Kurt Vonnegut, as he reminds us several times during the novel, personally witnessed the firebombing of Dresden. That experience is central to his understanding of war, life and death, humanity, and most of the themes he explored in his many books. One of the most evocative pieces of imagery he leaves us with in Slaughterhouse-Five is the comparison of the firebombed city with the surface of the moon.
It wasn’t safe to come out of the shelter until noon the next day. When the Americans and their guards did come out, the sky was black with smoke. The sun was an angry little pinhead. Dresden was like the moon now, nothing but minerals. (178)
Vonnegut became a famous science fiction writer, and his otherworldly experiences during WWII and his time as a prisoner help explain why. The ability of human technology to extinguish all life in a major city is uncanny, and would have been science fiction to a young American during the 1940s. The reduction of Dresden to “nothing but minerals” is a trauma that would stay with Vonnegut for the remainder of his life.
Billy told her what had happened to the buildings that used to form cliffs around the stockyards. They had collapsed. Their wood had been consumed, and their stones had crashed down, had tumbled against one another until they locked at last in low and graceful curves.
“It was like the moon,” said Billy Pilgrim. (179)