Slaughterhouse-Five/The Children’s Crusade by Kurt Vonnegut- Quote Collection
“I think of how useless the Dresden part of my memory has been, and yet how tempting Dresden has been to write about, and I am reminded of the famous limerick:
There was a young man from Stamboul,
Who soliloquized thus to his tool:”
You took all my wealth
And you ruined my heath,
And now you won’t pee, you old fool.”
And I’m reminded, too, of the song that goes:(Kurt Vonnegut, “One,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 2-3)
My name is Yon Yonson,
I work in Wisconsin,
I work in a lumbermill there.
The people I meet when I walk down the street,
They say, “What’s you name?”
And I say,”
My name is Yon Yonson,
I work in Wisconsin…”
And so on to infinity.”
“I think about my education sometimes. I went to the University of Chicago for a while after the Second World War. I was a student in the Department of Anthropology. At that time, they were teaching that there was absolutely no different between anybody. They may be teaching that still.
Another thing they taught was that nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Shortly before my father died, he said to me, “You know- you never wrote a story with a villain in it.”
I told him that was one of the things I learning in college after the war.”(Kurt Vonnegut, “One,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 8)
“”You were just babies in the war- like the ones upstairs!”
I nodded that this was true. We had been foolish virgins in the war, right at the end of childhood.
“But you’re not going to write it that way, are you.” This wasn’t a question. It was an accusation.
“I- I don’t know,” I said.
“Well, I know,” she said. “You’ll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you’ll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some of those other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we’ll have a lot more of them. And they’ll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs.”…
“I tell you what,” I said, “I’ll call it “The Children’s Crusade.'””(Kurt Vonnegut, “One,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 14)
“And I say to Sam now: “Same- here’s the book.”
It is so short and jumbled and jangled, Same, because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre. Everybody is supposed to be dead, to never say anything or want anything ever again. Everything is supposed to be very quiet after a massacre, and it always is, except for the birds.
And what do the birds say? All there is to say about a massacre, things like “Poo-tee-weet?”(Kurt Vonnegut, “One,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 19)
“I had two books with me, which I’d meant to read on the plane. One was Words for the Wind, by Theodore Roethke, and this is what I found in there:
I wake to sleep and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
My other book was Erika Ostrovsky’s Celine and His Vision. Celine was a brave French soldier in the First World War- until his skull was cracked. After that he couldn’t sleep, and there were noises in his head. He became a doctor, and he treated poor people in the daytime, and he wrote grotesque novels all night. No art is possible without a dance with death, he wrote.
The truth is death, he wrote, I’ve fought nicely against it as long as I could… danced with it, festooned it, waltzed it around… decorated it with streamers, titillated it…”(Kurt Vonnegut, “One,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 20)
“I looked through the Gideon Bible in my motel room for tales of great destruction. The sun was rised upon the Earth when Lot entered Zo-ar, I read. Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of Heaven; and He overthrew those cities, and that with grew upon the ground.So it goes.
Those were vile people in both those cities, 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.
So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes.
People aren’t supposed to look back. I’m certainly not going to go it anymore.
I’ve finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun.
This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt. It begins like this:
Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
It ends like this:(Kurt Vonnegut, “One,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 21-22)
(Kurt Vonnegut, “Two,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 26-7)
“Another month went by without incident, and then Billy wrote a letter to the Ilium News Leader, which the paper published. It described the creatures from Tralfamadore… The Creatures were friendly, and they could see in four dimensions. They pitied Earthlings for being able to see only three.. The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist…Now, when I myself hear that someone is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is “So it goes.'””
“Billy had an extremely gruesome crucifix hanging on the wall of his little bedroom in Ilium. A military surgeon would have admired the clinical fidelity of the artist’s rendition of all Christ’s wounds- the spear wound, the thorn wounds, the holes that were made by the iron spikes. Billy’s Christ died horribly. He was pitiful.
So it goes.
Billy wasn’t a catholic, even though he grew up with a ghastly crucifix on the wall.”(Kurt Vonnegut, “Two,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 38)
“Billy Pilgrim had stopped in the forest. He was leaning against a tree with his eyes close. His head was tilted back and his nostrils were flaring. He was like a poet in the Parthenon.
This was when Billy first came unstuck in time. His attention began to swing grandly through the full arc of his life, passing into death, which was violet light. There wasn’t anybody else there, or anything. There was just violet light- and a hum.
