for being a help and his excuse was that he could not remember much, he accepted him as a guest. Yet this reunion was an unsuccessful attempt for recalling old memories. It seemed any form of resistance wasfutile, consequentlytheypreferred to go into a state of surrender at that time,” O’Hare and I gave up on remembering, went into the living room, talked about other things’(13).
126.96.36.199 The Narrator’s Reluctance to Recall Traumatic Memories
One of the other characteristics of this state is that the patient avoids any thought, feeling or even conversation about the event. Apart from his tendency to forget an unpleasant memory, this amnesia might be the result of some political and social reasons. Soldiers in every war complain that no one wants to know the real truth about war; it is due to the fact that war, victims and everything painful and unpleasant about it, is something the community wants to forget. They are some strong motives behind who wish to forget and very often success in doing so (Herman 7-8).
Even then I was supposedly writing a book about Dresden. It wasn’t a famous air raid back then in America. Not many Americans knew how much worse it had been than Hiroshima, for instance, I didn’t know that either. There hadn’t been much publicity. (8)
After the World War, the narrator studied at the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago where they were taught that there was no difference between anybody and that, nobody was ridiculous or bad or disgusting. Meanwhile he worked as a police reporter for the Chicago City News Bureau. Even then he was thinking of writing a story about Dresden but did not dare to express it openly, therefore he was making it in his imagination due to the prevailing atmosphere; people were not a ware of the magnitude of the disaster and not many Americans knew that it was much worse than Hiroshima. Those in power were unwilling to disclose secrets about war, not only to the general public but also to those who were in a way involved. That’s why a response the narrator got from a letter to the Air Force about Dresden, shocked him, even though many years had passed after the incident.
I wrote the Air Force back then, asking for details about the raid on Dresden, who ordered it, how many planes did it, why they did it, what desirable results there had been and so on. I was answered by a man who, like myself, was in the public relations. He said that he was sorry, but that information was top secret still.
I read the letter out loud to my wife, and I said, “Secret? My God- from whom?”(9)
188.8.131.52 The narrator’s Tendency towards Alcohols
Alternations of consciousness are at the heart of constriction or numbing, the third cardinal symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Sometimes situations of inescapable danger may evoke not only terror and rage but also paradoxically a state of detached calm. These detached states are similar to hypnotic trance states. But people usually enter hypnotic states under controlled circumstances and by choice, traumatic trance states occur in an uncontrolled manner, usually without conscious choice. Traumatized people who cannot spontaneously dissociate may attempt to produce similar numbing effects by using alcohol or narcotics(Herman 44).
The narrator points out his interest in alcohol many times in the novel. As mentioned before he takes refuge to alcohol for his insomnia late at nights,” I have this disease late at nights, involving alcohol…. I get drunk…” (3). Also when he finds his war friend, O’Hare, on the phone, he thinks drinking is essential for remembering memories.
Listen…. I’m writing this book about Dresden. I’d like some help remembering stuff. I wonder if I could come down and see you, and we could drink and talk and remember. (4)
According to Grinker and Spiegel, uncontrolled drinking increased to the combat group’s losses; their use of alcohol was an attempt to obliterate their growing sense of helplessness and terror (Herman 44). Confronting an old buddy of war after twenty years might relive unpleasant memories for the narrator which he found annoying. In order to get rid of this sense, he tookrefuge in alcohols. As a result he decided to take a bottle of whiskey with him, “I was carrying a bottle of Irish Whiskey like a dinner bell” (10). O’Hare,on the other hand,has more tendencies to forget his past and this is quite obvious in his way of life, his relationship with his family. His wife claimed thathe had quit drinking since war,” she explained that O’Hare couldn’t drink the hard stuff since the war’ (10).
3.4.2 Traumatic Billy Pilgrim
184.108.40.206 Billy’s State of Numbness
It was in December 1944 that Billy Pilgrims was traumatized for the first time. He was needed in the headquarters company of an infantry regiment fighting in Luxanburg as a chaplain’s assistance. Thus when he joined, the regiment was in the process of being destroyed by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge which was the last mighty German attack of the war. Billy survived but was “a dazed wanderer far behind the new German lines” (26). There were three other wanderers: two scouts, an antitank gunner, Roland Weary. Billy was the only one who had “no helmet, no overcoat, no weapon and no boots”, he was “empty-handed, bleakly ready for death” (26). On the third day of wandering someone shot four times at them; the three of them were safe in a ditch while Billy did not show any reaction to the shot that was aimed at him:
The third bullet was for the filthy flamingo, who stopped dead center in the road when the lethal bee buzzed past his ear. Billy stood there politely, giving the marksman another chance. It was his addled understanding of the rules of the warfare that the marksman should be given a second chance. The next shot missed Billy’s kneecaps by inches, going end-on-end, from the sound of it. (27)
Judith Herman states in her book that for someone whobecomes powerless as the victim or witness of a trauma, the system of self-defense shuts down entirely; as a result of this, the person tries to escapes from this situation not by action rather by altering his or her state of consciousness. Such states are observed in animals which freeze when they are attacked. A rape survivor compared her situation with a rabbit stuck in the glare of headlights. Herman also points out that this altered state of consciousness might be one of nature’s small mercies, a protection against unbearable pain (42-43).
