Thursday, April 12, 2007

KURT VONNEGUT, DEAD AT 84

"He was sort of like nobody else. Kurt was never dull."
--Gore Vidal

NEW YORK CITY--Were it not for Kurt Vonnegut, most Americans would have no idea about the Allied-bombing of the non-strategic city of Dresden. There will never be a place like the Dresden before WWII. It was once called the "jewel of Europe," a place of some of the greatest achievements in art, architecture, and a world-renowned craftsmanship in fine porcelains. The people of the city were known for their culture, their happiness, and peacefulness. Like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Dresden wasn't a genuinely tactical target--it was a revenge bombing for the Nazi-bombing of the city of Coventry.

A gauntlet of revisionists inside and outside of academia have tried to downplay our crimes in-general, but not like the story of Dresden. Even today, the numbers killed is a point of extreme controversy--the Anglo-American powers' crimes don't exist, after all. On the 14th of February, 1945, 450 American B-17s, and 850 RAF bombers levelled Dresden, killing as many as 100,000. The exact-figures are unknown, however, a minimum of 25,000 killed is accepted. Some have said that Stalin requested the raid at Yalta, but this has also been hard to prove. Winston Churchill thought the bombings were distasteful.

The Dresden raid caused a public outcry. Even Winston Churchill, who had urged Bomber Command to attack east German cities, tried to dissociate himself from it. On 28 March 1945, he drafted a memo to the British Chiefs of Staff in which he denounced the bombing of cities as "mere acts of terror and wanton destruction". The attack was authorised by British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, known as "Bomber Harris" for his enthusiastic support of the area bombing strategy. The idea was to target large urban areas to whittle away at German public morale, cut off relief supplies to the eastern front and give support to the approaching Soviet armies. (BBC, 02.14.2005)

It's hard to find a more unimpeachable statement than that. Apologists will say that it was all "necessary," and was "worth it", as former-Sec. of State Madeline Albright said about similar-tactics used in Iraq that killed 500,000 children. Our crimes don't exist, and anyone who voices them has to be countered with misinformation, half-truths, and out-and-out lies. Churchill's statement isn't some peace-loving hippie, or some granola-head: he was a hawk, and was still appalled by the barbarism and criminality of the bombing of Dresden. We will never truly know how many human-beings were annihilated by these bombings, anymore than we'll ever know how many people were killed in the Detroit riots of 1967. Bodies were cremated by the fires, destroyed by the bulldozing and recovery, and frequently little effort was made beyond immediate-survival. The priority was picking-up the pieces at the time, and simply surviving.

This is why anyone who holds the bold assertion that 25,000-100,000 is "too-high" is simply lying, their so-called certainty being the give-away.We will never know, but arguing over a mountain of bodies is, while disregarding the horror of even 25,000 human-beings dying in one night tends to be disregarded. That is a colossal number. Considering the number of bombers, and the fact that 2,600 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped (creating a firestorm, just as it had in the Bremen, Hamburg, and Munich). People were literally cremated in their homes and bomb-shelters. Glass melted, bricks exploded. The number of bombs is irrelevant once a firestorm has commenced.

This is the height of terrorism, just as the overflights and bombings of infrastructure in Iraq during the 1990s by the Clinton administration were. They were war-crimes. We are committing others right-now in Iraq, including the use of phosphorous in incendiary-munitions. One facility that manufactured these kinds of munitions was the "South Plants Area" of the Rocky Mountains Arsenal in Colorado.

Munitions Filling

The preparation (by mixing or blending) and filling of incendiary munitions comprised the most extensive Army operations at the RMA South Plants during the WWII era. Five types of incendiary munitions were either filled or produced at RMA throughout WWII:Bombs were filled using a napalm gel which was produced in the 700-Series buildings;Bombs were filled in the 300-Series buildings with an incendiary mixture that was not produced at RMA;Cluster bombs were filled in the 300-Series buildings with an incendiary mixture that was manufactured offpost;Cluster bombs were filled in the 300-Series buildings with an incendiary mixture not manufactured at RMA; andWhite phosphorus, brought to RMA from offsite, was used to fill munitions igniters in the South Plants 500-Series buildings. (pmrma.army.mil/site/s-plants.html)

Were the incendiary-bombs that were dropped on Dresden made at RMA? It could have been the facilities at Huntsville, Alabama, though they could have been manufactured at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland (where Frank Zappa's father worked--and was paid extra-wages as a human guinea-pig). The fact is this: the allies dropped thousands-of-tons of phosphorus bombs on civilians during WWII. This is a war-crime.

Enter Kurt Vonnegut: during December of 1945, Private Vonnegut was captured by German forces in Belgium--it was the Battle of the Bulge. My own grandfather fought in this battle, and recounted how you never knew who was an American or a German wearing the uniforms of captured or dead G.I.s. It was total-chaos, and Vonnegut was rapidly sent to a German POW-facility in Dresden. "Slaughterhouse Five" comes from the name of the underground shelter he and his fellow prisoners hid in during the bombing of Dresden. His experiences of digging-up the bodies, and seeing the moonscape of what had been a beautiful, non-strategic city haunted him the rest of his life.

I'm gonna miss this man--I've read nearly every Vonnegut novel and essay. My favorites are: Slaughterhouse Five, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, and Breakfast of Champions. I've even enjoyed most of the movie-adaptations, like Mother Night, Breakfast, and the best, Slaughterhouse Five. But, my viewpoint of Kurt is also one of someone who has lived their entire life in Indiana. Vonnegut always retained that sense of the outsider, the observer, looking-in. Ask most outsiders in Indiana, and they'll tell you their love of Kurt Vonnegut, a man who the state has never truly honored as one of its greats.

It was my late step-father who introduced me to Kurt's novels in the mid-1980s. The book? Breakfast of Champions. Alongside Eugene Debs, he's been a voice for the people who have been thrown-away or abused by America, and he's inspired millions with both his cynicism and (ironically) hope. We have lost our era's Mark Twain, we have lost a giant of a man. Rich, you should have stopped and talked to Kurt that fine summer day on that lakeside road in Indiana...we're all guilty for Dresden, just as we're all guilty of the crimes committed in Iraq. We cannot have peace as culture and a nation until we admit our crimes. This is the testament to the writings of Kurt Vonnegut. A huge-chunk of Indiana's--and America's--soul died yesterday.


BBC on the bombing of Dresden: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/14/newsid_3549000/3549905.stmHuntsville

Redstone/Huntsville Arsenal: http://www.redstone.army.mil/history/airfield/chapter1.html

On the Rocky Mountains Arsenal: http://www.pmrma.army.mil/site/s-plants.html