Comfort in a Time of Pain

How about some Kurt Vonnegut here, a writer who who always spoke truth to power and who was present, a P.O.W., when the Allies firebombed the beautiful city of Dresden. Thousands of men women and children died in this Medieval city was once called The Florence of the Elbe, making its fire-bombing  the single most destructive act of the war, outranking even Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In this passage from his extended cry-for-peace novel Slaughterhouse Five, there is this vision witnessed by protagonist Billy Pilgrim who, having become ‘unstuck in time,’  is granted a sort of vision. This is what he ‘saw’:

“American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses, took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and every thing and every body was as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals.

Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work.

The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

Let’s do it: let’s re-bury it all, every accelerant to every weapon. And let’s also look inside our own hearts as well – for the accelerants not only of anger but also of our indifference to the suffering of others.

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