Slaughterhouse Five


PAGE 21


The
guards and the Americans came at nightfall to an inn which was open for business. There
was candlelight. There were fires in three fireplaces downstairs. There were empty tables
and chairs waiting for anyone who might come, and empty beds with covers turned down
upstairs.

There was a blind innkeeper and his sighted wife, who was the cook, and their two
young daughters, who worked as waitresses and maids. This family knew that Dresden
was gone. Those with eyes had seen it bum and bum, understood that they were on the



edge of a desert now. Still-they had opened for business, had polished the glasses and
wound the clocks and stirred the fires, and waited and waited to see who would come.

There was no great flow of refugees from Dresden. The clocks ticked on, the crackled,
the translucent candles dripped. And then there was a knock on the door, and in came
four guards and one hundred American prisoners of war.

The innkeeper asked the guards if they had come from the city.

�Yes.�

Are there more people coming?'

And the guards said that, on the difficult route they had chosen, they had not seen
another living soul.

The blind innkeeper said that the Americans could sleep in his stable that night, and he
gave them soup and ersatz coffee and a little beer. Then he came out to the stable to listen
to them bedding down in the straw.

�Good night, Americans,' he said in German. 'Sleep well.�

Nine

Here is how Billy Pilgrim lost his wife, Valencia.

He was unconscious in the hospital in Vermont, after the airplane crash on Sugarbush
Mountain, and Valencia, having heard about the crash, was driving from Ilium to the
hospital in the family Cadillac El Dorado Coupe de Ville. Valencia was hysterical,
because she had been told frankly that Billy might die, or that, if he lived, he might be a
vegetable.

Valencia adored Billy. She was crying and yelping so hard as she drove that she
missed the correct turnoff from the throughway. She applied her power brakes, and a
Mercedes slammed into her from behind. Nobody was hurt, thank God, because both
drivers were wearing seat belts. Thank God, thank God. The Mercedes lost only a
headlight. But the rear end of the Cadillac was a body-and-fender man's wet dream. The
trunk and fenders were collapsed. The gaping trunk looked like the mouth of a village
idiot who was explaining that he didn�t know anything about anything. The fenders
shrugged. The bumper was at a high port arms. 'Reagan for President!' a sticker on the
bumper said. The back window was veined with cracks. The exhaust system rested on the
pavement.

The driver of the Mercedes got out and went to Valencia, to find out if she was all
right. She blabbed hysterically about Billy and the airplane crash, and then she put her car
in gear and crossed the median divider, leaving her exhaust system behind.

When she arrived at the hospital, people rushed to the windows to see what all the
noise was. The Cadillac, with both mufflers gone, sounded like a heavy bomber coming
in on a wing and a prayer. Valencia turned off the engine, but then she slumped against
the steering wheel, and the horn brayed steadily. A doctor and a nurse ran out to find out
what the trouble was. Poor Valencia was unconscious, overcome by carbon monoxide.
She was a heavenly azure.

One hour later she was dead. So it goes.



Billy knew nothing about it. He, dreamed on, and traveled in time and so forth. The
hospital was so crowded that Billy couldn�t have a room to himself. He shared a room
with a Harvard history professor named Bertram Copeland Rumfoord. Rumfoord didn�t
have to look at Billy, because Billy was surrounded by white linen screens on rubber
wheels. But Rumfoord could hear Billy talking to himself from time to time.

Rumfoord's left leg was in traction. He had broken it while skiing. He was seventy
years old, but had the body and spirit of a man half that age. He had been honeymooning
with his fifth wife when he broke his leg. Her name was Lily. Lily was twenty-three.

Just about the time poor Valencia was pronounced dead, Lily came into Billy's and
Rumfoord's room with an armload of books. Rumfoord had sent her down to Boston to
get them. He was working on a one-volume history of the United States Army Air Corps
in the Second World War. The books were about bombings and sky battles that had
happened before Lily was even born.

'You guys go on without me,' said Billy Pilgrim deliriously, as pretty little Lily came
in. She had been an a-go-go girl when Rumfoord saw her and resolved to make her his
own. She was a high school dropout. Her I.Q. was 103. 'He scares me,' she whispered to
her husband about Billy Pilgrim.

'He bores the hell out of me\' Rumfoord replied boomingly. 'All he does in his sleep is
quit and surrender and apologize and ask to be left alone.' Rumfoord was a retired
brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve, the official Air Force Historian, a fim
professor, the author of twenty-six books, a multimillionaire since birth, and one of the
great competitive sailors of all time. His most popular book was about sex and strenuous
athletics for men over sixty-five. Now he quoted Theodore Roosevelt whom he
resembled a lot:

'I could carve a better man out of a banana.�

One of the things Rumfoord had told Lily to get in Boston was a copy of President
Harry S. Truman's announcement to the world that an atomic bomb had been dropped on
Hiroshima. She had a Xerox of it, and Rumfoord asked her if she had read it.