And then Billy swung into life again, going backwards until he was in pre-birth, which was red light and bubbling sounds.”(Kurt Vonnegut, “Two,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 43)
“Those boots were almost all he owned in this world. They were his home. An anecdote: One time a recruit was watching him bone and wax those golden boots, and he held one up to the recruit and said, “If you look in there deeply enough, you’ll see Adam and Eve.”
Billy Pilgrim had not heard this anecdote. But, lying on the black ice there, Billy stared into the patina of the corporal’s boots, saw Adam and Eve in the golden depths. They were naked. They were so innocent, so vulnerable, so eager to behave decently. Billy Pilgrim loved them.”(Kurt Vonnegut, “Three,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 53)
“Billy had a framed prayer on his office wall which expressed his method for keeping going, even though he was unenthusiastic about living. A lot of patients who saw the prayer on Billy’s wall told him that it helped them to keep going, too. It went like this:
GOD GRANT ME(Kurt Vonnegut, “Three,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 60)
THE SERENITY TO ACCEPT
THE THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE,
TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN,
AND WISDOM ALWAYS
TO TELL THE
“Human beings in there were excreting into steel helmets which were passed to the people at the ventilators, who dumped them. Billy was a dumped. The human beings also passed canteens, which guards would fill with water. When food came in, the human beings were quiet and trusting and beautiful. They shared.”(Kurt Vonnegut, “Three,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 70)
“There were two peepholes inside the airlock- with yellow eyes pressed to them. There was a speaker on the wall. The Tralfamadorians had no voice boxes. They communicated telepathically. They were able to talk to Billy by means of a computer and a sort of electric organ which made every Earthling speech sounds.
“Welcome aboard, Mr. Pilgrim,” said the loudspeaker. “Any questions?”
Billy licked his lips, thought a while, inquired at last: “Why me?”
“That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?”
“Yes.” Billy, in fact, had a paperweight in his office which was a blob of polished amber with three ladybugs embedded in it.
“Well, here we arm, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”(Kurt Vonnegut, “Four,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 76-7)
“”Where am I?” said Billy Pilgrim.
“Trapped in another blob of amber, Mr. Pilgrim. We are where we have to be just now- three hundred million miles from Earth, bound for a time warp which will get us to Tralfamadore in hours rather than centuries.”
“How- how did I get here?”
“It would take another Earthling to explain it to you. Earthlings are the great explainers, explaining why this event is structured as it is, telling how other events may be achieved or avoided. I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moments by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber.”
“You sound to me as though you don’t believe in free will,” said Billy Pilgrim.
“If I hadn’t spent so much time studying Earthlings,” said the Tralfamadorian, “I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by ‘free will.’ I’ve visited thirty-one inhabited planets in the universe, and I have studied reports on one hundred more. Only on Earth is there any talk of free will.”””(Kurt Vonnegut, “Four,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 85-6)
“So Rosewater told him. It was The Gospel from Outer Space, by Kilgore Trout. It was about a visitor from outer space, shaped very much like a Tralfamadorian, by the way. The visitor from outer space made a serious study of Christianity, to learn, if he could, why Christians found it so easy to be cruel. He concluded that at least part of the trouble was slipshod storytelling in the New Testament. He supposed that the intent of the Gospels was to teach people, among other things, to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low.
But the Gospels actually taught this:
Before you kill somebody, make absolutely sure he isn’t well connected. So it goes.
The flaw in the Christ stories, said the visitor from outer space, was that Christ, who didn’t look like much, was actually the Son of the Most Powerful Being in the universe. Readers understood that, so, when they came to the crucifixion, they naturally though, and Rosewater read out loud again:
Oh boy- they sure picked the wrong guy to lynch that time!
And that thought had a brother: “There are right people to lynch.” Who? People not well connected. So it goes.
The visitor from outer space made a gift to Earth of a new Gospel. In it, Jesus really was a nobody, and a pain in the neck to a lot of people with better connections than he had. He still got to say all the lovely and puzzling things he said in the other Gospels. So the people amused themselves one day by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground. There couldn’t possibly be any repercussions, the lynchers thought. The reader would have to think that, too, since the new Gospel hammered home again and again what a nobody Jesus was.
