a Dirty Commie Turned Me into a Right-Wing Peacenik
In 1970, I was 16, a
Young Republican, my head filled with editorials from National
Review. "Dad," I used to say, "we can win this
Vietnam thing, if only we had the guts." And my father, an
Old Republican and World War II vet who had long before grown weary
of death counts, would answer, "Son, no war is worth its cost."
Iíd shake my head and
shuffle off to school.
Several things that
summer, most of them from the right, shook my conservative political
beliefs to their roots. Ayn Rand was one, of course. Another was
a photocopy of Murray Rothbardís "Confessions of a Right-Wing
Liberal," from Ramparts magazine, handed to me by an
"anarcho-capitalist"; he was waving an enormous black
flag outside a Young Americans for Freedom leadership conference
in Glendale, California.
Still another earthshaker
came from the left: the anti-war novel Johnny
Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo.
Thinking back, I canít
imagine how this dangerous book got into my young hands, let alone
why I began reading it. After all, Iíd already been to the theater
to see Patton three times that summer. I was still trying
to convince Dad that My Lai didnít really mean anything. And then
here comes this punctuation-deficient piece of lefty propaganda,
written by one of the Hollywood Ten, for crying out loud, a former
Communist Party member. And somehow, I did read the book.
It rattled the heck
out of me.
In short time, Johnny
Got His Gun made me an anarchist peacenik. Granted, I was a
right-wing anarchist peacenik, but an anarchist peacenik
just the same.
Since that summer more
than 30 years ago, Iíve reread Trumboís heroic novel a half-dozen
times. I believe it is to the anti-war movement what Atlas
Shrugged is to the libertarian movement.
Itís not just a novel.
Itís a concussion device.
The story is all told
"in the head" of Joe, a young American soldier who has
fought in The War To End All Wars. (Fittingly, the novel was first
published in September 1939, two days after the start of The Good
War.) As Joeís memories of life before and during the war progress,
he gradually and chillingly realizes that heís lying in a military
hospital. And that thereís nothing left of him. No arms. No legs.
No ears. No face.
Johnny Got His Gun
is shocking and ghastly and gruesome just like war. It is
also powerful and unforgettable. This Memorial Day 2002, when so
very few of us openly protest our current War Without End, I think
itís vital that you find a copy and read it. Or reread it. Then
pass it on.
Dalton Trumboís novel
closes with what is one of the most powerful anti-war manifestoes
If you make a war
if there are guns to be aimed if there are bullets to be fired
if there are men to be killed they will not be us. They will not
be us the guys who grow wheat and turn it into food the guys who
make clothes and paper and houses and tiles the guys who build
dams and power plants and string the long moaning high tension
wires the guys who crack crude oil down into a dozen different
parts who make light globes and sewing machines and shovels and
automobiles and airplanes and tanks and guns oh no it will not
be us who die. It will be you.
It will be you
you who urge us on to battle you who incite us against ourselves
you who would have one cobbler kill another cobbler you who would
have one man who works kill another man who works you who would
have one human being who wants only to live kill another human
being who wants only to live. Remember this. 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. 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."
Conger [send him mail] is a
marketing consultant and writer living on Californiaís central coast.
2002 by LewRockwell.com
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