The Englishman said that he, when captured, had made and kept the following vows to himself: To brush his teeth twice a day, to shave once a day, to wash his face and hands before every meal and after going to the latrine, to polish his shoes once a day, to exercise for at least half an hour each morning, and then move his bowels, and to look into a mirror frequently, frankly evaluating his appearance with respect to posture.
Billy Pilgrim heard all this while lying in his nest. He looked not at the Englishman's face but his ankles.
"I envy you lads," said the Englishman.
Somebody laughed. Billy wondered what the joke was.
"You lads are leaving this afternoon for Dresden--a beautiful city, I'm told. You won't be cooped up like us. You'll be out where the life is, and the food is certain to be more plentiful than here. If I may inject a personal note: It has been five years since I have seen a tree or flower or woman or child--or a dog or a cat or a place of entertainment, or a human being doing useful work of any kind.
"You needn't worry about bombs, by the way. Dresden is an open city. It is undefended, and contains no war industries or troop concentrations of any importance."
The Englishman is correct. Dresden was a center of culture in Germany. It wasn't a military target at all. The firebombing of the city has been compared to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed. The entire city was leveled. The Allies did this at the end of the war, to break the morale of the German people. It's still a controversial moment in the history of World War II.
I'm not here to argue whether this attack was right or wrong. You can decide that for yourself. Certainly, the war in Europe ended shortly after Dresden was destroyed. It was horrific for the people who were there at the time and survived, like Kurt Vonnegut. The cost of war on innocent lives is always huge. There is no way to avoid it, unless it's simply to not engage in warfare at all.
I'm not completely sure that all the current world leaders can put military decisions in any kind of historical context. (One leader, in particular, has never even read a history book, I'm certain.) And without that historical context, I don't know how any head of state can make a military decision that puts innocent civilians in harm's way.
What I'm saying is not a profound insight. This post is just me grappling with things that are going on in my country and the world right now. I'm not going to change anything with a blog post about an attack that occurred over 70 years ago. I just want to express a hope that somebody in power somewhere will step back and say, "What the fuck are we doing here?"
Of course, history is full of terrible events--tragedies committed against humans by other humans. The enslavement of the Jewish people by the Egyptians. The Crusades. The Spanish Inquisition. The enslavement of African Americans in the United States. The use of mustard gas in World War I. The Holocaust. The Armenian and Cambodian and Rwandan genocides. The firebombing of Dresden. I could go on. And these kinds of tragedies keep happening. Just ask the people of Syria.
Like Anne Frank, I want to believe that, in spite of everything, people are still good at heart. And I want to believe that those good-hearted people will prevail in the end.
Saint Marty is thankful today for soup kitchens and Habitat for Humanity. For Greenpeace and Doctors Without Borders. Animal shelters and cancer research. For goodness and kindness.