Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., is born to Kurt Vonnegut, Sr., and Edith Vonnegut in Indianapolis, Indiana. His father and grandfather were both architects at Vonnegut & Bohn and were expecting Vonnegut, Jr., to continue the family business, but Vonnegut failed to fulfill their expectations.
Vonnegut attends Cornell University, majoring in chemistry. While attending, he becomes editor of the school newspaper, The Cornell Daily Sun, and joins the fraternity Delta Upsilon.
While a Battalion Scout private in the 423rd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division, Vonnegut is captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge.
We were in this gully about as deep as a World War I trench. There was snow all around. Somebody said we were probably in Luxembourg. We were out of food. The Germans could see us, because they were talking to us through a loudspeaker. They told us our situation was hopeless, and so on. That was when we fixed bayonets. It was nice there for a few minutes. Then the Germans started firing eighty-eight millimeter shells. The shells burst in the treetops right over us. Those were very loud bangs right over our heads. We were showered with splintered steel. Some people got hit. Then the Germans told us again to come out. We didn’t yell ‘nuts’ or anything like that. We said, ‘Okay,’ and ‘Take it easy,’ and so on. When the Germans finally showed themselves, we saw they were wearing white camouflage suits. We didn’t have anything like that. We were olive drab. No matter what season it was, we were olive drab.
They said the war was all over for us, that we were lucky, that we could now be sure we would live through the war, which was more than they could be sure of. As a matter of fact, they were probably killed or captured by Patton’s Third Army within the next few days. I tried a few words I knew on our captors, and they asked me if I was of German ancestry, and I said, “Yes.” They wanted to know why I was making war against my brothers. I honestly found the question ignorant and comical. My parents had separated me so thoroughly from my Germanic past that my captors might as well have been Bolivians or Tibetans, for all they meant to me.
Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death is considered Vonnegut’s most influential work. Centering around the firebombing of Dresden, the work is partly autobiographical and follows Billy Pilgrim through World War II and time.
My books are being thrown out of school libraries all over the country—because they’re supposedly obscene. I’ve seen letters to small-town newspapers that put Slaughterhouse Five in the same class with Deep Throat and Hustler magazine. How could anybody masturbate to Slaughterhouse Five? […] They find me disrespectful towards their idea of God Almighty. They think it’s the proper business of government to protect the reputation of God. All I can say is, “Good luck to them, and good luck to the government, and good luck to God.”