Ich bin ein Dresdner?

January 29, 2008


“Write what you know.” Isn’t that what they say? So, Kurt Vonnegut wrote about the firebombing of Dresden in World War II in his novel, Slaughterhouse Five. Each time I read this book, I am more impressed by it. His control of tone is wonderful – the simple, repetitive phrases that give it the air of a parodic gospel. The dark satire, restrained by a fatalistic humanism. The downright horror of it all.

He didn’t write about the Nazi destruction of the Jews – he didn’t witness that. He made no grand claims, other than that in the war, tens of thousands of innocent civilians were burned to a crisp in a city that had no military value. (Some have recently claimed that this was not true, but it certainly took them a while to make their arguments! See my post on Bomber Harris.) More people died there than in Hiroshima, but who’s counting? Is the body count all that matters?

The subtitle of the book is The Children’s Crusade, a reference to the fact that the American army was largely composed of boys, barely out of childhood, hastily dressed up and shipped overseas in uniform as GI Joes. For the most part, they were woefully unprepared, a point that is amplified in a brief historical book about the US war in northern Europe, The Boy’s Crusade by Paul Fussell. (He was there too.) They were fighting a desperate and seasoned killing machine led by experienced and ruthless officers fighting for their lives, the Nazi army.

There are a lot of things in this book that may have seemed very outré in 1971. His description of the American collaborator, Campbell and his tirades against US soldiers; the way the Germans treated the Russian POWs like animals to be worked to death – right next to the Americans and British; the incompetence and chaos of the Americans fighting – their poor equipment. Lots of things that don’t accord too well with our current mythology of The Greatest Generation either.

Of course, the book had added poignancy because it was published at a time with the specter of mass incineration was hanging over just about everyone.

Requiescat In Pace


War Without End?

January 26, 2006

When will we declare victory in the “War on Terror?” How will we know if we have won? When there have been no terrorist attacks for a month, a year, a decade…100 years? Is this really a war?I think that we are in a struggle with a nefarious, cruel, cunning, daring, and brutal enemy that wishes to do us great harm, but that is not quite a war. No state, no army, no battles, just a series of atrocities and crimes. John Kerry was ridiculed for saying that we should strive to get terrorism to the point where we deal with it through police actions – how the Europeans look at it – and he is right. Here in the USA, we hardly know what war is, and perhaps the Europeans still remember it for what it is.

No, we declare a war on terror so we can have war fever, wave flags, feel that we are fighting back, doing something! We slip easily into that sort of logic, it seems so natural. The response to September 11th was fear and shock, and then a boiling patriotic desire to hit back. Well, we hit back against the Taliban, and rightly so. The perpetrators were there, they would do it again, it was their base – simply self-defense, but not much of a war. We needed a real war to keep the war-talk going, so we invaded Iraq.

I’m not saying that our government cynically decided to do these things because it wanted to whip up war fever, no, not the way the Argentine junta did it by invading the Falklands to divert attention from their parlous failure with the economy and their murder of thousands of Argentine citizens. No, I’m saying that our government slipped easily into the war mode because it’s so easy to, because it served their purposes, because our leaders have no imagination…and a host of other bad reasons that get used again and again throughout history.

Problem is, war justifies everything – secrecy, wire tapping, sloppy budgets, accusations that your critics are traitors – and it makes it very hard to see your enemy for what he is. I know we have had some success against Al Quaeda, but Iraq is a huge diversion, and we’ve muddied the waters so much, I despair of a sensible approach to protecting ourselves in the future.

Can’t stop thinking of 1984…the war was always on, only the enemy kept changing from time to time. It was hard to remember whom we were fighting, and who were our allies. It didn’t matter – the war went on.

Seasons Greetings, Morons!

December 21, 2004

Well, another year almost gone. You humans constantly amaze me. Has it been a good year?

I guess I can’t complain – you managed to avoid the ultimate disaster.

We had a little bit of this…

…and way too much of this.

I guess I’ll just have to hang around and see what happens next.

Peace on Earth

December 16, 2004

What we see here are two vintage shots of No Man’s Land from World War I.


The first is a stereo shot of a ‘ghostly’ skeleton with its uniform still on. This sort of photo card was made for viewing through a hand held stereo scope. Can you imagine getting one of these and rushing to look through the scope and see the rotten solider in 3D? A nice Xmas gift, eh? And then a long shot of the barbed wire that separated the lines of trenches.

But during WWI, some soldiers had the weird idea of poking their heads above the killing line and fraternizing with the enemy, all in the spirit of Christmas. The trenches were so close that troops from the opposing armies could easily speak to or hurl insults at one another. When the holidays rolled around after the mechanized slaughter had been going on in earnest for quite a while, the troops, British and German, spontaneously called a truce. They climbed out of their rat holes and met in No Man’s Land, exchanged treats, whiskey, buried their comrades who had been left rotting in the mud for days or weeks, and sang songs to one another. Seems bizarre – after all, they knew it couldn’t last.Needless to say, the officers were furious. Not good for morale at all. It was never allowed to happen again. One source states:

“British commanders vowed that no such truce would be allowed again. In all of the following years of the war, artillery bombardments were ordered on Christmas Eve to insure that there were no further lulls in the combat. ” For more info, visit:  Wikipedia Article