Study Guide

Slaughterhouse-Five Warfare

By Kurt Vonnegut

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Slaughterhouse-Five ain't about officers or heroes. It's about privates, most of whom don't want to be—and shouldn't be—on the battlefield. And it's about prisoners of war, men who have been deprived of any kind of control over where they go and what they do.

There is nothing—we repeat, nothing—romantic about war in Slaughterhouse-Five. In fact, the villains of the novel are the ones who continue to romanticize violence and killing, men like Bertram Copeland Rumfoord and Roland Weary.

Questions About Warfare

  1. How does the narrator counteract potential justifications for the bombing of Dresden within Slaughterhouse-Five? How does he represent characters who approve of this firebombing?
  2. Which characters in the book glorify war? How does the narrator represent these characters? What kind of commentary might Slaughterhouse-Five be making on those who glorify war?
  3. Why does Slaughterhouse-Five avoid any direct representations of the battlefield? Why should a book about World War II focus so much on people who are not fighting?
  4. Vonnegut refers to the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. While the content of the novel clearly focuses on World War II, how is Slaughterhouse-Five also a book about America in the 1960s?

Chew on This

By giving villainous characters like Roland Weary and Bertram Copeland Rumfoord a love of war (or a love of the idea of war, at least), Vonnegut conveys his strongly anti-war sentiments to the reader.

By avoiding representations of the battlefield and focusing instead on prisoners of war, Vonnegut draws the reader's attention not to war itself, but to the suffering it causes.

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