Vonnegut after Dresden

The superb Letters of Note has a remarkable letter written by a young Kurt Vonnegut to his family shortly after the bombing of Dresden.

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. their combined labors killed 250,000 people in twenty-four hours and destroyed all of Dresden — possibly the world’s most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.

This was a key and traumatic event in Vonnegut’s life, but he is almost casual in his description the carpet bombing of Dresden and its aftermath. I guess this is the nature of trauma: we hold things at a distance until we are better able to deal with them. It took Vonnegut over 20 years.

So it goes.