Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Johnny Got His Gum Wrapper

Last night's film was "Johnny Got His Gun" based on Dalton (yep, like the Road House hero) Trumbo's book about a WWI soldier who got horribly maimed in battle to the point where he had no arms or legs or mouth or eyes or ears and waited every day for death. The book was a bit more explicitly anti-war--and in the forward it explained that the book was taken out of publication during the second world war and came back out again in time for Vietnam.

I've got a bone to pick with that. Granted, the reason is obvious--WWII was a "good" war, gotta fight Hitler and all that. But the point of the book itself was that there is NO justification for war, that nothing should be worth sending the cream of a nation's youth off to kill each other. (Being written soon after WWI, the book was pacifist in the extreme) Whether you think we should have fought in WWII--even if you think we had no choice but to do so--it ignores the message of the book to suppress its publication during that war. At the end of the day, about 300,000 American soldiers died in WWII, more than the First War, Korea and Vietnam combined. And ultimately, while defeating the Nazis and Japanese was a good thing, we left half of Europe under totalitarian rule and only replaced Japanese domination of the Pacific with our own. (And while it had the incidental effect of putting an end to the Holocaust, it was the war itself that started the genocide in earnest, and don't think for a second that the Allies lifted a finger to even slow down the mass killings. This was about crushing an enemy army, first and foremost.)

But the WWII example does raise the issue that the book skirts over--is anything worth such sacrifice? Is the loss of young lives in combat terrible enough to justify peace at any price? The story seems to say yes, and in the aftermath of the first world war--where millions basically died so the French and Germans could have their little shit fit and exchange a bit of territory--that seems true. But if peace at any price means letting the Nazis or Commies roll into town and begin with the killing and the looting and the raping, then things look quite different. Still, the sacrifices shouldn't be whitewashed.

The movie was a pretty good adaptation from the book, with Timothy Bottoms (the Paper Chase, Last Picture Show) as Joe, the maimed soldier (don't ask why it's not called "Joe Got His Gun"), and though the book's writer also wrote and directed the film it did have its share of early '70s psychedelia in the dream sequences.

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