Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Return To Tralfamadore


Recently I have been thinking about the differences between movies and books, and some of the better movies that have been based on books.

I read “Slaughterhouse-Five” in college. It was actually a book that was featured in some of my high school’s English classes, but never in one of mine. I had read “Cat’s Cradle” first, and at 19 I was blown away by it. Reading it again in my 30’s was kind of disappointing, but that doesn’t change my opinion. At 19 it was a revelation. I quickly consumed many more books by Vonnegut, and though I can’t remember the order, I think I read “SH5” and “The Sirens of Titan” back to back just after “Cat’s Cradle.”

Back then, I was intrigued by the science fiction and philosophical aspects of the novel to a greater degree than I was by the anti-war message. I think that was probably because by the mid 70’s it was expected that people were anti-war. If you weren’t, you were an asshole. Of course war was bad. We were all still weary from Viet Nam.

I didn’t see the film until the early 80’s. I’m guessing it was 1983 or 1984. I probably rented it. I’m sure I liked it, and from memory I think I judged it pretty faithful to the book.

I watched it again this weekend. I thought it was great. It reminded me of how so much has changed since the film was made and since I’d read the book and seen the film. Now it seems you’re an asshole if you’re anti-war. And a pussy. And un-American. And un-patriotic. And a lover of terrorists. And a friend of brutal dictators. And a coward.

I somehow missed a huge bit of irony the first time around the “SH5” flick. During the clean-up after the bombing of Dresden, good guy Derby and only friend to protagonist Billy Pilgrim finds a figurine identical to the one that was accidentally broken back home. When asked about it by the Germans, he showed it to them without guile, because for whatever reason it didn’t click that taking it was verboten.

They shot him.

A couple days later some other guys are seen looting a grandfather clock and it gets dropped on Billy. The Germans ignore it and move on.

So it goes.

Our culture has seemingly become inured to the horrors of war. Even now as the tide is ever so slowly turning, many people still don’t know what war is. What it does to people.

Funny thing about these conservatives. They decry liberals and intellectuals for being relativists. You know. "The buck has to stop someplace. Everything can’t be ok I’m_ok_you’re_ ok ok. Ok?"

Except when it comes to war. In a war, you can just kill people because that is what war is. War is the ultimate suspension of morality. Everything is ok if it is a war. It’s like hall pass in the school of decency. It’s like a get_out_of_jail_free card in “Monopoly – The Jesus Edition.” Soldiers can break into someone’s house, kill everyone, and then go, “Oops. Wrong house.” And then move on. Let’s go have a beer and talk to the Chaplain.

Or you can bomb an entire non-military target city famous for its delicate artwork and historical architecture, and kill 100,000 people.

WWII. Maybe it could have been avoided, but since it wasn’t we did what we had to do. I don’t know if we had to bomb Dresden or not. I don’t know if we had to drop the second nuke on Japan or not. Doesn’t matter now. That shit happens in war. Which is why us asshole, pussy, un-American, un-patriotic etc. liberals believe it should be the last resort after all other alternatives have been exhausted.

Maybe life is just a collection of moments, and maybe we just have to struggle through the bad ones and enjoy the good ones.

Maybe, just maybe next time we’ll remember this time -- and say “no.”

***

Don't forget this week's Top 10.

4 Comments:

Anonymous blue girl said...

I just read Slaughterhouse 5 again over Christmas...I'm always touched by it. There's this one part - where he and his friend are talking and his friend says something like..."Someone's got to make up some better stories or something to make life worth living." I'll have to find it, because I thought it was such a great quote.

I've never seen the movie. I think I'll try to rent it.

You know Al, I think the country may be coming around finally. Bush's approval rating's at 34%; Cheney's at 18%. Wm F. Buckley came out and said "We failed" in Iraq.

Did you read Wolcott in Vanity Fair/March Issue? It was great.

Smile, Al!

5:02 PM  
Blogger XTCfan said...

Our culture has seemingly become inured to the horrors of war.

Example #1,249,302 of how spoiled Americans are: With oceans on either side of us and no war on our own shores since the mid-1800s, we don't have a concrete concept of exactly what war is. And this has gotten worse in recent years -- at least the general population had to sacrifice certain things in their lifestyle during WWII, but now war (if you're not in it) is completely free of consequences for Americans. It's something we watch on TV, and even if someone we know or love is affected by it, it's never with the immediacy and horror of someone who has experienced it first-hand, on their soil, in their face.

This is one reason why Fahrenheit 9-11 got to me -- when I saw the pictures of the Iraqis killed, in graphic detail (which you don't see on the evening news, obviously) and especially when I saw the scene with a man carrying what looked like his dead son, who had obviously emptied his bladder as he died, I couldn't keep from crying. What if that were my son?

We need to ask ourselves that question, or a version of it, whenever we think of war or its consequences.

6:42 PM  
Blogger fgfdsg said...

Great post Viscount. I'll look for the book on my next trip to the library.

I used to wonder about this "War Makes It Ok Excuse" all the time as a child and regularly got into trouble for it.

When we learnt about World War II in Primary School I was filled by horror about how it ended, (they explained to us about dropping the atomic bomb - something I lived in great fear of for most of childhood, but it was a very tidy and extremely whitewashed version).

The class cheered. I didn't. Unfortunately, my dad had a Time Life Series of WWII books, so I'd seen the pictures of the city and the victims of the blast. I said I thought that made us "just as evil as the other side", and said so to the teacher.

There was a hushed silence, because *you never questioned the teacher*. She asked me what I meant and I said it was evil, because weren't there kids there just like us?

I was sent to the Principal's Office for my trouble, but after that I always wondered about what exactly we were learning in school and soon understood the concept about 'the winner's writing history'.

Luckily, when we got to WWII in high school history, our history teacher called the bombings "Despicable Acts", and always gave a speech and lead the minute's silence in Assembly each Hiroshima Day.

Nowadays this kind of compassion would probably mean an investigation by Homeland Security.

XTCFan - Great point also. I've heard the stories from my Grandparents about just how *hard* life was during wartime of just getting the daily basics to survive. Now it doesn't affect the non-invaded populace's day to day living at all.

The only cost is Someone Else's Kid being killed.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Neil Shakespeare said...

Caught "Catch-22" on TCM a few weeks ago. Great seeing it again. You miss so much. Or maybe you didn't miss it at the time, you just forgot. Anyway, 'twould love to see S5 again sometime.

4:47 AM  

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