Repost from 2016: Just Finished Slaughterhouse Five

My first exposure to it was in college: My freshman year, my boyfriend Peter and I took a Winterim class (one month) called Science Fiction for the Fun of It.  Along with reading a book of short stories, every class period, we watched a movie.  One of them was Slaughterhouse Five.

Over the years, I completely forgot what was in the movie or what it was about.  I forgot there was such a city as Dresden.

I may have learned about the firebombing in school, since I see references to the raids on German cities in my old German and History textbooks.  I do remember learning something about the bombing in German class, and feeling appalled at the destruction of historic architecture.

But I don’t remember hearing about how many civilians died in these bombings.  Maybe I thought they had evacuated; I don’t remember.  I may have learned something about it in school, but it’s been more than 20 years since I graduated college (argh), so I forgot about it.

Fast-forward to 2015: While researching my novel about a Nazi time-traveler, I stumbled across some webpages which I thought were Wikipedia, but were actually some neo-Nazi site, and learned about the bombings, including Dresden.

Cross-referencing through various other sources has proven that while the site may have given me some faulty or one-sided info about the war, it is correct about the bombings.  Of course, it doesn’t give the other side, how the Germans bombed European cities and ravaged civilians deemed “subhuman,” such as Jews, Russians, Poles, gypsies, homosexuals, etc. etc.  But yes, the bombings really did happen.

In the course of my research, I discovered that Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut is about the bombing of Dresden.  So I bought the book with birthday money and, these past couple of weeks, read it.  It’s such an easy read, and so short, that it only took two weeks.

Kurt Vonnegut not only hid in a meat locker with other prisoners during the bombing of Dresden, but had to help clean up the carnage afterwards.  Before the bombing, the beautiful city looked like Oz to him.  He saw the people there, with their translucent skin from having nothing to eat for years but potatoes, just trying to get here and there, go to work and home again.

He became a pacifist.  It took him more than 20 years to finally write about the experience, despite wanting to for so long.  He tried to find information for research, but they told him it was still secret.  Vonnegut writes that the government kept the extent of the Dresden bombing secret from the American public for many years, afraid of the backlash.

Because yes, there were many who would object to the bombing of civilians.  Even back then, before the 60s and the peace movement.  Even though today I find–in the comment section of Youtube videos and blogs–people complaining about modern generations who aren’t willing to recognize what had to be done to win the war.

Really?  Must we–in order to fight an enemy, no matter how evil–do the same things the enemy does?  Because that’s what Nazi Germany did: firebombed cities.

Must we look on an entire city–whichever city–as full of evil people, just as evil as their government?  Especially in a totalitarian, fascist government which suppresses all opposition?

There was no organized, wide-scale movement against the government in Germany, because everyone who tried was killed or severely punished.  But I keep finding accounts and interviews of people who lived during that time; they keep saying, “My father was against the government, but he had to keep it very quiet or they’d take him away.”

Especially in 1945 when the war was clearly lost, and refugees fled the bombings of other cities and the advance of the Russians, how many of those people honestly still supported the government?  How many just wanted the war to end and sanity to regain control of the country?

But the Allied bombings didn’t just kill civilians of the Axis countries.  According to For You the War is Over by David A. Foy, the relentless bombings of civilians put the Allied POWs in Germany in serious danger, especially after Dresden: The POWs could sometimes be victims in air attacks on cities or trains.  Germans began calling the airmen “Luftgangsters,” believing they were deliberately chosen from the American mob to inflict death on women and children.

In the latter part of the war, any airman who was shot down over Germany was actually safer in the hands of enemy soldiers than of the civilians.  Civilians were in such a frenzy of anger and revenge that our boys could get lynched.  Angry guards in POW camps could become trigger-happy after their families were bombed.

And Hitler made things more difficult for POWs, so attempted escapes were more likely to lead to death instead of a stint in the cooler.  Only Eva’s influence kept Hitler from ordering the deaths of all Allied air force POWs after Dresden.  According to one POW, Stalag Luft I was very nearly wiped out in retaliation for an attack on a refugee train.  The POW claimed that SS troops were sent to do this, but the Kommandant’s troops surrounded them and refused to let them do it.

I see a lot of extreme thinking about these bombings: One side ignores the atrocities of the Nazis, even explains them away or says the Holocaust is a hoax.  They say there’s an Illuminati; they say Hitler and the Nazis were just misunderstood.  They say the Jews really are a problem and that xenophobia is not a sin.  They say the Allied leaders were war criminals.

