Throughout history, society, in general, has been molded by the ravages of war. From King Henry VII’s invasion of Brittany, to the bloodshed on the shores of Iwo Jima, all the way to the present-day territory dispute in Bosnia and Herzegovina, war abounds mankind and its short history. As nations, ethnicities, ect. constantly attempt to outdo one another war will continue to arise. In recent years much has been said about the poor effects war has on society in a general sense; but what does war do to an individual?
This is a question often avoided as a result of the bitter truth: War can all but destroy the sane mind of the common man. This is a fact that was abundantly presented in Kurt Vonnegut’s “absurdist classic” Slaughterhouse Five. The story is initially set during World War II, but moves from place to place, and from time period to time period throughout the novel. The story centers around the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden and the mythic journey of an American soldier/ prisoner-of-war named Billy Pilgrim.
Pilgrim suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome and imagines his abduction by aliens, and a great journey through space and time, to a fictional planet named Tralfamadore. A great deal of strange thoughts occurred inside Bill Pilgrim’s mind, but Billy had no control over these thoughts. War has an uncanny ability to inflict mental stress on man. The story of Billy Pilgrim is a near-perfect example of the horrendous way in which war can affect the mind of the common man. As a prisoner of war, Billy Pilgrim is subjected to daily torture ranging from beatings and malnourishment.
Pilgrim also witnessed the beatings of many other soldiers, some of whom he was familiar with. Billy Pilgrim’s mind was not only a victim of torture, but also the Dresden fire-bombings — one of the most deadly acts of war ever. Despite the fact that Billy was confined to a subterranean prisoner-of-war camp during the bombings, he was still able to see the full effects of the event as he later viewed the mangled corpses of his former captors. As the stress of the atrocities that Billy had seen began to build up in his mind, the point was reached where Billy Pilgrim simply couldn’t handle the mental strain of war anymore.
One could assume that Billy Pilgrim was, at one time, a very strongminded man. Regardless, the repercussions of war, from a mental standpoint, reeked havoc on Billy Pilgrim throughout Slaughterhouse Five. Billy’s corrupted sanity allowed his mind to take him on an incredible journey through space and time. After Billy Pilgrim’s fictional alien abduction, he is taken to the planet of Tralfamadore (in a flying saucer) where he meets an interesting breed of aliens. Tralfamadore is a very different land than Earth.
The most apparent of the differences is the fact that death does not exist to the inhabitants of Tramfaldore as it does on Earth. As Billy Pilgrim’s delusions continued he met a host of strange characters in Tramfaldore and witnessed some peculiar events. Pilgrim’s adventures may seem comical when first discussed, but in reality such insanity is not a laughing matter at all. The anguish of war can do so much to harm the mind of the common man. From post-traumatic stress, to deep depression, to complete insanity, the effects of war, from a mental standpoint, can do no good to a man.
If one was to imagine living through daily torture and malnourishment, then possibly, one would have an idea of what war is like. Real wars are not like the ones depicted in many movies; the “good guys” don’t always win. Quite often the “good guys” are ruthlessly shot dead in battle as one helplessly looks on. In the longrun the United States did earn a victory in World War II, Billy Pilgrim, however, lost his war. “And so it goes” — war will continue and more people will lose their minds.