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It is 1968. Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. are both dead, assassinated within a month of one another. Body counts from the jungle war in Vietnam fill the evening news.
According to Billy, Tralfamadorians are more interested in Darwin than in Jesus Christ. They admire the Darwinian view that death serves a function and that “corpses are improvements.” A Kilgore Trout book, The Big Board, features aliens who capture an earthling and ask him about Darwin and golf.
Vonnegut tells us that he is not overjoyed if what Billy learned from the Tralfamadorians about eternal existence is true. Still, he is grateful for all the pleasant times experienced in his life. Vonnegut recalls one of those moments—his return to Dresden with his war buddy O’Hare. On the plane, the men eat salami sandwiches and drink white wine, and the author’s friend shows him a book that claims the world population will reach seven billion by the year 2000. “I suppose they will all want dignity,” Vonnegut remarks.
Billy is also back in Dresden, two days after the war, digging for bodies. Vonnegut and O’Hare are there too. After spending two nights in the stable, the prisoners are put to work excavating the ruins of Dresden, where they discover innumerable “corpse mines.” The bodies rot faster than they can be removed, making for a grisly cleanup job. One prisoner, a Maori, dies of the dry heaves. Eventually, as the pace of putrefaction outstrips the recovery efforts, the authorities adopt a new policy. The bodies are cremated where they lie in subterranean caverns. The soldiers use flamethrowers to carry out this grim task.
During the course of the excavations, while the men are still under German command, Edgar Derby is discovered with a teapot found in the ruins. He is arrested and convicted of plundering, then executed by firing squad.
Soon it is spring, and the Germans disappear to fight or flee the Russians. The war ends. Trees sprout leaves. Billy finds the horses and the green, coffin-shaped wagon. A bird says to him, “Poo-tee-weet?”
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