Kurt Vonnegut is dead. A friend and iconoclast, he died last night aged 85. Vonnegut was the author of over 20 books, including "Slaughter House Five", written about his experiences as a PoW during the Dresden firebombing. On the night of the firebombing, 30,000 civilians were burnt to death and most of Dresden's buildings were destroyed. Vonnegut hid with other PoWs in a slaughterhouse basement.
Five years ago, I spent the winter exploring the former East German town. I learnt that Australian Army hiking boots are good to minus 7 degrees, but at minus 8, heat flows out of the soles. I learnt that every major building in Dresden, from the Opera House to the Dresden Museum, was a socialist re-construction. I learnt that for even for a whole city the essential can be invisible to the eye.
As a successful author Vonnegut sometimes pushed whimsy into self- indulgence, fueled by a cult following in the the youth movement of the United States, which, lacking other role models or serious tasks, anointed him a genius. Yet in "Slaughter House Five", this confidence and littery flexibility gave Vonnegut what he needed to reveal a major allied atrocity to a generation that was sick of hearing stories about the war. This book seeded the belief system of a generation that would eventually react against similar atrocities inflicted on the Vietnamese.
Here is part of an an excellent longer interview with Vonnegut on Australian Radio last year. Even in this fragment Kurt's acuity and character shine.