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Johnny Got His Gun is a disheartening story about the post World War I era. It’s about Joe Bonham. He was a military enlistee that went out and fought in the War. Joe was unfortunate enough to be caught in a major blast from an artillery shell where he lost his all of his limbs, and most of his face. He was unable to talk with no teeth or tongue. The story is really itself is really anti-war, just the character himself is enough to scare me away from going and fighting.
He’s alive still, somehow, but in a way he’s almost not alive, he basically lives in his own head working though memories and reality at the same time. Trumbo discusses war from a very negative aspect; he talks about Joe and his experiences, what he has lost from the war, being his entire life, what he has been put through and how this war is not even for him.
Trumbo expresses his views through flashbacks and memories of Joe’s old life. In the end of the book Joe expresses that he wants to be toured around, so people can see what has become of him. Joe wants to be a body carted from city to city so people can see, and fear that atrocities of war.
A theme in the book I’m able to pick out which I find probably the strongest antiwar argument is that of who exactly is doing the fighting; Trumbo through Joe, speaks about the war in a “us” versus “them” idea, where “us” is typically lower class, or people who just are not earning enough to either support themselves or be happy are the ones that end up going to war.
Where “them” refers to the upper class of people, generalizing that they are the ones that initiate the war, and goes on to say how they will not endanger themselves, instead the lower class, or “us” does the fighting. Trumbo goes on also to say Joe is not gaining anything from the war. The war itself has nothing to do with him, or people that are similar to him; people are going to fight for “democracy” and “freedom” and simply money in some cases. Joe goes on to say that when you are near death “democracy” does not matter; the only thing that matters is being alive. Joe says that the abstract idea of “liberty” is no requirement for death, he even argues that it hardly exists at all. Joe says, or thinks, “What the hell does liberty mean anyhow? It’s just a word like house or table or any other word.
Only it’s a special kind of word. A guy says house and he can point to a house to prove it. But a guy says come on let’s fight for liberty and he can’t show you liberty. He can’t prove the thing he’s talking about so how in the hell can he be telling you to fight for it?” (110). Joe shows how much of a waste this war is; they are fighting across an ocean, on another continent for “liberty”, something that, in his mind, is nothing worth fighting for. Liberty can mean something different for everyone, thus it has no identifiable meaning, so it cannot be promised, and is not worth risking a life over. He says that the pain and death war brings are horrific and should be avoided at any expenditure. In chapter three Joe talks about how he feels when the doctors are amputating his arm, like they are lazy and this is not fair. Trumbo elaborates the grotesqueness of war, going on to tell of a man’s face that was burnt off due to a flare. Later in the book Joe attempts to put himself out there as a casualty of war, to get himself away from the hospital and push people away from the atrocity that is war.
A strong underlying theme is how much Joe misses what he once had, and what the war took away from him. He used to eat burgers every paycheck with his family, and he used to have a girlfriend and best friends and a family and now all those things only exist in his mind. He’s nothing of what he once was and war has the ability to take those things away from you. In a book all about Joe’s flashbacks it is sad to see how much he has lost and can never get back. Trumbo’s arguments against war really make sense, and are hard not to agree with. Just the pure grotesqueness of the book, the way it speaks about Joe’s body, or what is left of it is scary. Honestly I would never want to be put in that position just seeing how much he has lost and just how horrible his existence is that is something I could never wish upon anyone, especially myself. The book is written through Joe’s mind, through flashbacks, and at first I was off put by the strategy the author uses, but then I really began to understand why it was necessary. Had Trumbo made this book at the time of war, while Joe was on the battlefield he would not of had the opinions he now has. By having the novel take place in his mind you can understand everything that has happened and what led him to believe what he does now. This novel would have been done much differently if it did not involve the flashbacks and memories it does. It could not of communicated the things it did had it been about the war, by making war the missing slice, it give us a much more direct result. By starting in Joe’s earlier life and then progressing straight to the after war experience the reader can assume all this negativity has happened because of the war.
Near the end of the book Joe communicates through Morse code he wants to gain his freedom, he wants to be let out of the hospital that has become his home, he wants to be free and show people that war does not make men. It makes “freak-shows” and he is one of them. He says, “This will be the goddamndest dime’s worth a man ever had. This will be a sensation in the show world and whoever sponsors my tour will be a new [hero] and have fine notices in all the newspapers because I am something you can really holler about. I am something you can push with a money back guarantee. I am the dead-man-who-is-alive… I am the man who made the world safe for democracy. If they won’t fall for that then for Christ sake they’re no men. Let them join the army because the army makes men.” (226). This selection appears after Joe is asked what he wants, Joe knows what he wants, to get out of this hospital and present himself to people, he shows how he feels about himself, as a “freak” and how his only worth now is to scare people away from war. He then goes on in a brilliant line to say if they choose not to see what he is become, they are not men. They should join the army, so they can become just that. It is excellent because of the sarcasm it brings and how it explains how he feels so well.
In the chapter he discusses how the women will see him and think of their husbands and sons. Joe speaks about how the patriotism he has made him what he is and how everyone should fear war and what he has become because of it. By willing to give himself like that, as a touring circus just to put people off enlisting is powerful in that it shows just how against war he really is. Joe Bonham was a normal teenager, at the age of nineteen he had loved and lost, worked and ate just like everyone else. Joe got into the army and was a casualty of an artillery shell. Joe lost his limbs, most of his face, but more than that he lost his life. Trumbo’s book shows how Joe was alive, but as if it was pointless. He lived in a hospital and beyond that did nothing. The story is extremely anti-war, by saying the fighting itself was for nothing. That the fighting was pointless, by expressing the horrors of war it does an excellent job off putting anyone from wanting to enlist. The book ends with Joe’s end. He is drugged and left to “live” in the hospital, a gruesome end to a life that went through such a gruesome war.
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