'No.' She didn�t read well, which was one of the reasons she had dropped out of high
school.

Rumfoord ordered her to sit down and read the Truman statement now. He didn't know
that she couldn't read much. He knew very little about her, except that she was one more
public demonstration that he was a supennan.

So Lily sat down and pretended to read the Truman thing, which went like this:

Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on Hiroshima, an
important Japanese Army base. That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons ofT.N.T. It
had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British �Grand Slam � which is
the largest bomb ever yet used in the history of warfare.

The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid
many-fold. And the end is not yet. With this bomb we have now added a new and
revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed
forces. In their present form these bombs are now in production, and even more powerful
forms are in development.



It is an atomic bomb. It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe. The force
from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to
the Far East.

Before 1939, it was the accepted belief of scientists that it was theoretically possible to
release atomic energy. But nobody knew any practical method of doing it. By 1942,
however, we knew that the Germans were working feverishly to find a way to add atomic
energy to all the other engines of war with which they hoped to enslave the world. But
they failed. We may be grateful to Providence that the Germans got the V-l 's and V-2's
late and in limited quantities and even more grateful that they did not get the atomic
bomb at all.

The battle of the laboratories held-fateful risks for us as well as the battles of the air,
land and sea, and we have now won the battle of the laboratories as we have won the
other battles.

We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive
enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city, said Harry Truman. We shall
destroy their docks, their factories and their communications. Let there be no mistake; we
shall completely destroy Japan 's power to make war. It was to spare-

And so on.

One of the books that Lily had brought Rumfoord was The Destruction of Dresden by
an Englishman named David Irving. It was an American edition, published by Holt,
Rinehart and Winston in 1964. What Rumfoord wanted from it were portions of the
forewords by his friends Ira C. Eaker, Lieutenant General, U.S.A.F., retired, and British
Air Marshal Sir Robert Saundby, K.C.B., K.B.E., M.C., D.F.C., A.F.C.

I find it difficult to understand Englishmen or Americans .who weep about enemy
civilians who were killed but who have not shed a tear for our gallant crews lost in
combat with a cruel enemy, wrote his friend General Eaker in part. I think it would have
been well for Mr. Irving to have remembered, when he was drawing the frightful picture
of the civilian killed at Dresden, that V-l 's and V-2 's were at that very time failing on
England, killing civilian men, women and children indiscriminately, as they were
designed and launched to do. It might be well to remember Buchenwald and Coventry,
too.

Eaker's foreword ended this way:

I deeply regret that British and U.S. bombers killed 135,000 people in the attack on
Dresden, but I remember who started the last war and I regret even more the loss of more
than 5,000,000, Allied lives in the necessary effort to completely defeat and utterly
destroy nazism.

So it goes.

What Air Marshal Saundby said, among other things, was this

That the bombing of Dresden was a great tragedy none can deny. That it was really a
military necessity few, after reading this book, will believe. It was one of those terrible
things that sometimes happen in wartime, brought about by an unfortunate combination
of circumstances. Those who approved it were neither wicked nor cruel, though it may
well be that they were too remote from the harsh realities of war to understand fully the
appalling destructive power of air bombardment in the spring of 1945



The advocates of nuclear disarmament seem to believe that, if they could achieve their
aim, war would become tolerable and decent. They would do well to read this book and
ponder the fate of Dresden, where 135,000 people died as the result of an air attack with
conventional weapons. On the night of March 9th, 1945, an air attack on Tokyo by
American heavy bombers, using incendiary and high explosive bombs, caused the death
of 83,793 people. The atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed 71,379 people.

So it goes.

�If you�re ever in Cody, Wyoming,' said Billy Pilgrim behind his white linen screens,
�just ask for Wild Bob.�

Lily Rumfoord shuddered, went on pretending to read the Harry Truman thing.

Billy's daughter Barbara came in later that day. She was all doped up, had the same
glassy-eyed look that poor old Edgar Derby wore just before he was shot in Dresden.
Doctors had given her pills so she could continue to function, even though her father was
broken and her mother was dead.

So it goes.

She was accompanied by a doctor and a nurse. Her brother Robert was flying home
from a battlefield in Vietnam. 'Daddy,' she said tentatively. 'Daddy? '

But Billy was ten years away, back in 1958. He was examining the eyes of a young
male Mongolian idiot in order to prescribe corrective lenses. The idiot's mother was
there, acting as an interpreter.

'How many dots do you see?� Billy Pilgrim asked him.

And then Billy traveled in time to when he was sixteen years old, in the waiting room
of a doctor. Billy had an infected thumb. There was only one other patient waiting-an old,
old man. The old man was in agony because of gas. He farted tremendously, and then he
belched.

'Excuse me,' he said to Billy. Then he did it again. 'Oh God he said, 'I knew it was
going to be bad getting old.� He shook his head. 'I didn�t know it was going to be this bad.�

Billy Pilgrim opened his eyes in the hospital in Vermont, did not know where he was.

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