Customer Reviews: Johnny Got His Gun
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on January 18, 2003
War is war. Innocent civilians die, families are ruined and soldiers are smashed to pieces on the battlefield. This book is gruesome. But it also serves as a valuable tool for those who question the wisdom of blindly following leaders into combat.
This book is written with a fury. It is also one of the most horrifying accusations against war. To this end, it is arguably one of the best anti-war books ever written. Mothers and fathers should read this book before allowing their children to march off to war.
It is the honesty and sincerity of this World War I tale that allows it to pass the test of time. "johnny got his gun," is a book that documents the gross stupidity that accounted for nine million corpses.
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on September 19, 2013
"Who is or was Dalton Trumbo you may well ask? Well, he was the writer behind some classic films including Spartacus and Papillon. He was also one of the many writers, directors and performers blacklisted by a paranoid regime in Hollywood during the 50s. He also wrote books.

Johnny Got His Gun was written shortly before the Second World War and is set during the First World War. Aka The Great War; Aka The War to End All Wars. But actually this isn’t really the setting, as the entire book is set inside one man’s head. One man who wakes up confused and has to work out from data (or, more often, lack of data) that he has lost both arms, both legs, his eyes, ears, nose and mouth. The book mingles dream-like memories of his bodied life with the coming to terms of being trapped inside his own new body.

It is written as a stream of (barely) consciousness, with very little punctuation to interrupt the thoughts. In fact I didn’t find a single comma in the whole 240 pages. It’s a much easier read than the lack of punctuation implies. However, the subject is NOT easy to digest.

The book brilliantly explores what happens to a mind isolated from the outside world except for a sense of touch, pain and of vibration. What happens? It has no choice but to think, to latch on to every piece of information it is lucky enough to get, and to be patient. What it can’t prevent is the slow drift towards a kind of frustrated mania obsessing about every idea it has. At points it is a great amplified description of what goes on in the mind of a writer, or other person who tends towards thinking rather than doing.

Johnny Got His Gun is a book against war, and even ends up being a pro-revolutionary polemic arguing for rising up against those who would send innocent young men and women off to be killed in the name of intangible ideas. But what other conclusion could the mind of a previously healthy twenty-year-old man come to, after finding that all that is left of him is his brain and his brain has almost no way to communicate with the outside world?

Towards the end of the book, Joe does find a way to communicate. But he has been trapped for so many years with only himself to talk to, that he sends out the same stream of consciousness that has been his monologue for years. His early patience has been replaced by a desperation. Even he can only conclude they think he has gone mad.

I loved this book. It was clever, insightful, inciteful, and gripping. A book against the terrors of war, without describing war very much. In fact most of the anecdotes about times at or near the battlefront were darkly amusing or even whimsical. The horror of war for Joe Bonham was not the actual war itself, but the terrible, isolated aftermath. And the fact that it should be allowed to happen at all.

At the end, you are feeling Joe’s desperation to be heard, but instead of the opening of a communication channel being his salvation, it is something other than that. We are left with the conclusion that to the outside world he seems mad and probably not worth continuing the communication with. Or even worth keeping alive.

