There was a time, during my senior year in high school, when I listened to the Doors and Pink Floyd for the sake of their lyrics, and memorized modern poetry, and read Kurt Vonnegut. Now I listen to the Doors and Pink Floyd, occasionally, for the sake of nostalgia. Lines and stanzas from the modern poems still rattle around in my head, while most of Vonnegut has proved to be forgettable. Although his novels perfectly matched the spirit of my age, I’ve since quite literally forgotten nearly everything in them. One image has remained fresh, however, a scene of war as experienced in reverse, from Slaughterhouse-Five.
American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.
The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.
When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.
Thank you, Kurt Vonnegut.