Allison
Mitchell. They had never been off Cape Cod before. When we saw a river, we had to stop
so they could stand by it and think about it for a while. They had never seen water in that
long and narrow, unsalted form before. The river was the Hudson. There were carp in
there and we saw them. They were as big as atomic submarines.

We saw waterfalls, too, streams jumping off cliffs into the valley of the Delaware.
There were lots of things to stop and see-and then it was time to go, always time to go.

The little girls were wearing white party dresses and black party shoes, so strangers
would know at once how nice they were. �Time to go, girls,� I�d say. And we would go.

And the sun went down, and we had supper in an Italian place, and then I knocked on
the front door of the beautiful stone house of Bernard V. O'Hare. I was carrying a bottle
of Irish whiskey like a dinner bell.

I met his nice wife, Mary, to whom I dedicate this book. I dedicate it to Gerhard
Muller, the Dresden taxi driver, too. Mary O'Hare is a trained nurse, which is a lovely
thing for a woman to be.

Mary admired the two little girls I�d brought, mixed them in with her own children,
sent them all upstairs to play games and watch television. It was only after the children
were gone that I sensed that Mary didn�t like me or didn�t like something about the night.
She was polite but chilly.

�It's a nice cozy house you have here,' I said, and it really was.

'I've fixed up a place where you can talk and not be bothered,' she said.

'Good,' I said, and I imagined two leather chairs near a fire in a paneled room, where
two old soldiers could drink and talk. But she took us into the kitchen. She had put two
straight-backed chairs at a kitchen table with a white porcelain top. That table top was
screaming with reflected light from a two-hundred-watt bulb overhead. Mary had
prepared an operating room. She put only one glass on it, which was for me. She
explained that O'Hare couldn�t drink the hard stuff since the war.

So we sat down. O'Hare was embarrassed, but he wouldn't tell me what was wrong. I
couldn�t imagine what it was about me that could bum up Mary so. I was a family man.
I�d been married only once. I wasn�t a drunk. I hadn�t done her husband any dirt in the

She fixed herself a Coca-Cola, made a lot of noise banging the ice-cube tray in the
stainless steel sink. Then she went into another part of the house. But she wouldn�t sit
still. She was moving all over the house, opening and shutting doors, even moving
furniture around to work off anger.

I asked O�Hare what I�d said or done to make her act that way.

'It's all right,' he said. "Don�t worry about it. It doesn�t have anything to do with you.�
That was kind of him. He was lying. It had everything to do with me.

So we tried to ignore Mary and remember the war. I took a couple of belts of the
booze I'd brought. We would chuckle or grin sometimes, as though war stories were
coming back, but neither one of us could remember anything good. O'Hare remembered
one guy who got into a lot of wine in Dresden, before it was bombed, and we had to take
him home in a wheelbarrow.

It wasn�t much to write a book about. I remembered two Russian soldiers who had
looted a clock factory. They had a horse-drawn wagon full of clocks. They were happy
and drunk. They were smoking huge cigarettes they had rolled in newspaper.

That was about it for memories, and Mary was still making noise. She finally came
out in the kitchen again for another Coke. She took another tray of ice cubes from the
refrigerator, banged it in the sink, even though there was already plenty of ice out.

Then she turned to me, let me see how angry she was, and that the anger was for me.
She had been talking to herself, so what she said was a fragment of a much larger
conversation. "You were just babies then!' she said.

�What?" I said.

'You were just babies in the war-like the ones upstairs! '

I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of

'But you're not going to write it that way, are you.� This wasn't a question. It was an

'I-I don�t know,� I said.

'Well, / know,' she said. 'You'll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you'll 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. And they'll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.�

So then I understood. It was war that made her so angry. She didn't want her babies or
anybody else's babies killed in wars. And she thought wars were partly encouraged by
books and movies.

So I held up my right hand and I made her a promise 'Mary,' I said, 'I don�t think this
book is ever going to be finished. I must have written five thousand pages by now, and
thrown them all away. If I ever do finish it, though, I give you my word of honor: there
won�t be a part for Fra nk Sinatra or John Wayne.

'I tell you what,' I said, 'I'll call it The Children's Crusade.'

She was my friend after that.

O'Hare and I gave up on remembering, went into the living room, talked about other
things. We became curious about the real Children's Crusade, so O'Hare looked it up in a
book he had, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, by Charles
Mackay, LL.D. It was first published in London in 1841.

Mackay had a low opinion of all Crusades. The Children's Crusade struck him as only
slightly more sordid than the ten Crusades for grown-ups. O'Hare read this handsome
passage out loud:

History in her solemn page informs us that the Crusaders were but ignorant and
savage men, that their motives were those of bigotry unmitigated, and that their pathway
was one of blood and wars. Romance, on the other hand, dilates upon their piety and
heroism, and portrays, in her most glowing and impassioned hues, their virtue and
magnanimity, the imperishable honor they acquired for themselves, and the great
services they rendered to Christianity.

And then O'Hare read this: Now what was the grand result of all these struggles?
Europe expended millions of her treasures, and the blood of two million of her people;
and a handful of quarrelsome knights retained possession of Palestine for about one
hundred years!

Mackay told us that the Children's Crusade started in 1213, when two monks got the
idea of raising armies of children in Germany and France, and selling them in North
Africa as slaves. Thirty thousand children volunteered, thinking they were going to
Palestine. They were no doubt idle and deserted children who generally swarm in great
cities, nurtured on vice and daring, said Mackay, and ready for anything.

Pope Innocent the Third thought they were going to Palestine, too, and he was thrilled.
'These children are awake while we are asleep!� he said.

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 sold.

Through a misunderstanding, some children reported for duty at Genoa, where no slave
ships were waiting. They were fed and sheltered and questioned kindly by good people
there -then given a little money and a lot of advice and sent back home.

'Hooray for the good people of Genoa,' said Mary O'Hare.

I slept that night in one of the children's bedrooms. O�Hare had put a book for me on
the bedside table. It was Dresden, History, Stage and Gallery, by Mary Ended. It was
published in 1908, and its introduction began

It is hoped that this little book will make itself useful It attempts to give to 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 a few men, to its present bloom; and
it calls attention to certain permanent landmarks in art that make its Gallery the resort of
those seeking lasting impressions.

I read some history further on

Now, in 1760, Dresden underwent siege by the Prussians. On the fifteenth of July
began the cannonade. The Picture-Gallery took fire. Many of the paintings had been
transported to-the Konigstein, but some were seriously injured by splinters of
bombshells-notably Francia's 'Baptism of Christ.� Furthermore, the stately Kreuzkirche
tower, from which the enemy's movements had been watched day and night, stood in
flames. It later succumbed. In sturdy contrast with the pitiful fate of the Kreuzkirche,
stood the Frauenkirche, from the curves of whose stone dome the Prussian bombs -
rebounded like rain. Friederich was obliged finally to give up the siege, because he
learned of the fall of Glatz, the critical point of his new conquests. 'We must be off to
Silesia, so that we do not lose everything. '

The devastation of Dresden was boundless.

Back to Slaughterhouse Five book