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JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN
A Bantam Book / published by arrangement with
Lyle Stuart, Inc.
Lippincott edition published September 1939
Monogram publishers edition published 1946
The Liberty Book Club edition published 1952
Lyle Stuart edition published May 1959
Bantam edition / March 1967
New Bantam edition / March 1970
32 printings through December 1980
All rights reserved.
Copyright 1939 © 1959 by Dalton Trumbo.
Introduction copyright © 1970 by Dalton Trumbo.
This book may not be reproduced In whole or In part, by mimeograph or any other means, without permission.
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239 Park Avenue South, New York, N.Y. 10003.
Published simultaneously in the United States and Canada
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PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
BOOK I – The Dead
BOOK II – The Living
World War I began like a summer festival—all billowing skirts and golden epaulets. Millions upon millions cheered from the sidewalks while plumed imperial highnesses, serenities, field marshals and other such fools paraded through the capital cities of Europe at the head of their shining legions.
It was a season of generosity; a time for boasts, bands, poems, songs, innocent prayers. It was an August made palpitant and breathless by the pre-nuptial nights of young gentlemen-officers and the girls they left permanently behind them. One of the Highland regiments went over the top in its first battle behind forty kilted bagpipers, skirling away for all they were worth—at machine guns.
Nine million corpses later, when the bands stopped and the serenities started running, the wail of bagpipes would never again sound quite the same. It was the last of the romantic wars; and Johnny Got His Gun was probably the last American novel written about it before an entirely different affair called World War II got under way.
The book has a weird political history. Written in 1938 when pacifism was anathema to the American left and most of the center, it went to the printers in the spring of 1939 and was published on September third—ten days after the Nazi-Soviet pact, two days after the start of World War II.
Shortly thereafter, on the recommendation of Mr. Joseph Wharton Lippincott (who felt it would stimulate sales), serial rights were sold to The Daily Worker of New York City. For months thereafter the book was a rally point for the left.
After Pearl Harbor its subject matter seemed as inappropriate to the times as the shriek of bagpipes. Mr. Paul Blanshard, speaking of army censorship in The Right to Read (1955) says, “A few pro-Axis foreign-language magazines had been banned, as well as three books, including Dalton Trumbo’s pacifist novel Johnny Get Your Gun, produced during the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact.”
Since Mr. Blanshard fell into what I hope was unconscious error both as to the period of the book’s “production” and the title under which it was “produced,” I can’t place too much faith in his story of its suppression. Certainly I was not informed of it; I received a number of letters from service men overseas who had read it through Army libraries; and, in 1945, I myself ran across a copy in Okinawa while fighting was still in progress.
If, however, it had been banned and I had known about it, I doubt that I should have protested very loudly. There are times when it may be needful for certain private rights to give way to the requirements of a larger public good. I know that’s a dangerous thought, and I shouldn’t wish to carry it too far, but World War II was not a romantic war.
As the conflict deepened, and Johnny went out of print altogether, its unavailability became a civil liberties issue with the extreme American right. Peace organizations and “Mothers’” groups from all over the country showered me with fiercely sympathetic letters denouncing Jews, Communists, New Dealers and international bankers, who had suppressed my novel to intimidate millions of true Americans who demanded an immediate negotiated peace.
My correspondents, a number of whom used elegant stationery and sported tidewater addresses, maintained a network of communications that extended to the detention camps of pro-Nazi internees. They pushed the price of the book above six dollars for a used copy, which displeased me for a number of reasons, one of them fiscal. They proposed a national rally for peace-now, with me as cheer leader; they promised (and delivered) a letter campaign to pressure the publisher for a fresh edition.
Nothing could have convinced me so quickly that Johnny was exactly the sort of book that shouldn’t be reprinted until the war was at an end. The publishers agreed. At the insistence of friends who felt my correspondents’ efforts could adversely affect the war effort, I foolishly reported their activities to the F.B.I. But when a beautifully matched pair of investigators arrived at my house, their interest lay not in the letters but in me. I have the feeling that it still does, and it serves me right.
After 1945, those two or three new editions which appeared found favor with the general left, and apparently were completely ignored by everybody else, including all those passionate war-time mothers. It was out of print again during the Korean War, at which time I purchased the plates rather than have them sold to the Government for conversion into munitions. And there the story ends, or begins.
Reading it once more after so many years, I’ve had to resist a nervous itch to touch it up here, to change it there, to clarify, correct, elaborate, cut. After all, the book is twenty years younger than I, and I have changed so much, and it hasn’t. Or has it?