And then, just before the nobody dies, the heavens opened up, and there was thunder and lightning, The voice of God came crashing down. He told the people that he was adopting the bum as his son, giving him the full powers and privileges of The Son of the Creator of the Universe throughout all eternity. God said this: From this moment on, He will punish horribly anybody who torments a bum who has no connections!”(Kurt Vonnegut, “Five,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 108-9)
“There were five sexes on Tralfamadore, each of them performing a step necessary in he creation of a new individual. They looked identical to Billy- because their sex differences were all in the fourth dimension.
One of the biggest moral bombshells handed to Billy by the Tralfamadorians, incidentally, had to do with sex on Earth. they said their flying-saucer crews had identified no fewer than seven sexes on Earth, each essential to reproduction. Again: Billy couldn’t possible imagine what five of those seven sexes had to do with the making of a baby, since they were sexually active only in the fourth dimension.
The Tralfamadorians tried to give Billy clues that would help him imagine sex in the invisible dimension. They told him there could be no Earthling babies without male homosexuals. There could be babies without female homosexuals. There couldn’t be babies without women over sixty-five years old. There could be babies without men over sixty-five.. There couldn’t be babies without other babies who had lived an hour or less after birth. And so on.
It was gibberish to Billy.”(Kurt Vonnegut, “Five,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 114)
“America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves. To quote the American humorist Kin Hubbard, “It ain’t no disgrace to be poor, but it might as well be.” It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation had folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power or gold. No such tales are told by the American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters. The meanest eating or drinking establishment, owned by a man who is himself poor, is very likely to have a sign on its wall asking this cruel question: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” There will also be an American flag no larger than a child’s hand- glued to a lollipop stick and flying from the cash register.
The author of the monograph, a native of Schenectady, New York, was said by some to have had the highest I.Q. of all the war criminals who were made to face a death by hanging. So it goes.
Americans, like human beings everywhere, believe many things that are obviously untrue, the monograph went on. Their most destructive untruth is that it is very easy for any American to make money. They will not acknowledge how in fact hard money is to come by, and, therefore, those who have no money blame and blame and blame themselves. This inward blame has been a treasure for the rich and powerful, who have had to do less for their poor, publicly and privately, than any other ruling class since, say, Napoleonic times.
Many novelties have come from America. The most startling of these, a thing without precedent, is a mass of undignified poor. They do not love one another because they do not love themselves. Once this is understood, the disagreeable behavior of American enlisted men in German prisons ceases to be a mystery.”(Kurt Vonnegut, “Five,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 128-30)
“So Billy experiences death for a while. It is simply violet light and a hum. There isn’t anybody else there. Not even Billy Pilgrim is there.”(Kurt Vonnegut, “Six,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 143)
“There are almost no characters in this story, and almost no dramatic confrontations, because most of the people in it are so sick and so much the listless playthings of enormous forces. One of the man effects of war, after all, is that people are discouraged from being characters.”(Kurt Vonnegut, “Eight,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 164)
“The thing was, though, there was almost nothing in the twenty-seven volumes about this Dresden raid, even though it had been such a howling success, The extent of the success had been kept a secret for many years after the war- a secret from the American people. It was no secret from the Germans, of course, or from the Russians, who occupied Dresden after the war, who are in Dresden still.
“Americans have finally heard about Dresden,” said Rumfoord, twenty-three years after the rain. “A lot of them know now how much worse it was than Hiroshima. So I’ve got to put something about it in my book. From the official Air Force standpoint, it’ll all be new.”
“Why would they keep it a secret so long?” said Lily.
“For fear that a lot of bleeding hearts,” said Rumfoord, “might not think it was such a wonderful thing to do.”
It was now that Billy Pilgrim spoke up intelligently. “I was there,” he said.”(Kurt Vonnegut, “Nine,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 191)
“Now his snoozing became shallower as he heard a man and a woman speaking German in pitying tones. The speakers were commiserating with somebody lyrically. Before Billy opened his eyes, it seemed to him that the tones might have been those used by the friends of Jesus when they took His ruined body down from His cross. So it goes.
Billy opened his eyes. A middle-aged man and wife were crooning to the horses. They were noticing what the Americans had not noticed- that the horses’ mouths were bleeding, gashed by the bits, that the horses’ hooves were broken, so that every step meant agony, that the horses were insane with thirst. The Americans had treated their form of transportation as though it were no more sensitive than a six-cylinder Chevrolet.”(Kurt Vonnegut, “Nine,” Slaughterhouse-Five, 195-6)