by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five Morality and Ethics Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Section.Paragraph)
I happened to tell a University of Chicago professor at a cocktail party about the raid as I had seen it, about the book I would write. He was a member of a thing called The Committee on Social Thought. And he told me about the concentration camps, and about how the Germans had made soap and candles out of the fat of dead Jews and so on.
All I could say was, "I know, I know. I know." (1.6.2-3)
We can imagine someone justifying the firestorm of Dresden by saying, look, it's quid pro quo: the Germans were exterminating people, and the war had to be stopped as quickly as possible. But Vonnegut witnessed the deaths of thousands of noncombatants. He wants to find a way to talk about that experience, even though he knows that, as a country, Germany did terrible things during the war.
So he raises the issue of concentration camps to say that, yes, he knows—but still, aside from larger questions of morality, he saw the boiled bodies of schoolgirls. What could make that right or correct?
Those were vile people in both those cities [Sodom and Gomorrah], as is well known. The world was better off without them.
And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. (1.21.3-4)
By comparing himself to Lot's wife, the narrator acknowledges, again, that Germany bore a lot of guilt for what was happening in the war. But that does not mean that it is not human and necessary to bear witness to the suffering of ordinary Germans, as witnessed by Vonnegut himself.
There was a tap on Billy's car window. A black man was out there. He wanted to talk about something. The light had changed. Billy did the simplest thing. He drove on. (3.9.2)
Who knows what this man was going to say to Billy? Billy never will, because he refuses to listen. We get hints throughout the novel that Billy is not particularly compassionate, as when he sees a pair of disabled men trying to sell magazine subscriptions and refuses to answer the doorbell. When does Billy start trying to comfort others who are suffering? Why?