Monday, February 13, 2012

Johnny Got His Gun, Revisited /A man who carries within himself all the seeds of a new order of things / The Heart Sutra

If you'd like to know more about this trackpad drawing, read here.
When I did that drawing in December 2007, I had no idea that Richard had experienced a brainstem stroke and had been in a VA hospital for three months and that he was painting again.

Nearly two weeks ago, while in savasana (the corpse pose) at the end of my home yoga practice, thinking of Richard's last breath, I suddenly remembered Dalton Trumbo's anti-war novel written in 1939, Johnny Got His Gun.

A few days ago, the $7.99 copy I had ordered arrived at our local independent bookstore. It had been my intention to read the edition I had read in 1970 at the urging of Richard, who had read the book while in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1970. I didn't want the edition with the foreward by Cindy Sheehan because I had checked out our local library's audiobook version of Johnny Got His Gun, read by William Dufris, and been unable to listen to that particular man's irritating voice read a book that I had read so long ago and had "heard" in Richard's voice. William Dufris' reading of Cindy Sheehan's foreward was particularly annoying to me. I wanted the edition with the introduction by Dalton Trumbo. I thought that was what I was ordering.

It turns out that, for the edition I had bought, the publisher had removed the introduction by Dalton Trumbo and inserted an introduction by Cindy Sheehan. With further Google research, I found that in 1991, there was an edition with an introduction by Ron Kovic, a well-known Vietnam veteran who felt the book told his story. That introduction was followed by Dalton Trumbo's original introduction from 1939 and an addendum by Dalton Trumbo in 1970. If you'd like to read those introductions, take a look here.

Now I'm puzzled. This is getting curiouser and curiouser. Dalton Trumbo was alive when the introduction by Ron Kovic was added and clearly chose Ron Kovic to write an introduction.

Why were those two introductions removed and Cindy Sheehan's introduction inserted? Why not just add Cindy Sheehan's introduction to this newer addition?

On the publishing history page of my $7.99 copy, it reads:

This edition contains the complete text
of the original hardback edition.



Introduction copyright © 1970 by Dalton Trumbo.

What is going on here?

It was wrenching to reread Johnny Got His Gun. When we read it the first time, Richard and I were 20 years old, in the midst of the Vietnam War. I am convinced now that Richard was remembering that book in the last few days of his life when he was blind in one eye, not focusing well with the other eye, and barely able to move.

From page 83 of Johnny Got His Gun:

He was blind.

It was funny how calm he was. He was quiet just like a storekeeper taking spring inventory and saying to himself I see I have no eyes better put that down in the order book. He had no legs and no arms and no ears and no nose and no mouth and no tongue. What a hell of a dream. It must be a dream. Of course sweet god it’s a dream. He’d have to wake up or he’d go nuts. Nobody could live like that.

From page 240-241:

Why? why? why?

And then suddenly he saw. He had a vision of himself as a new kind of Christ as a man who carries within himself all the seeds of a new order of things. He was the new messiah of the battlefields saying to people as I am so shall you be ... He saw a world of lovers forever parted of dreams never consummated of plans that never turned into reality ...

That was it he had it he understood it now he had told them his secret and in denying him they had told him theirs.

He was the future he was a perfect picture of the future and they were afraid to let anyone see what the future was like. Already they were looking ahead they were figuring the future and somewhere in the future they saw war. To fight that war the would need men and if men saw the future they wouldn't fight ...

From the Heart Sutra:

No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind, no color, no sound, no smell no taste, no touch, no object of mind, no realm of eyes and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.

Cindy Sheehan's introduction ends with the words: "Why, why, why?"

(cover of first edition, 1939)

1 comment:

Taradharma said...

I can only guess that the insertion of Sheehan's intro over others is all about sales and money.

I remember that book very well -- read it when I was a senior in high school and it shook me to my core.