If We Could Make War Backwards

I am currently reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.  This passage was so good I’m going to post the whole thing:

Billy looked at the clock on the gas stove.  He had an hour to kill before the saucer [flying] came.  He went into the living room, swinging the bottle [champagne] like a dinner bell, turned on the television.  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 up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames.  The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted them 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 night and day, 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.


  • Brian

    June 22, 2010

    Amazing. I really need to reread that book. That passage is heartbreaking.

  • Sam

    June 22, 2010

    I like how he carried the concept all the way through and even Hitler became a baby.

  • Stephanie

    June 23, 2010

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read any Vonnegut (and I’ve read them all). This one is definitely worth a re-read.

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