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KURT VONNEGUT THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES In 1968 the year Kurt Vonnegut Jr was writing Slaughterhouse-Five the war in Vietnam was at its height Each evening it invaded millions of American living rooms on the television news and what viewers saw of the conflict night after night made them worried and uneasy about what was taking place Opinion polls showed that most Americans were then in favor of the war but a wave of antiwar protest had welled up across the country mainly on college campuses Peaceful demonstrations gave way to riots as hostility deepened between prowar and antiwar factions And there was violence of another kind that year In the spring two prominent figures were assassinated first Dr Martin Luther King Jr the inspirational leader of the civil rights movement then Senator Robert F Kennedy the leading Democratic candidate for president who was running on an antiwar platform Americans were shocked by these brutal killings and they began to share with the war protesters a general mood of anger and frustration For Kurt Vonnegut in 1968 the atrocities of the war in Vietnam had a deeper significance Twenty-three years earlier he had been a soldier in the last months of World War II As a prisoner of war he was in Dresden Germany on the night of February 13 1945 when Allied bombers attacked so fiercely that they created a great fire-storm that incinerated the entire city Some 135000 people died in the raid perhaps twice the number of people killed in Hiroshima when the first atom bomb was dropped there about six months later Vonnegut spent that night with other POWs and their guards in an underground shelter When it was possible to leave the shelter the next afternoon he saw the aftermath of the fire-storm The city looked like a desolate moonscape nothing moved anywhere For years Vonnegut wanted to tell the story of his Dresden
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