Billy’s recognition of war was limited to maneuvers he had in south Carolina in which everything was theoretical and funny. In one of the attacks made by the theoretical enemy, they were all dead, but soon after the theoretical corps started laughing and hada hearty meal together. Apart from this, his role as a chaplain was an inferior and funny one, he was powerless to harm the enemy or to help his friends, expected no promotions or medals, has a meek faith in loving Jesus which most soldiers found putrid. As soon as he joined his regiment, it was destroyed in such a mighty attack that almost all of the members were killed. There he witnessed the real cruel face of war he had not imagined before. This burden was too much to bear for a twenty-one-year old naive who had already joined the World War. Therefore his natural reaction was going into a state of surrender, detached calm and numbness in which terror, rage and pain dissolved.In addition to thishe had to suffer the humiliation of being criticized by Ronald Weary which made the situation more intolerable.
“Saved your life again, you dumb bastard,” Weary said to Billy in the ditch. He had been saving Billy’s life for days, cursing him, kicking him, slapping him, making him move. It was absolutely necessary that cruelty be used, because Billy wouldn’t do anything to save himself. Billy wanted to quit. He was cold, hungry, embarrassed, incompetent. He could scarcely distinguish between sleep and wakefu
ess now, on the third day, found no important differences either, between waking and standing still. (28)
His young age, physical and mental situation, the gloomy atmosphere of the battlefield and the way Ronald Weary treated him took Billy to a state of numbness which cut from what was happing around him. It was the first time that Billy came unstuck in time and began his time travels to different periods of his life. The first travel he made, was to his death time and then his pre-birth and finally very symbolically to a moment in childhood when he was very terrified with his father’s method of sink-or- swim which he threw him into the deep end and Billy was going to “ damn well swim’ (35). The result was his being numb and finally unconscious. This situation was very similar to that of Billy at the time of war. He had to learn the rules of surviving if he wanted to survive yet he was too terrified to keep his consciousness. This state of numbness maintained and became so fatal during their capture by the Germans that led Billy to a prison hospital where he continued his time travels.
220.127.116.11 Billy’s Avoidance to Recall Traumatic Memories
The war was over, yet life went on and Billy Pilgrim little by little initiated a new life for himself. He married a daughter of a wealthy optometrist and started his own business. Ten years after the World War, Vietnam War started. This time Billy seemed indifferent and did not show any reaction to what people discussed about the atrocities committed. When a major in marines spoke in favor of Americans and supported increased bombing in North Vietnam, Billy was silent.
Billy was not moved to protest the bombing of North Vietnam, did not shudder about the hideous thingshe himself had seen bombing do. He was simply having lunch with the Lions Club, of which he was past president now. (50)
According to Herman, events continue to register in awareness yet as though disconnected from their ordinary meanings and the patients may feel as though the event is not happening to them and they are observing from outside (42-43). This is exactly the reaction of Billy Pilgrim who was not moved by any of the discussions about Vietnam War, as if he had never witnessed similar atrocities in World War II. Bombardment of Vietnam not only recalled memories about Dresden but also made him keep silence because Billy, despite his enthusiasm about living, had a new method for keeping going. A method which was summarized in a framed prayed on his office wall:
GOG GRAND ME
THE SERENITY TO ACCEPT
THINGS I CANNOT CHANGE,
TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN,
AND WISDOM ALWAYS
TO TELL THE
Since he had reached this recognition that past, present and future were among the things he could not change. A lot of his patients, who saw the prayer above on Billy’s office wall, told him that it had helped them to keep going.
18.104.22.168 Billy’s Tendency to Alcohols
As discussed before some of the traumatized people may attempt to produce numbing effects by using alcohols, something which was frequently observed among soldiers in wartime.Billy Pilgrim, unlike the narrator of the first chapter, is not obsessed with alcohol very much. Yet there are only two situations in which he drinks. Once in 1961 on New Year’s Eve:
It was New Year’s Eve, and Billy was disgracefully drunk at a party where everybody was in optometry or married to an optometrist.
Billy usually didn’t drink much, because the war had ruined his stomach, but he was snootful now, and he was being unfaithful to his wife Valencia for the first and the only time. (37)
Ruined stomach was only an excuse for avoiding alcohol which will be discussed more detailed in the next chapter. The other time Billy was drunk was on his daughter’s wedding night when he entered his daughter’s bedroom and confronted the empty closet and drawers and some the possessions she had not taken with herself.