Dresden 1945.

Yesterday I met a veteran who served as an Army Air Corps pilot on a B-17 bomber. He is in his 90s. I spoke with him for about 45 minutes. He showed me a list of the different missions he flew on over three years of service during World War II. I scanned down the list and saw that he was on a mission over Dresden, Germany on February 15, 1945. The mission’s objective was to “disrupt German retreat through the city.” My heart grew heavy.

I looked at the lines around his eyes, and the skin on his hands. He was in his early 20’s in 1945. The gunners and bombardier were 18 and 19 years old, he said. I looked deep into his face with 1,000 burning questions, knowing I couldn’t ask any of them. I thanked him for his service, and lit a candle for him in my heart.

I think about what the “true cost of war” means.
I think about the immensity of human suffering that bleeds from war and conflict.
I think about how, when even one suffers, we all suffer.
I wonder when we will stop hurting each other.

B-17 bomber

B-17 bomber

“It was a movie about American bombers in World War II and the gallant men who flew them. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this: 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. The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby.”

-Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five


6 responses to “Dresden 1945.

  1. This caught my eye as I begin a post on Dresden, a 2-hour lunch stop and film-gobbler on our bus tour’s journey from Berlin to Prague on May 12. It adds more perspective on what was/is going through my mind after visiting Warsaw, Auschwitz and Berlin, all victims of, and some contributors to, the horror. Dresden’s superb physical beauty is restored. Ironic, as the killing of people and the art they have created continues apace. It is now done by moral mice using computer mice (invisible) and by (in-our-face visible) zombies this imperial policy has offsprung.

    • I often wonder what it would be like to see the holocaust death camps. I’ll have to check out your writings….

      Thanks for writing mytiturk, I’m glad to hear it adds perspective. I think my experience is a perfect example of the complexity of war and violence – we are all humans and some of us have done terrible things to others, but we are still humans, capable of love and goodness. It is sometimes easier to have reality exist in black and white, good and evil, but we are much much more complex. Meeting this old man who was barely an adult when he took part in such horror, I’m sure I could barely even begin to understand the heavy weight he must carry. War and violence attempt to destroy us all – the perpetrator, the bystander, the witness, the intervener, and of course the victims and survivors. As skywalker said above, if enough of us believe in peace and choose the path of love, not fear, peace can be our reality…

  2. Skywalker’s comment and his use of Vonnegut’s insight were a significant part of the light shed. Buddhism has many insights to offer. Sproutings of a hope that should be tended in each of us. May it grow… Wish I could say that I came back from this Europe trip more hopeful. The divisions are ever-present and were made plain in the commentary from our sophisticated tour guide. I can say that I returned with a deeper, more reflective, caring. I hope my category “Europe 2015” posts, apart from being mainly a personal travelogue and memory-aid, reflect that caring. Having friends in Budapest and Warsaw helps with that! Always enjoy your reflections!

  3. Pingback: Cryptoquote Spoiler – 08/28/15 | Unclerave's Wordy Weblog·

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