This is an amazing book for its feat of taking you into a mind locked in that cruellest of cells – ones own practically dead body; tortured by that most evil of mental tortures – being allowed almost no sensory input and no movement; and having been put there by that most prolific dispenser of unjust punishment – War." -- Peter More
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on March 15, 2016
I have read this once before in Junior High and that was after the Vietnam War . Well, several years afterwards . I remember that my best friends Daddy had been in Vietnam . We were in Elementary school and it was all really foreign to us. In grade school , my parents had this tradition of our family watching the CBS evening news each night after dinner . I can remember being so young and seeing the battles . The scenes were so shocking and I asked questions but I did not really get direct explanations for the fighting . It was as though my Mom did not really understand and my Daddy was always working on call or overtime in the Air Force . I knew he would explain but he was always sleeping . No one would say anything except we should not be there. Then my best friend said her Daddy had been sick from Agent Orange gas . Her Mother had her brother after this and it was bad for him .
I also remember we all bought cuff bracelets with the names of POWs and MIAs and would wear them until they were returned home. My bracelet was so worn down and split in half . I could not wear it any more . I never heard from my POW .
When I read this book back then , it was so sad and enough to make me really hate war.
When I recently returned to these pages , it reminded me of my innocence. War is not really about people unless it is over a genocide or holocost or saving or preserving freedom . War always seems to be about the greed or power of governments above people . The people who are are poor and fight are the ones who are injured and suffer. Yet , we don't complain because we are proud and convinced we are fighting for our good . This book should be required reading in every school and by every recruit before entering the service.
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on January 6, 2001
First of all, this book is a must read, for everyone who can bear it. The situation described is horrific, but this novel is also deeply touching and it motivates you to think, and think hard. Johnny is a soldier, catastrophically mutilated by an explosion, during wordlwar I. I won't spoil your enjoyment of reading this novel, by telling that the explosion has basically removed most of his senses (eyes, ears..) and ways of communicating with the outside world. He is placed in a hospital and treated, more or less, as a vegetable. Until one day, he finds a way to speak out. That's when he "got his gun", a weapon more feared than cannons and rocketlaunchers.
It is, as you might know by now, an anti-war testament, but not just any war. Please take a moment to read Trumbo's introduction where he explains that the WW II was different than the one in which context this novel was written. Trumbo considers WW II as fought over a just cause, and explains how he wasn't happy that "Johnny Got His Gun" was used as a propaganda material against war, in US.
The story is fascinating, moving and honest, and even if the plot is sometimes just a little bit weak, I rate it with 5 stars. It's a classic of the American narrative of the 20th century.
(note: in 1971 Trumbo directed a movie with the same title, written after the book. It might be interesting to watch it, as the director and the novel writer are the same person.)
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on May 3, 2001
The brutal, terrifying, and uncompromising occurrence of war has destroyed millions of lives in past centuries. In Johnny Got His Gun the horrible realities of war are illustrated through the mind of a helpless victim of war named Joe Bonham. In the book Joe loses his eyes, ears, nose all the way to his throat, arms, and legs due to a bomb blast. He goes through life lying on a hospital bed thinking to himself and trying to reach out and communicate with his nurses by tapping his head on his pillow in Morse code. When he finally communicates he is not given any help. The author, Dalton Trumbo, uses details, appropriate syntax, and diction for Joe's thoughts to indicate that the gruesome idea of war must be avoided at all costs.
Trumbo uses an abundance of very simple details in Joe's description of the events of his life, many of which are appealing to the senses. These sensory details not only help the reader picture the situations and relate to the characters but they also provide a contrast with Joe's condition. While at war, a bomb explosion left him without a sense of sight, hearing, and taste. At the hospital Joe thinks about his life before he went to war. In one instance Joe thinks about when he worked at a bakery and remembers blueberry pies, hot crossed buns, and roses given to his boss by a fellow worker. Later in the book Joe thinks about the many fruits and vegetables that his father grew and his mother canned. Every item of food Joe mentions is a reminder to the reader that he will never taste food again. Such small details can evoke so much sympathy for Joe.
Trumbo also uses a very intelligent and accurate syntax for the streaming, desperate, or sometimes quick thoughts of Joe. Trumbo does not use punctuation in this novel which may suggest he wanted Joe to sound as though he had a stream of thoughts. When Joe thinks about things he likes in his past life, the sentence structure is narrative, flowing, and said with a calm and peaceful tone. In telling about his job at the bread factory Joe says "Walking all night long and working hard and getting eighteen dollars at the end of the week for your trouble. Not bad."(65) However when Joe is worried about something or becomes panicky, the syntax changes to panic with the tone. As Joe is coming to the realization of being totally disabled, he becomes frantic and says "Oh please no. No no. It isn't me. Help me. It can't be me. Not me. No no no....".(64)
Trumbo uses diction to reveal the truth about war. In the very beginning of the book Joe loses a close family member. The discovery of the death for the reader is very blunt when Joe says "Jody I got to go home. My father just died."(4) This event sets the tone of the book as lonely and depressing. Joe has not been in the hospital very long but he thinks to himself "there was a thick silence and yearning to listen and lonesomeness."(14) Joe becoming totally disabled continues the book with a sympathetic and sorrowful tone. Although the book is swarming with depressing horrific depictions of war the accomplishments Joe makes while on the hospital bed are very inspiring and prove to outweigh the bad. Perhaps the most moving part of the book was when Joe, after trying so long, actually communicated with someone. The nurse has brought a man to send Morse code by tapping Joe on the forehead. Joe says "A finger came out of the darkness a finger so enormous that it shattered against his forehead like the crash of a pile driver. It echoed inside his brain like thunder in a cave."(217) Joe seems as though he will be rescued but the man who he had made first contact with just dismisses Joe's persistent head tapping and sticks a needle in him to put him to sleep. The book ends with a mocking tone in the sentence "You plan the wars you masters of men plan the wars and point the way and we will point the gun."(243)
Through use of diction, syntax, and detail Trumbo was able to reasonably expose the controversial issue of the harsh realities of war and how people should not be sent to die against their will. Even though Trumbo wrote this book in fiction it is very believable because it is so realistic and everything in it probably has happened. If every member of every military in the world could read this book then they might think twice before having a war.
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on March 23, 1999
Johnny Got his Gun by Dalton Trumbo is a hard hitting, riveting, emotional and powerful anti-war novel, and it makes your goose bump pop through your skin. The story focuses on Joe Bonham, who was a W.W.I infantry soldier who lost his legs, arms, hearing, smell, and sight. The only thing left of him was his mind. Joe had no sense of time or reality, so we find in the story Joe jumps from dreams to dream, which he can't tell if they are real or imaginary. Eventually Joe reaches consciousness, only to discover the horrifying fact that he is just a stump. Cut off from the world and entraped in his own mind, Joe learns to use his mind to communicate in new ways . He used Morse-codes to interact with the people around him. All Joe's misfortune lead him to the conclusion that war comes too high of a price. Joe said "I would trade independence and honor and freedom and decency for life." I would recommend this book to anyone who like to see an alternative side to war. So for all you couch potatoes out there who have nothing to do, get off your butts and check this book out! You might thank me one day.
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on March 16, 2006
At its core, this is an anti-war novel - if not the anti-war novel. And personally, as a soldier in the US Army, some might be surprised for me to say that this is one of my favorite books of all time. It is powerful and poignant that reveals one of the true and unavoidable essences of war, death. It shows it in a "in your face" perspective not typically achieved by many anti-war works.

