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Johnny Got His Gun  
First edition
Author Dalton Trumbo
Country USA
Language English
Genre(s) Anti-war
Publisher J. B. Lippincott company[2]
Publication date January 1, 1939 (Hardcover)[1]
Media type Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
Pages 309[2]
Followed by 1971 film

Johnny Got His Gun is an anti-war novel written in 1938 (published 1939) by American novelist and screenwriter Dalton Trumbo[3] and published by J. B. Lippincott company.[2]


Author and context

Trumbo was born on December 5, 1905 in Montrose, Colorado. Trumbo dropped out of the University of Colorado and joined his family in Los Angeles in 1925. Many of protagonist Joe Bonham's early memories are based on Trumbo's early life in Colorado and Los Angeles. The novel was inspired by an article he read about the Prince of Wales' visit to a Canadian veterans hospital to see a soldier who had lost all of his senses and his limbs. "Though the novel was a pacifist piece published in wartime, it was well reviewed and won an American Booksellers Award in 1940."[4]

Serialized in the Daily Worker in March 1940, the book became "a rally point for the political left" which had opposed involvement in World War II during the period of the Hitler-Stalin pact. Shortly after the 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, Trumbo and his publishers decided to suspend reprinting the book until the end of the war. After receiving letters from individuals requesting copies of the book, Trumbo contacted the FBI and turned these letters over to them. Trumbo regretted this decision, which he called "foolish," after two FBI agents showed up at his home and it became clear that "their interest lay not in the letters but in me".[5]


Joe Bonham
Joe Bonham is the main character. "The novel mainly consists of his reminiscences of childhood and his current struggle to remain sane and, finally, to communicate."[6]
Regular Day Nurse
"As a caretaker, capable of great humanistic love, the regular day nurse stands apart from the terse medical establishment, represented by the Morse code man, yet is not capable of the perceptive sympathy of the new day nurse."[6]
Joe's father
Joe's father, Bill Bonham, courted Joe's mother and raised a family with her in Colorado. "His character comes to stand for Joe's nostalgia for an older way of life."[6]
Joe's Mother
Joe's Mother, Marcia Bonham, was always close to Joe and Bill. She would spend all day in the kitchen, cooking and baking.


Joe Bonham, a young soldier serving in World War I, awakens in a hospital bed after being caught in the blast of an exploding artillery shell. He gradually realizes that he has lost his arms, legs, and face, but that his mind functions perfectly, leaving him a prisoner in his own body. He tries to die by suffocating himself but he has been given a tracheotomy, which he cannot remove or control. He successfully attempts to communicate with his doctors by banging his head on his pillow in Morse code. His wish is that he may be put in a glass box and tour the country, to show people the true horrors of war. His wish is never granted, however, and it is implied that he will live the rest of his natural life in this condition.

As he drifts between reality and fantasy, he remembers his old life with his family and girlfriend, and reflects upon the myths and realities of war. He also forms a bond, of sorts, with a young nurse who senses his plight.


The title comes from the phrase "Johnny get your gun",[7] a rallying call that was commonly used to encourage young American men to enlist in the military in the late 19th and early 20th century. That phrase was popularized in the George M. Cohan song "Over There", which was widely recorded in the first year of American involvement in World War I; the versions by Al Jolson, Enrico Caruso and Nora Bayes are believed to have sold the most copies on phonograph records at the time.


On March 9, 1940, a radio adaptation of Johnny Got His Gun was produced and directed by Arch Oboler, based on his script, and presented on the NBC Radio series "Arch Oboler's Plays." James Cagney played Joe Bonham on that broadcast.

Johnny Got His Gun was adapted into a stage play by Bradley Rand Smith in 1982, and has since been performed all over the world. Its first, off-Broadway run starred Jeff Daniels.[8]

In 1971, Trumbo directed a film adaptation of the novel, starring Timothy Bottoms as Joe Bonham. The novel was adapted to film again in 2008, starring Benjamin McKenzie in a "Live on Stage, On Film" production.


