Billy Pilgrim gets drafted to join the American army during World War II. He is sent to Europe, where the Germans capture him.
There is never a very strong sense that things are going well for Billy, even when he is back in New York State and successfully running his optometry business. Nevertheless, his initial captivity does not seem as threatening as it might, what with the British officers singing The Pirates of Penzance and Billy's assignment to work in an enriched syrup factory. He is a POW, but his position does not seem quite as dire as you might expect.
Sure, Billy can endure most of his captivity, but it's not all musical comedy and Brits performing Cinderella. As a captive of the German army, Billy has no control over his own fate, and as a result, he has no way of influencing anything that happens to him, good or bad. Because of this total lack of control, Billy is forced to bear witness to the total destruction of the city of Dresden. This is the absolute worst thing that has or will ever happen to him, and it is utterly beyond his control.
As Billy struggles with the aftermath of the war, even his literal freedom from German captivity and his return to upstate New York cannot free him from the unhappiness his war experience has left him with. Having lost control of his life as a POW, Billy is very slow to regain power over his own fate.
Oddly, Billy finally regains a sense of control over his own life by totally resigning himself to the fact that there is no free will. Once Billy totally gives himself over to the Tralfamadorian view that no individual can change a single moment in time, he is able to confront the misery he has been living with for so many years and put it aside. Of course, we have to ask whether Billy's refuge in Tralfamadore really represents a lasting answer to his personal sorrow, but for more on this, check out our "Three Act Plot Analysis."