I disagree that war or force should never be used, as I do believe that in a world of tyrants, dictators, and evil that is an unfortunately necessary tool in American foreign policy. However, war should always be a last resort and never should the decision be an easy one. The true consequences of war should always be kept in mind so that we truly are going to war for the right purposes. It is a sad fact today that there are a declining number of politicians who are war veterans who understand the true pains of going to war. For this reason, Johnny Got His Gun should be a must read for all so that on some level we all can connect to the pain of war.

One thought, however, Dalton Trumbo tries to say through the book that no one has a right to say that some cause is worth dying for--because no one can speak for the dead. However, isn't that exactly what Trumbo is doing? He is trying to speak for the dead through his character Joe Bonham and saying that the dead believe that no cause is worth dying for. It's hypocritical to say that it applies for one side but not the other.

Nevertheless, this book is an important read for all and a major literary foundation of the anti-war movement that all should understand.
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on August 30, 2005
"Johnny Got His Gun" is fantastic, but it is very ugly. This is the story of one WWWI soldier with a devastating injury that has basically left him a living slab of meat. The soldier is unable to hear move or communicate with the outside world. This is his story of how he lives within his mind. The reader is given both the realities of war injuries as well as the author's point of view on war. Understand that Dalton Trumbo is very anti-war and makes no bones about this. If you are pro-war-on-terror and cannot stand the other point of view, do not read this book because it will only infuriate you. However, if you are either anti-war or pro-war that can discuss rationally the other side views, then of course read this book. Trumbo has humanized the realities of war through this soldier. No matter what your politics are, there are realities that must be faced and he does with medical aloofness. Trumbo puts you into the mind of this soldier as he tries to cope with his situation. There are flashbacks to his earlier life as well as dealing with an itch that he cannot scratch.

This book is both hard to read and should not be missed. It is a true classic and has relevancy 60 years after it was written. Regardless or your politics, "Johnny Got His Gun" shows what happens to the injured after the injury and it is not pretty and that is the point of this book. Extremely Highly Recommended.
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on December 10, 2000
This is one of the few books I've ever read that made me cry, and cry for a long time. The horror, as expressed by trumbo through his character of a disabled World War One veteran who has been reduced to a hunk of flesh but is still capable of thought, is something which will never leave me as long as I live.
It isn't just the horror of what happened that makes this book so touching. It's the fact that we as readers can go inside this man's thoughts, and we see his remembrances of a life gone by, that he only wishes he can have again. Dalton Trumbo's novel puts a face on the horror of warfare, one that I wish the world never had to see again.
The leaders of the world should forced to read this novel.
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on February 23, 2000
...this book had me in tears and enthralled! I let it envelop me as i read the whole book in one day. ~The way it is written is disliked by some, but one must realize that the lack of punctuation is needed to produce the in-mind feeling, or flow of concinseness that, with out, this story would be nowhere. This IS the tail of a young soldier whose life is TAKEN from him in World WarII... and though he still lives, he "lives" as a deaf-and-dumb quad-amputee with a crator for a face and less than stumps for limbs. ~This story is a "collection" of delusional thoughts/memories/dreams of a drugged stump. Unable to communicate or even really know what is going on, he is left with nothing but his mind- That which he explores extensively. ~It opened my eyes to things other than just the brutalities of war, but to the brutalities of life in general, things that are all to easilly ignored and forgotten by all that live confortably. ~This novel is well written as it switches back and forth from "the present time" to the boy's colourful past life as "told/remembered" by him. ~Though this writting may sometimes give the feeling of detatchment from the "real story" to some, one must realize that it all really does tie in with the overall meaning (which is... well, i'll let you derive that on your own). Though all of it is "seen" throught the "eyes" of a heavily sedated hunk of thinking flesh- one does not have to be drugged out of mind to comprehend it for ones' self. ~The things that take place during the "present time" allows one to know what it is that the boy is going through, as the flashbacks give insight into the charachter of this boy and the situations he had been in to make him as such in character. You, as the reader, are at his bed side through out it all -the whole duration- with no desire to leave him. ~The author expertly employs everyday emotion and thought to draw/let the reader into this soldier's incredably small, yet bitterly lonely world. The blunt reality is shocking yet presented in such graceless tact it amazes. ~I read this book during the summer following my Freshman year in highschool. Still, as i suspect it always will be, it is welcomed in to haunt my thoughts occasionally. ~I liked it.
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