Monday, March 17, 2014

The Children's Crusade (?)

     In reading Mary Rose O'Reilly's "The Peaceable Classroom," I was really struck by her writing about the use of machinery in warfare. On page 107, she writes, "Earlier wars have been fought within nature, by natural beings; later wars will be fought by robots." We have discussed extensively in class the nature of soldiers being sent to war and the different sentiments guiding them into, within, and out of the war zone. One of Vonnegut's many titles for Slaughterhouse-Five is The Children's Crusade, reflecting the true innocent nature of these men before entering the war and taking it out of the realm of a heroic endeavor as many tend to see the journey. War has always been tolling, that cannot be denied, but with invention after invention, the absurd practice becomes more hostile and more taxing, causing man to cope in ways which are entirely inhumane.
     Many cite the invention of the nuclear bomb as the beginning of a huge shift in human understanding of existence and the world and O'Reilly's student tied this occurrence to the introduction of the gatling gun when "it became possible to kill too many people" (107). Regardless of where you place the origin, it is undeniable that as more machines made for mass killing are introduced into war culture, less room is left for actual humanity. Soldiers are forced to dismiss all emotion they may have, but also, as discussed in class, many do not even fully grasp the outcomes of the actions because these machines have distanced them so much from their actual effects on the world around them. Alex mentioned in class the men who fly the planes and simply press a button to drop bombs which, in the end, destroy entire villages, but for the person pushing the button, none of this destruction is really witnessed and so it seems to be nothing.
     This being able to fight without knowing the consequence seems counter-intuitive to me. If you are fighting for something, it should be because you are passionate about it and have deep emotional ties that depend on the outcome. Americans fighting in the Revolutionary and Civil War felt this emotional connection and their battles and reactions to the war exemplify that. In wars where all you have to do is push a button and move on (not that I'm saying that's all that happens in war), the emotional tie is removed, there is nothing natural about it, and the war itself becomes absurd: pointless. Most people do not even know what they're truly fighting for, as is evident in Billy Pilgrim's story in Slaughterhouse-Five, because now the men are just fighting as part of the "immense and terrible machine" (108) that is war now that the human part is taken out. Children are sent out to obey and to execute and that is exactly what they do, turning into robots in the process, not fully realizing the weight of their actions.

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