Banned books – Slaughterhouse Five

Apparently, when Slaughterhouse Five was stricken from the public schools of Oakland County, Michigan in 1972, the circuit judge called it

“depraved, immoral, psychotic, vulgar, and anti-Christian.”

Yes, it is great. I think that same sentence could be used to describe war, which is what this book is about.

This is the story of Billy Pilgram – he has come unstuck. In the book this manifests as time travel but what I understand is a man broken by war from the moment he arrives, unarmed, and having to retreat from the Battle of the Bulge. After being dragged unwillingly by former school-yard bully made soldier, Roland Weary, for an indeterminate amount of time, the two are captured by German soldiers and become prisoners of war. Roland doesn’t survive the journey back into Germany. As a POW Billy is in Dresden when it gets bombed by the allied forces. So it goes.

Billy was never born to be a soldier. At one point the Germans look at the rag-tag collection of American soldiers they’ve captured and wonder at the group. All the good soldiers have been killed and this lot is all that’s left. Billy is a particularly pathetic specimen. Due to lack of supplies he wraps himself in a blue sheet to keep warm and wears some silver boots. Everyone laughs at Billy; some seem to think he is trying to make some unfunny commentary with his clothing.

slaughterhouse five red.jpg

It is very tough and very funny; it is sad and delightful; and it works.

Slaughterhouse Five is one of those books that people frequently seek to get banned. Unlike the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I can see why some people would want to ban this book. It paints a picture of war that is not heroic or patriotic or any of those positive tints we try to give to the killing of others in the name of some cause or other. Its much more Catch-22 than Band of Brothers. But, like Hunchback of Notre Dame, this is a great book that should be available to all.

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April 2016