Howard W. Campbell, Jr., who wrote the anti-American book read by the Germans in the POW camp, visits Billy’s group in Slaughterhouse-Five two days before the bombing of Dresden. He wishes to recruit Americans to fight with Germany against the Russians and wears his own uniform, with a red-white-blue swastika armband. The Americans are tired from eating so much syrup and barely listen to Campbell. As Campbell speaks, however, Derby rises, and Vonnegut interjects that, although the story has had few dramatic moments up till this point, this was a genuine dramatic moment. Derby gives a stirring speech about American ideal of freedom, and the desire to defeat the Nazis. He is interrupted by an air-raid siren.
Vonnegut admits that his novel, though discussing a very “dramatic” event, the firebombing of Dresden, is nevertheless mostly devoid of dramatic events. Derby’s confrontation with Campbell, however, does represent a clash of ideals: Derby’s, of liberty and the American way, and Campbell’s, of pragmatism and recognition that the Nazi cause might have some things in common with the American. Just as Derby has made his speech, however, the air-raid comes—and the American bombing of Dresden begins, an event that takes many civilian lives and doesn’t seem particularly “democratic” or “liberal.”
The Americans, their guards, and Campbell go to a meat locker beneath the slaughterhouse. The first night nothing happens, but the second night the bombing takes place and 130,000 Dresdners are killed. Billy sleeps and thinks about Kilgore Trout, whom his daughter says she would like to kill, since he has planted strange ideas about aliens in Billy’s head. Trout lives in Ilium, has written 75 novels, and works as a circulation manager for the Ilium Gazette, which means managing paper delivery boys.
The firebombing is not dramatized by Vonnegut: it is reported in only a few sentences. Immediately Vonnegut pivots to a discussion of Billy’s interaction with Kilgore Trout, who, it turns out, lives in Billy’s hometown and works a menial job, as befits someone who has sold very few books and has only two stated fans, Billy and Rosewater.
Billy first meets Trout when Trout is corralling his group of delivery boys (and one girl). Trout promises a trip to Martha’s Vineyard to whomever sells the most Sunday subscriptions. A boy quits and Trout calls him a “gutless wonder.” This is also the title of a book Trout wrote, in the 1930s, which, among other things, predicts the use of napalm in war.
This reference to napalm shows Vonnegut’s continued concern with the ethical questions of the conflict not just in WWII but also in Vietnam, which raged as he wrote the novel in 1967 and 1968. Napalm was a chemical used to firebomb and destroy the jungles and villages where Vietcong (and innocent Vietnamese villagers) were hiding. Trout has once again predicted in his writings an aspect of the future.
Billy helps Trout deliver the papers of the boy who quits. Trout admits that he has only received one fan letter, from Eliot Rosewater, who Trout thought to be a teenager. Billy invites Trout to his 18th wedding anniversary. At the anniversary party, Trout talks to Maggie White, a young woman who does not read much, and tells her that he must tell the truth in his books, and that everything in his life he puts into his writing. He tells Maggie that God knows all the good and bad things she thinks and says, and will use that information on Judgment Day. Maggie grows scared and leaves.
Trout is out of place at Billy’s party, although many there do not know that he is unsuccessful and care only that he is a writer. Trout’s admonition to Maggie is quite shocking and orthodoxly religious: he says that men and women will be judged in the afterlife for their actions on earth. Of course Trout does not necessarily believe what he is saying, but he plays on the naiveté of his listener.
A barbershop quartet (same as on the plane, later) sings “That Old Gang of Mine” to Valencia and Billy. Billy becomes sickened by the song and doesn’t understand why; he feels there is some “big secret” inside him of which he is unaware. Trout believes that Billy has seen through a “time window” but Billy denies this. Billy gives Valencia jewelry for their anniversary.
The barbershop quartet returns. Billy knows that this group triggers him emotionally, but he cannot quite place their meaning in his life. Trout understands that Billy is affected and appears, further, to comprehend Billy’s ability to see back and forth in time.
Trout follows Billy around the party and compares Billy’s expression to that of a dog standing on a mirror—total fear and confusion. Billy flees upstairs. In his room he remembers—he does not “come unstuck”—the booming sounds above the slaughterhouse during the bombing, and the fact that everyone above was being killed. Everything in the city was on fire. The German guards drew together, standing, and resembled the barbershop quartet singing downstairs at the party.
One of the most dramatic and important scenes in the novel. Billy makes a connection not through time-travel but through memory—the mental faculty that Vonnegut claims is of little use to himself in writing the novel, as Vonnegut cannot remember many experiences from the war. Billy understands that a lot of his grief derives from the shock of being spared in the slaughterhouse during the bombing when so many others weren't. He grieves even for the German guards.
Billy and Montana Wildhack are lying in bed in the Tralfamadorian zoo. Montana asks Billy to tell her a story, and he tells of Dresden, the firebombing, and the guards who resemble a barbershop quartet, the surface of the city like a moon. After the firebombing, guards ordered the Americans to climb over the city’s rubble. An American plane flies over and strafes the POWs with machine-gun fire. Finally the Americans reach a Dresden suburb, where a German couple keeps open their inn. They take in the 100 POWs and four guards and bid the Americans a good night’s sleep.
Billy then relates this connection to Montana on Tralfamadore, who becomes a kind of second wife with whom he can communicate quite deeply. The German couple who welcome the POWs are a poignant example of the humanity of those considered to be the “enemy” of the Americans—they have stayed open despite their nearly certain knowledge that most in Dresden have perished in the bombing.