Book Spotlight: Johnny Got his Gun

The most effective recruiting symbol of World War II was the I Want You for the U.S. Army poster which showcased Uncle Sam wearing a top hat and trousers decorated in the nation’s colors. The ad was meant to install patriotism to the men who voluntarily signed up, ensuring them that they were doing right by their country by helping to stop Hitler and his army from gaining control of Europe. The ad left out the parts that weren’t seen in propaganda videos: Soldiers suffering from PTSD (it was called battle fatigue then), those who had missing limbs, and minds forever scarred from what they had witnessed. From the end of World War II, I believe that every war America aggressively inserted itself into, was done solely for the rich war profiteers and later, oil companies.

The book, Johnny Got his Gun, by Dalton Trumbo tells the story of Joe Bonham, a World War I soldier who has his arms, legs and face blown off by artillery shell. He is essentially a prisoner in his own body. Throughout the novel’s stream of consciousness writing style, Joe slowly comes to grip with his reality. He relives to the reader his past, his childhood, what he was like growing up and, because of this, the reader identifies with his plight and what has been forced upon him by a cruel stroke of cosmic luck. The copy of the book that I have at home and  have read twice begins with an introduction by a woman who lost her son, Casey in the Iraqi war on April 4th, 2004. The introduction by Cindy Sheehan paints a defeating loss for any mother or parent: A child killed in action in war. She writes on page six:

“In the days and weeks before George Bush’s insane invasion of Iraq, I knew it was wrong, but I never did anything to protest or voice my disgust. After Casey was killed, though, I knew I had to do something…I firmly believe that there are two books that every American should read as soon as they are able to understand: Johnny Got His Gun and Major General Smedley Butler’s equally intense and informative work War Is a Racket. Trumbo’s work tells of the human wreckage of war and Butler’s work outlines the evil intentions of the war profiteers.” (Johnny Got his Gun, Sheehan, 6, 14).

Reading the book, I often asked myself that, when the top military officials, saw the remains of Joe: What were they really afraid of? That what they had put him through was beyond cruel of any human? Or, and this seems more likely from my perspective, that if word got out of Joe and what “The Great War” had reduced him to. The war coffers funding would dry up, that they would have no little guys to fight and die and bleed for them while they sat at home, counting their money bags and planning the next fictional assault on another country for “democracy” or as it’s now known as “Oil.”

(I apologize for being so cyclical but if the little guys are going, how come the fat Wall Street broker’s aren’t the ones shelling out money for compensation to all the damaged veterans who come back with PTSD?). Bottom line: If a government of elected official, tells you to go to war, read this book and be aware of what you’re giving to the war mongers and their puppets in Congress.

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