Small Wars Journal

Reading ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ in Baghdad: What Vonnegut Taught Me About What Comes After War

Reading ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ in Baghdad: What Vonnegut Taught Me About What Comes After War by Alex Horton – Washington Post

It was Spring 2006. I was leaving for Iraq soon, and I had a big problem.

 

There was no one to receive my romantic letters, but killing and romantic letters are the chief concerns in a war, if I understood films correctly. I found Lauren on Myspace. It got romantic.

 

Handwritten notes crisscrossed vast oceans, and one of them asked if I had ever read a particular novel. It was by Kurt Vonnegut. He wrote about war and time travel, and how the past isn’t really the past.

 

Never, I wrote back. But please send books, I asked her, because I had learned that the third chief concern of war is killing time.

 

A package traveled across vast oceans. It had various books, beef jerky, a romantic note and a new copy of “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

 

I tucked it into my cargo pocket and read it, cover to cover, as fast I could, and I read it again. It came with me to guard posts in Baghdad and primitive outposts in the Diyala River valley. I passed it among my platoon mates to read under a red lens at night.

 

The war wasn’t going to last forever, we foolishly thought, and someday we needed to figure out what it all meant…

Read on.