The other side says the bombings were absolutely necessary.  They scold the people who say we shouldn’t have done this.  They say there was no other way to win the war.

But maybe there’s a middle way: recognize that while we had to beat the Nazis, that doesn’t mean our side was always correct in its actions.  We do the same in looking at American history with various groups, such as Native Americans and black slaves, recognizing when our government committed crimes against them; why not with World War II?

Yes, the governments we were fighting were evil, but that doesn’t mean all the people were.  And it doesn’t mean our leaders were saints who could do no wrong.  We can celebrate our leaders for winning the war, but realize that they were still human beings with faults, not gods.

And remember, going forward, that we can change how we do things.  Vonnegut taught his sons to never rejoice over a massacre of their enemies, and to not participate in one, or even work for a company which makes massacre machinery.

He also wrote that it’s our babies who are sent to fight these wars.  These kids are 18, 19, 20, and getting sent off to kill or be killed.  Even his criminally insane character Lazzaro considers the bombing of German cities, and says that back home he never killed anyone who didn’t have it coming.

After decades of trying but failing to write his book on Dresden, Vonnegut finally settled on something that worked: science fiction/satire.  In the midst of a silly story about a guy coming “unstuck in time,” captured by aliens and put in a zoo, and mated with a porn star, is a profound story about the evils of war.  Apparently this was the only way Vonnegut could truly deal with the trauma.  And he does it brilliantly.

 

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Just Finished Slaughterhouse Five

My first exposure to it was in college: My freshman year, my boyfriend Peter and I took a Winterim class (one month) called Science Fiction for the Fun of It.  Along with reading a book of short stories, every class period, we watched a movie.  One of them was Slaughterhouse Five.

Over the years, I completely forgot what was in the movie or what it was about.  I forgot there was such a city as Dresden.

I may have learned about the firebombing in school, since I see references to the raids on German cities in my old German and History textbooks.  I do remember learning something about the bombing in German class, and feeling appalled at the destruction of historic architecture.

But I don’t remember hearing about how many civilians died in these bombings.  Maybe I thought they had evacuated; I don’t remember.  I may have learned something about it in school, but it’s been more than 20 years since I graduated college (argh), so I forgot about it.

Fast-forward to 2015: While researching my novel about a Nazi time-traveler, I stumbled across some webpages which I thought were Wikipedia, but were actually some neo-Nazi site, and learned about the bombings, including Dresden.

Cross-referencing through various other sources has proven that while the site may have given me some faulty or one-sided info about the war, it is correct about the bombings.  Of course, it doesn’t give the other side, how the Germans bombed European cities and ravaged civilians deemed “subhuman,” such as Jews, Russians, Poles, gypsies, homosexuals, etc. etc.  But yes, the bombings really did happen.

In the course of my research, I discovered that Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut is about the bombing of Dresden.  So I bought the book with birthday money and, these past couple of weeks, read it.  It’s such an easy read, and so short, that it only took two weeks.

Kurt Vonnegut not only hid in a meat locker with other prisoners during the bombing of Dresden, but had to help clean up the carnage afterwards.  Before the bombing, the beautiful city looked like Oz to him.  He saw the people there, with their translucent skin from having nothing to eat for years but potatoes, just trying to get here and there, go to work and home again.

He became a pacifist.  It took him more than 20 years to finally write about the experience, despite wanting to for so long.  He tried to find information for research, but they told him it was still secret.  Vonnegut writes that the government kept the extent of the Dresden bombing secret from the American public for many years, afraid of the backlash.

Because yes, there were many who would object to the bombing of civilians.  Even back then, before the 60s and the peace movement.  Even though today I find–in the comment section of Youtube videos and blogs–people complaining about modern generations who aren’t willing to recognize what had to be done to win the war.

Really?  Must we–in order to fight an enemy, no matter how evil–do the same things the enemy does?  Because that’s what Nazi Germany did: firebombed cities.

Must we look on an entire city–whichever city–as full of evil people, just as evil as their government?  Especially in a totalitarian, fascist government which suppresses all opposition?

There was no organized, wide-scale movement against the government in Germany, because everyone who tried was killed or severely punished.  But I keep finding accounts and interviews of people who lived during that time; they keep saying, “My father was against the government, but he had to keep it very quiet or they’d take him away.”

Especially in 1945 when the war was clearly lost, and refugees fled the bombings of other cities and the advance of the Russians, how many of those people honestly still supported the government?  How many just wanted the war to end and sanity to regain control of the country?