Is it possible for anything to resist change, even a mere commodity that can be bought, buried, banned, damned, praised, or ignored for all the wrong reasons? Probably not. Johnny held a different meaning for three different wars. Its present meaning is what each reader conceives it to be, and each reader is gloriously different from every other reader, and each is also changing.
I’ve let it remain as it was to see what it is.
March 25, 1959
Eleven years later. Numbers have dehumanized us. Over breakfast coffee we read of 40,000 American dead in Vietnam. Instead of vomiting, we reach for the toast. Our morning rush through crowded streets is not to
cry murder but to hit that trough before somebody else gobbles our share.
An equation: 40,000 dead young men = 3,000 tons of bone and flesh, 124,000 pounds of brain matter, 50,000 gallons of blood, 1,840,000 years of life that will never be lived, 100,000 children who will never be born. (The last we can afford: there are too many starving children in the world already.)
Do we scream in the night when it touches our dreams? No. We don’t dream about it because we don’t think about it; we don’t think about it because we don’t care about it. We are much more interested in law and order, so that American streets may be made safe while we transform those of Vietnam into flowing sewers of blood which we replenish each year by forcing our sons to choose between a prison cell here or a coffin there. “Every time I look at the flag, my eyes fill with tears.” Mine too.
If the dead mean nothing to us (except on Memorial Day weekend when the national freeway is clotted with surfers, swimmers, skiers, picnickers, campers, hunters, fishers, footballers, beer-busters), what of our 300,000 wounded? Does anyone know where they are? How they feel? How many arms, legs, ears, noses, mouths, faces, penises they’ve lost? How many are deaf or dumb or blind or all three? How many are single or double or triple or quadruple amputees? How many will remain immobile for the rest of their days? How many hang on as decerebrated vegetables quietly breathing their lives away in small, dark, secret rooms?
Write the Army, the Air Force, the Navy, the Marine Corps; the Army and Navy Hospitals, the Director of Medical Sciences at the National Library of Medicine, the Veterans Administration, the Office of the Surgeon General-and be surprised by what you don’t learn. One agency reports 726 admissions “for amputation services” since January, 1965. Another reports 3,011 amputees since the beginning of the fiscal year 1968. The rest is silence.
The Annual Report of the Surgeon General: Medical Statistics of the United States Army ceased publication in 1954. The Library of Congress reports that the Army Office of the Surgeon General for Medical Statistics “does not have figures on single or multiple amputees.” Either the government doesn’t think them important or, in the words of a researcher for one of the national television networks, “the military itself, while sure of how many tons of bombs it has dropped, is unsure of how many legs and arms its men have lost.”
If there are no concrete figures, at least we are beginning to get comparative ones. Proportionately, Vietnam has given us eight times as many paralytics as World War II, three times as many totally disabled, 35% more amputees. Senator Cranston of California concludes that out of every hundred army veterans receiving compensation for wounds received in action in Vietnam, 12.4% are totally disabled. Totally.
But exactly how many hundred or thousands of the dead-while-living does that give us? We don’t know. We don’t ask. We turn away from them; we avert the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, face. “Why should I look, it wasn’t my fault, was it?” It was, of course, but no matter. Time presses. Death waits even for us. We have a dream to pursue, the whitest white hope of them all, and we must follow and find it before the light fails.
So long, losers. God bless. Take care. We’ll be seeing you.
January 3, 1970
He wished the phone would stop ringing. It was bad enough to be sick let alone having a phone ring all night long. Boy was he sick. Not from any of their sour french wine either. A man couldn’t hold enough of it to get a head this big. His stomach was going round and round and round. Fine thing nobody’d answer that phone. It sounded like it was ringing in a room about a million miles wide. His head was a million miles wide too. The hell with the telephone.
That damn bell must be at the other end of the world. He would have to walk for a couple years to get to it. Ring ring ring all night long. Maybe somebody wanted something bad. Telephones ringing at night are important. You’d think they’d pay attention to it. How could they expect him to answer it anyhow? He was tired and his head was plenty big. You could stick a whole phone in his ear and he couldn’t even feel it. He must have been drinking dynamite.
Why didn’t somebody answer that goddam telephone?
“Hey Joe. Front and center.”
Here he was sick as hell and like a damned fool making his way through the night shipping room toward the telephone. It was so noisy you wouldn’t think anybody could hear a tiny sound like a phone ringing. Yet he had. He’d heard it above the click-click-click of the Battle Creek wrappers and the rattle of the belt conveyors and the howl of the rotary ovens upstairs and the rumble of steel route bins being hauled into place and the sputter of motors in the garage being tuned up against the morning’s work and the scream of dollies that needed oil why the hell didn’t somebody oil them?
