Back to Dresden

This month marks the publication of Loree Rackstraw‘s Love as Always, Kurt, a collection of correspondence the author had with Kurt Vonnegut for four decades. The two were friends and sometimes lovers, which would seem to make for an intriguing story, but the book has received middling reviews for not delving too deep into the writer’s mind. That may explain why the small brushfire that Kyle Smith created in his review of the book has little to do with the book’s actual content. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Smith takes a few swipes at what he perceives as Vonnegut’s simpleminded politics, going so far as to knock down the central thesis of Slaugherhouse-Five—that the bombing of Dresden was utterly pointless and spoke to the larger pointlessness of war.

I’m no World War II scholar, and I don’t know if Smith is right. (And Smith, the film critic for the New York Post, is no WWII scholar; I know him mainly through A Christmas Caroline, a fluffy, throwaway comic novel from a couple of years back that merged Dickens and The Devil Wears Prada.) But his review has spawned some lively chatter both on the Journal’s letters page and in the comments of Smith’s blog, which has spawned a discussion not just of the Dresden bombing but of the utility of war in general. The conversation remained civil, which may speak to the power of Vonnegut’s light touch—it may be the only blog comment thread in history that discusses Nazis without exploding into a fireball of hate.