In early 2009, the 1971 film made its U.S. DVD debut, produced by Shout! Factory. The DVD included the original, uncut film, plus a 2005 documentary (Dalton Trumbo: Rebel In Hollywood), new cast interviews, Metallica's music video "One," behind-the-scenes footage with commentary by stars Timothy Bottoms and Jules Brenner, a 1940 radio adaptation of the book starring James Cagney, and the original theatrical trailer.[9]

In popular culture

Clips of the 1971 film version were used in the music video for the Metallica song "One", which was itself inspired by the book.

This book was also featured as a talking point prominently in the film December starring Brian Krause, Balthazar Getty and Wil Wheaton.

In the 2000 film Tigerland, the lead character Bozz is seen holding a copy of this book. This can be intepreted as a message from the writer, suggesting influences on the film.


External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Dalton Trumbo article)

From Wikiquote

Dalton Trumbo (December 9, 1905September 10, 1976) was an American screenwriter and novelist, and a member of the Hollywood Ten, a group of film professionals who testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1947 during the committee's investigation of Communist influences in the motion picture industry.


Johnny Got His Gun (1938)

  • Never again to wiggle your toes. What a hell of a thing, what a wonderful, beautiful thing, to wiggle your toes.
  • No sir, anybody who went out and got into the front line trenches to fight for liberty was a goddamn fool and the guy who got him there was a liar. Next time anybody came gabbling to him about liberty - what did he mean next time? There wasn't going to be any next time for him. But the hell with that. If there could be a next time and somebody said "let's fight for liberty", he would say "mister my life is important. I'm not a fool and when I swap my life for liberty I've got to know in advance what liberty is, and whose idea of liberty we're talking about and just how much of that liberty we're going to have. And what's more mister - are you as much interested in liberty as you want me to be? And maybe too much liberty will be as bad as too little liberty and I think you're a goddamn fourflusher talking through your hat, and I've already decided that I like the liberty I've got right here. The liberty to walk and see and hear and talk and eat and sleep with my girl. I think I like that liberty better than fighting for a lot of things we won't get and ending up without any liberty at all. Ending up dead and rotting before my life is even begun good or ending up like a side of beef. Thank you mister. You fight for liberty. Me, I don't care for some.
  • There's nothing noble about dying. Not even if you die for honor. Not even if you die the greatest hero the world ever saw. Not even if you're so great your name will never be forgotten and who's that great? The most important thing is your life, little guys. You're worth nothing dead except for speeches. Don't let them kid you any more. Pay no attention when they tap you on the shoulder and say come along we've got to fight for liberty, or whatever their word is. There's always a word.
  • Just say 'mister I'm sorry, I got no time to die, I'm too busy' and then turn and run like hell. If they say coward why don't pay any attention because it's your job to live not to die. If they talk about dying for principles that are bigger than life, you say 'mister you're a liar. Nothing is bigger than life'. There's nothing noble in death. What s noble about lying in the ground and rotting? What's noble about never seeing the sunshine again? What's noble about having your legs and arms blown off? What's noble about being an idiot? What's noble about being blind and deaf and dumb? What's noble about being dead? Because when you're dead, mister, it's all over. It's the end. You're less than a dog, less than a rat, less than a bee or an ant, less than a white maggot crawling around on a dungheap. You're dead, mister, and you died for nothing.
  • Inside me I'm screaming, nobody pays any attention. If I had arms, I could kill myself. If I had legs, I could run away. If I had a voice, I could talk and be some kind of company for myself. I could yell for help, but nobody would help me.
  • There's a game out there, and the stakes are high. And the guy who runs it figures the averages all day long and all night long. Once in a while he lets you steal a pot. But if you stay in the game long enough, you've got to lose. And once you've lost there's no way back, no way at all.
  • Remember this well you people who plan for war. Remember this you patriots, you fierce ones, you spawners of hate, you inventors of slogans. Remember this as you have never remembered anything else in your lives. We are men of peace, we are men who work and we want no quarrel. But if you destroy our peace, if you take away our work, if you try to range us one against the other, we will know what to do. If you tell us to make the world safe for democracy we will take you seriously and by god and by Christ we will make it so. We will use the guns you force upon us, we will use them to defend our very lives, and the menace to our lives does not lie on the other side of a nomansland that was set apart without our consent. It lies within our own boundaries here and now. We have seen it and we know it.
  • 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.

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