Top Re-read of the Month: Johnny Got His Gun

Dalton Trumbo’s

Johnny Got His Gun

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I do many books with my students and always find it interesting to go through a book I’ve read before, especially one from a long time ago. Not always do I get sucked back into my reread in exactly the same fashion as I did the first time around, but sometimes—and it’s an extremely rare sometimes—I end up feeling the same magical experience again. At those times, it’s amazing, and Dalton Trumbo’s anti-war classic does exactly that.

 

Although many out there may not know who he is, Dalton Trumbo wrote this book before coming famous for being banned in Hollywood as a communist. Despite this reputation, it didn’t hinder his creativity. He kept producing and writing, except under names. He even won Academy Awards for two of his movie, one being ‘Roman Holiday,’ though others accept the honor.

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Yes, he wrote in the bathtub.

Knowing all of this can give you a richer read, seeing the very strong communist notions in the book about the little guy being trounced by the bigger one, but in no way would I say this encapsulates the whole read. Besides, who doesn’t love an underdog?

The next most compelling aspect is the fact that it is routinely banned whenever a war starts. Korean War. Vietnam War. The first Iraq War. Only the second one, did it not find itself banned, and for that reason maybe, it resurfaced with support from Cindy Sheehan—a loud detractor of Bush.

If all of that’s not enough, then just read it—the story about a boy who has his arms, legs, and face blown off by a bomb. In essence, he’s left with nothing more than the sense of touch, and that’s it, and yet he finds a way to get his message out in simple, strong, gut-wrenching language. For anyone who has yet to read any stream of consciousness material, this book is a good place to start. Check out the last paragraph of the book, it’s mind-blowing.

Put the guns into our hands and we will use them. Give us the slogans and we will turn them into realities. Sing the battle hymns and we will take them up where you left off. Not one not ten not ten thousand not a million not ten millions not a hundred millions but a billion two billions of us all the people of the world we will have the slogans and we will have the hymns and we will have the guns and we will use them and we will live. Make no mistake of it we will live. We will be alive and we will walk and talk and eat and sing and laugh and feel and love and bear our children in tranquillity in security in decency in peace. You plan the wars you masters of men plan the wars and point the way and we will point the gun.

If that doesn’t get you going, then I don’t know what will.

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