But the Allied bombings didn’t just kill civilians of the Axis countries.  According to For You the War is Over by David A. Foy, the relentless bombings of civilians put the Allied POWs in Germany in serious danger, especially after Dresden: The POWs could sometimes be victims in air attacks on cities or trains.  Germans began calling the airmen “Luftgangsters,” believing they were deliberately chosen from the American mob to inflict death on women and children.

In the latter part of the war, any airman who was shot down over Germany was actually safer in the hands of enemy soldiers than of the civilians.  Civilians were in such a frenzy of anger and revenge that our boys could get lynched.  Angry guards in POW camps could become trigger-happy after their families were bombed.

And Hitler made things more difficult for POWs, so attempted escapes were more likely to lead to death instead of a stint in the cooler.  Only Eva’s influence kept Hitler from ordering the deaths of all Allied air force POWs after Dresden.  According to one POW, Stalag Luft I was very nearly wiped out in retaliation for an attack on a refugee train.  The POW claimed that SS troops were sent to do this, but the Kommandant’s troops surrounded them and refused to let them do it.

I see a lot of extreme thinking about these bombings: One side ignores the atrocities of the Nazis, even explains them away or says the Holocaust is a hoax.  They say there’s an Illuminati; they say Hitler and the Nazis were just misunderstood.  They say the Jews really are a problem and that xenophobia is not a sin.  They say the Allied leaders were war criminals.

The other side says the bombings were absolutely necessary.  They scold the people who say we shouldn’t have done this.  They say there was no other way to win the war.

But maybe there’s a middle way: recognize that while we had to beat the Nazis, that doesn’t mean our side was always correct in its actions.  We do the same in looking at American history with various groups, such as Native Americans and black slaves, recognizing when our government committed crimes against them; why not with World War II?

Yes, the governments we were fighting were evil, but that doesn’t mean all the people were.  And it doesn’t mean our leaders were saints who could do no wrong.  We can celebrate our leaders for winning the war, but realize that they were still human beings with faults, not gods.

And remember, going forward, that we can change how we do things.  Vonnegut taught his sons to never rejoice over a massacre of their enemies, and to not participate in one, or even work for a company which makes massacre machinery.

He also wrote that it’s our babies who are sent to fight these wars.  These kids are 18, 19, 20, and getting sent off to kill or be killed.  Even his criminally insane character Lazzaro considers the bombing of German cities, and says that back home he never killed anyone who didn’t have it coming.

After decades of trying but failing to write his book on Dresden, Vonnegut finally settled on something that worked: science fiction/satire.  In the midst of a silly story about a guy coming “unstuck in time,” captured by aliens and put in a zoo, and mated with a porn star, is a profound story about the evils of war.  Apparently this was the only way Vonnegut could truly deal with the trauma.  And he does it brilliantly.

 

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Disgusted by neo-Nazi Holocaust deniers on Youtube

As I work on my novel, a time-travel story mostly set in Nazi Germany, I have to do a lot of research.  Just when I think I’m getting most of it done, I find some new book or website to read.  And before I’m done, I MUST slog through the massive Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

(I first heard of that book in college, while I was still rewriting the first incarnation of my story; one of my suitemates was using it for a junior-year class.  I wanted to read it as research for my story, but then I set the story aside.  Hubby has the book, and now I finally have a reason to pick it up and get to it.)

There’s just so much out there, so much to read, even when you’re narrowed on one place and time during that period.  I have to get into the heads of my characters, after all, and understand why they behave the way they do.

And one disturbing thing I’ve discovered: I’ve long known neo-Nazis are still out there, but there are a LOT of them on the Net, especially in Youtube comments.  😛  And that means being careful which websites you read and which comments to take seriously in Youtube threads.  I’ve even found them in comments to music videos which reference Nazis or war.

Much of the information I’ve come across has been substantiated in other places, which are NOT Nazi sources in any way, shape or form.  Yes, the Allies did indeed carry out a terrible bombing campaign, not just against Hiroshima/Nagasaki but against Germany, which took many civilian lives.  And yes, the Soviets did indeed terrorize Germany when they invaded it.

Heck, I even saw a Sophia Loren movie a couple years ago which showed her running from Allied terror fliers.

But I think the difference is in approach.  I already knew a bit about the Allies bombing Germany, since we covered this decades ago in German class.  I didn’t know so many civilians died, however.  I also didn’t know about the horrors of the Soviet invasion.  It’s been 20 years since I studied WWII in high school and college, so I forget what all I knew back then.