He walked down the middle aisle between the steel bins that were being filled with bread. He threaded his way through the floor litter of dollies and boxes and rumpled cartons and crippled loaves. The boys looked at him as he went. He remembered their faces floating by him as he moved toward the telephone. Dutch and Little Dutch and Whitey who took shots in his spine and Pablo and Rudy and all the boys. They looked at him curiously as he passed them. Maybe that was because he was scared inside and showed it outside. He got to the phone.
“Hello son. Come on home now.”
“All right mother I’ll be right there.”
He went into the lean-to office with the wide glass front where Jody Simmons the night foreman kept a close watch on his crew.
“Jody I got to go home. My father just died.”
“Died? Gosh kid that’s too bad. Sure kid you run along. Rudy. Hey Rudy. Grab a truck and drive Joe home. His old—his father just died. Sure kid go on home. I’ll have one of the boys punch you out. That’s tough kid. Go home.”
Rudy stepped on it. It was raining outside because it was December and Los Angeles just before Christmas. The tires sizzled against the wet pavement as they went. It was the quietest night he had ever heard except for the tires sizzling and the clatter of the Ford echoing between deserted buildings in an empty street. Rudy sure stepped on it. There was a rattle somewhere back of them in the truck body that kept the same time no matter how fast they went. Rudy didn’t say anything. He just drove. Way out Figueroa past big old houses and then smaller houses and then on out some more to the south end. Rudy stopped the car.
“Thanks Rudy, I’ll let you know when everything’s finished. I’ll be back to work in a couple days.”
“Sure Joe. That’s all right. It’s tough. I’m sorry goodnight.”
The Ford grabbed for traction. Then its motor roared and it went sideslipping down the street. Water bubbled along the curb. The rain pattered down steadily. He stood there for a moment to take a good breath and then he started for the place.
The place was on the alley above a garage behind a two story house. To get to it he walked down a narrow driveway which was between two houses close together. It was black between the houses. Rain from the two roofs met there and spattered down into wide puddles with a queer wet echo like water being poured into a cistern. His feet squshed in the water as he went.
When he got out from between the two houses he saw lights on over the garage. He opened the door. A rush of hot air swept over him. It was hot air perfumed with the soap and scented rubbing alcohol they used for bathing his father and with the powder they put on him afterward to fight off bedsores. Everything was very quiet. He tip-toed upstairs his wet shoes still squshing a little.
In the living room his father lay dead with a sheet pulled over his face. He had been sick a long while and they had kept him in the living room because the glassed-in porch which was the bedroom for his father and mother and sisters was too drafty.
He walked over to his mother and touched her shoulder. She wasn’t crying very hard.
“Did you call someone?”
be here anytime. I wanted you to be here first.”
His younger sister was still asleep on the glassed-in porch but his older sister only thirteen was crumpled in a corner in her bathrobe catching her breath and sobbing quietly. He looked over at her. She was crying like a woman. He hadn’t realized before that she was practically grown up. She had been growing up all the time and he hadn’t noticed till now when she was crying because her father was dead.
A knock came on the door downstairs.
“It’s them. Let’s go into the kitchen. It’ll be better.”
They had a little trouble getting his sister into the kitchen but she came quietly enough. It seemed she couldn’t walk. Her face was blank. Her eyes were big and she was gasping more than crying. His mother sat on a stool in the kitchen and took his sister into her arms. Then he went to the head of the stairs and called down quietly.
Two men in gleaming clean collars opened the door down there and started up the stairs. They carried a long wicker basket. Quickly he stepped into the living room and pulled aside the sheets to have a look at his father before they reached the top of the stairs.
He looked down at a tired face that was only fifty-one years old. He looked down and thought dad I feel lots older than you. I was sorry for you dad. Things weren’t going well and they never would have gone well for you and it’s just as good you’re dead. People’ve got to be quicker and harder these days than you were dad. Goodnight and good-dreams. I won’t forget you and I’m not as sorry for you today as I was yesterday. I loved you dad goodnight.
They came into the room. He turned and walked into the kitchen to his mother and sister. The other sister who was only seven still slept.
There were sounds from the front room. The men’s footsteps as they tip-toed around the bed. A faint woosh of covers being thrown toward the foot. Then a sound of bedsprings relaxing after eight months’ use. Then a sound of wicker squeaking as it took up the burden the bed had left off with. Then after a heavy squeaking from all parts of the basket a shuffling of feet moving out of the front room and down the stairs. He wondered if they were carrying the basket evenly down the stairs or if the head was lower than the feet or if it was in any way uncomfortable. His father performing the same task would have carried the basket very gently.