Friday, November 29, 2013

War in Reverse

Today, I was reading Kurt Vonnegut's novel Slaughterhouse Five, which is about the U.S. firebombing of Dresden, Germany in World War II.  It is also about time travel and aliens.  It's classic Kurt Vonnegut.  Anyway, I came across a passage today that really moved me, so I thought I would share it.  The main character, Billy Pilgrim, who survived the firebombing of Dresden, has come "unstuck in time" meaning that one moment he could be at his daughter's wedding, and the next he could be in a foxhole in Germany.  Sometimes, he comes unstuck in smaller ways, like seeing movies in reverse.  That's the part I want to share with you:

He came slightly unstuck in time, saw the late movie backwards, then forwards again.  It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew them.  Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this:

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 backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames.  The bombers opened their 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 containers were stored neatly in racks.  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 planes.  But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair.  Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody 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 day and night, 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.

The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids.  And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed.  That wasn't in the movie.  Billy was extrapolating.  Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.

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