The Historical Issues in The Short Stories by Vonnegut

The historical events and situations set the social atmosphere and in this way determine some aspects of literary art. This means that it is possible to learn some features of historical perspective through the literary works analyzing them through the prism of historical data. Thus, for example, the period of the so-called Cold War was very important for the world history because it presupposed the further contradiction between the USA and the USSR with the final disappearance of the latter one from the political map of the world. Besides, there were many different specific details of that epoch, and the relationships between the struggling USA and USSR differed in dependence from the general world political situation as well as from some important events. For example, these changes are clear from the literary works of Kurt Vonnegut who wrote some of his short stories during the Cold War. It is very important that he demonstrates the American and Soviet people from different perspectives, and in this way his interpretation of the historical context is different depending on the dates of his writings. Thus, in “All the King’s Horses” written before Stalin’s death, Vonnegut calls the Soviet people to struggle against the crimes of their Government, when in “The Manned Missiles” the main theme is the possibility of consensus between the American and Soviet people faced with the global problem of the exploration of space.

Both short stories “All the King’s Horses” and “The Manned Missiles” tell about the relationships between the Americans and the Soviet people. The first short story was written in 1953 and concerns the survival game between the American Army officer Kelly whose plane with his wife, sons, pilots and passengers crushed in Asia, and the Asian pro-Soviet leader Pi Ying. Each figure Kelly loses means the death of one of his people. In this way, they play until Barzov, the Soviet officer who accompanies Pi Ying, helps Kelly to kill the Asian sadistic leader and allows him to leave Asia with other people from the American plane. In this way, the main theme of the short story is the supreme importance of the humanist ideals that overcome all the political or military contradictions. At the same time, “The Manned Missiles” written in 1958 demonstrates the correspondence between the fathers of two first cosmonauts who both died in the Space. Both fathers try to understand what caused their sons’ deaths and express mutual regret and respect.


The years of Vonnegut’s writings are very important because they show what tendencies of the international politics the author expressed through his texts. Thus, “All the King’s Horses” was written and published before the Stalin’s death and Khrushchev’s reforms in the Soviet Union. Another important event before which the short story was written is the Iranian Coup (against the President Mossadeq of Iran) that took place in 1953 as well. The general international setting was determined by the struggle between the USA and the USSR for the control over the Iranian oil. The President Mossadeq tried to free his country from the Western influences and oriented his political course on the collaboration with the Soviet Union. As Mary Ann Heiss claims, the Western media provided the full scope of informational technologies to demonstrate the President Mossadeq as well as his supporters through the cultural biases based on the idea that all civilizations are lower that the Western one. As a good example can serve the American characteristic of the Iranian President’s supporters as “mad and suicidal… lemmings”. In this way, the collective image of an average pro-Soviet leader was created. At last, one of the most important processes of those times was the beginning of the activity provided by supporters of the Senator McCarthy who opposed the American communists and tried to stop their activity by any means. Besides, after the USSR’s defeat in the struggle for the Iranian oil, the Cold War begun. Thus, as LaFeber claims, in 1956 Khrushchev “shocked the Twentieth Communist Party Congress in Moscow by condemning Stalin’s brutalities against party members and the Communist system”. The USSR’s leader started the process of slow liberalization in his state. Thus, instead of the participation in open contradiction against the USA as Stalin would prefer, Khrushchev tried to overcome it through the economic, political and technical development. One of the ways to show the dominance in the world in those times was the development of the Space technologies. The first satellite launched to the Space in 1957 was Sputnik-1, and in this respect, the Soviet Union became the first in the world. Besides, the next step was to launch a ship with a human to the Space, and it is well-known that the first man launched to the Space in 1961 was a Soviet officer Yuri Gagarin. Besides, Kurt Vonnegut wrote his “The Manned Missiles” before that, and the main historical setting of the narrative were the expectations concerning the world political leaders’ competition. At the same time, the activity of McCarthy also ended in 1954, and Vonnegut already knew all the brutalities the American Government could provide toward the sympathizers of the Soviet Union.

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Through the historical setting, it is clear that both short stories analyzed include different relation of the author to the Soviet adversaries of the USA. Thus, in both short stories he portrays the Soviet people as those who are not very different from the Americans. The importance of Vonnegut’s prose is that the Americans are not better just because they are the author’s compatriots, and in this way his short stories are not biased. This characteristic concerns both texts, besides, there is an important difference between them. In “All the King’s Horses” written during the Iranian conflict and Stalin’s reign, Vonnegut shows the Soviet officer Barzov as a person who supports the sadistic pro-Soviet Pi Ying, and saves the captured Americans only after the internal struggle, in which his moral side won. Furthermore, the author changes the way in which he portrays the Soviet men when the situation concerns such global issue as the exploration of the Space. The liberalization of the Soviet system provided by Khrushchev as well as the McCarthy’s aggressive activity toward the American Communists became those main settings that presupposed the changes in the political worldview of Vonnegut. In his “The Manned Missiles” both Stepan Ivankov and Bryant Ashland who died in the Space are described as individuals sacrificed for the international prestige of their states. In this way, it is very illustrative that both fathers of these officers are portrayed as equally regretful and sorrowing even despite they really appreciate the great deeds of their sons. Through this perspective, Vonnegut tries to demonstrate both the USA and USSR as equally mad in their international competition that would give them nothing but regret for the losses.

The position of Kurt Vonnegut concerning the American-Soviet opposition depended on the full setting of historical events and political atmosphere. In this way, in 1953, Vonnegut described the Soviet people as those who should cast aside their belief in the Soviet propaganda, but in 1958 he also demonstrated that neither the USSR nor the USA is right in the Cold War because every war leads to the losses of people.

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