But unlike the neo-Nazis I find on the Net, I did NOT start lamenting the poor, misunderstood Nazis or hang a picture of Hitler on my wall.  No, I took it as something to learn from, something to push our leaders to avoid in future wars.  Meanwhile, I find that 70 years later, this is still a controversial subject, people arguing over whether or not the bombing raids were justified and necessary to end the war.

This discussion must be had, must be continued, because if we don’t learn from history, etc. etc.  Despite the establishing of the United Nations to end all wars, wars just continue; al-Qaeda gets overshadowed by an even worse enemy, ISIS.

To me, learning about the human cost of the raids is on the same plane as learning about the internment camps to which Japanese-Americans were sent during WWII.  Do we hear about this, including from George Takei, and begin to say the emperor was the good guy and Churchill/Eisenhower/Patton the villains?  Heck, no!  Instead, we take it as yet another atrocity which our country has done, which ends the innocence, but we can learn from it, resolve never to do such a thing again.

I learn from all this that no country–no matter how justified the war or how righteous the cause–is free of blame during a war.

Neo-Nazis, on the other hand, take these things as evidence that Hitler was the good guy and that those of us who believe otherwise are sheeple who need to wake up.  Last night, while searching Youtube for documentaries on life during the war, I found terms in the comments such as “Holohoax” and claims that, with POWs, Germans were nice guys who followed the Geneva Convention to a T.

Hmmmmmm.

So, all those thousands of people who actually lived during that time, who were in the camps, or in Germany, or in occupied countries, they were just making it all up?

So Anne Frank is going to turn up sometime and say, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t die in the concentration camp.  The Germans were great to me.  I’ve just been hanging out in Croydon” ?

So my high school German teacher, who lived in Poland during the Occupation, was just making up those stories of life under the Nazis?

So all those people with tattoos and PTSD and many dead parents/relatives/friends were just making it up?

So all those men in the worst of the POW camps who died from disease, starvation, or a guard’s bullet, they didn’t really die?  Or the Polish or Russian POWs who were deliberately starved to death–they didn’t really die at the hands of genocidal guards?

I’ve read two books on life in POW camps run by Germans; their adherence to the Geneva Convention was attempted, yes, but dubious at best.  They didn’t want the many German prisoners in Allied hands to be mistreated.

There were nice guys among the German guards, yes.  They were human, too, and not all Nazis.  But there were trigger-happy guards, and guards who liked to throw their weight around.  Guards who would scream at kriegies and throw them in the cooler for failing to salute.

While officers and airmen were usually treated fairly well, and sometimes the Kommandants were honorable and not Nazis, still, they were under enormous pressure from the government and the civilians to not “coddle” the kriegies (prisoners).

The Kommandant at Stalag Luft III (the “Great Escape” camp) was under pressure from the Gestapo to push a button which would destroy the whole camp, but he refused to do it.  The Gestapo did not like this, so things went very badly for him after the Great Escape.

The Luftwaffe didn’t much care for the Gestapo, and ran their own camps for airman POWs.  But when the Gestapo was in charge (such as the concentration camps), that’s where the horrors happened.

But POWs in other camps weren’t quite so fortunate as the airman officers.  Enlisted men were forced to work; food was scarce for everyone, and if the Red Cross packages failed to arrive, everybody starved; medical care was practically nonexistent.  Living conditions were deplorable.  Even the airman officers suffered from substandard conditions, even though it wasn’t as bad for them.

Some guards were sympathetic, and some were amused by kriegies who tried to escape.  But some would shoot first, ask questions later, if they saw you by the wire or outside during an air raid–or even inside by a window!  Some took personally the killing of their families in bombing raids, and took it out on kriegies.

But all of this was just made up?  Is that what the Holocaust deniers are saying?  Is that the meaning of the people who say that Hitler wasn’t such a bad guy and was defending Europe from the Bolsheviks?

Bullcrap.  There is far too much evidence to the contrary, not just from our high school history books but from the memories of the still-living members of that generation.

My novel started out as a rewrite of a simple high school story of a girl stopping a time-traveling Nazi.  But this is getting much larger in my mind, as it takes on the psychology of a hypnotized country and the philosophical questions of war.  Now she falls in love with that Nazi, and starts to go under Germany’s mass hypnosis herself, as an escaped kriegie tries to break her out of it.

And it turns out this is not just a period piece, but deals with questions and actions which still go on today in this era of totalitarian governments and constant mechanized war.

 

 

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