The Idealism of Kurt Vonnegut

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The Idealism of Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut was greatly influenced by his involvement in

World War II. His entanglement with the Dresden bombing had an

unequivocal effect upon his mentality, and the horrid experience

propelled the liberal anti-war assertions that dominate many of

his novels. Throughout his life, his idealistic nature has

perceptibly undulated, and five representative novels illustrate

the forceful progression and gradual declivity of his liberal


The first thirty years of his life outwardly coincided with

the average American man. He was born in Indianapolis on November

11, 1922, and lived a happy childhood with a stable family. He

then proceeded to pursue science in college, serve his country in

World War II, study under the GI Bill after the war, and land

a job in public relations before becoming a full-time writer.

Even his large and growing family seemed to capture the true

spirit of the American ideal.

However, one element of his past would affect him in a way

that would change his life forever. In December 1944, he was

captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge. He and his

fellow POWs were taken to Dresden, an "open" city rich with

architectural treasures and devoid of any military value. British

and American planes needlessly firebombed the city on the night

of February 13, 1945, hoping to inspire terror in the Germans and

crush their fighting spirit. Over 135,000 civilians were

killed-twice the amount of casualties at Hiroshima. The insane

horror and absurdity of the Dresden attack remained deeply etched

into Vonnegut's mind from that day forward.

Nearly two decades later, Vonnegut published Mother Night,

a novel that displays the profound influence that the massacre

exerted upon him. It contains this stirring autobiographical

account of his Dresden experience in its preface:

We didn't get to see the fire storm. We were in a cool

meat-locker under the slaughterhouse with our six guards

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