What is it good for? War is the crux of Johnny Got His Gun. Were it not for war, Joe would be living his normal life, and we probably wouldn't find that life all that compelling to read about. Instead, the novel's drama comes from the idea that war leaves a wake of seemingly needless destruction that throws a wrench into all the everyday things we take for granted.
We actually don't see a whole lot of actual warfare in this novel; instead of in descriptions of battles, warfare manifests itself through all the things that Joe loses—not just literally, in the sense of his limbs, but in the life that he will no longer be able to live.
Questions About Warfare
Given that Johnny Got His Gun is based on the story of a real soldier who lost his limbs and senses, do you think that the book is melodramatic in its depiction of war and its destruction? Why or why not?
We might get freaked out by war as it is depicted in something like Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers, but neither necessarily compels us to take a stance against war. Is Johnny Got His Gun different? When actual warfare is described in the novel, how are we supposed to react?
What does war look like for the average civilian in this novel?
Does Joe think that there are ever any times when fighting may be necessary?
Chew on This
Johnny Got His Gun would convey its anti-war argument better if there were more scenes of actual warfare and a less narrow focus on Joe's life.
Joe's prediction of a perpetually war-torn future has in many ways come true (minus all the headless babies).