Back when I was a flag-waving Young Republican who thought America had a duty to “keep the world safe for democracy,” my dad, a World War II vet, took me aside and set me straight.

“Son, no war is worth its cost,” he said.

Soon after, a punctuation-deficient old novel called Johnny Got His Gun, by Dalton Trumbo, fell into my hands.

It rattled the hell out of me.

It’s not just a novel. It’s 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 what’s been called The Good War.) As Joe’s memories of life before and during the war progress, he gradually and chillingly realizes that he’s lying in a military hospital. And that there’s nothing left of him. No arms. No legs. No ears. No face.

bed sceneJohnny Got His Gun is shocking and ghastly and gruesome — just like war. It’s also unforgettable.

Since I was born, the U.S. has been involved in War Without End. Enemies sometimes change. The killing doesn’t.

Everyone should read Trumbo’s book — which, thank God, is always in print. They should find it, read it, and pass it on.

Johnny Got His Gun closes with what is one of the most powerful anti-war manifestos ever written:

“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.”