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309 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1939
If they talk about dying for principles that are bigger than life you say mister you're a liar. Nothing is bigger than life. There's nothing noble in death. What's noble about lying in the ground and rotting? What's noble about never seeing the sunshine again?
Everybody said America was fighting a war for the triumph of decency. But whose idea of decency? And decency for who? Speak up and tell us what decency is. Tell us how much better a decent dead man feels than an indecent live one.
He had no arms and no legs.This nightmare is compounded by the fact that he is very much alive; he is Joe Bonham, twenty years of age, son of a loving mother and father and who has two younger sisters and the love of his life Kareen waiting for him: but that is only in his mind. For the staff of the hospital he is a nameless patient, a disgusting freak which is just a caved out head stuck on a limbless body. Worst of all – it is a life sentence.
He threw back his head and started to yell from fright. But he only started because he had no mouth to yell with. He was so surprised at not yelling when he tried that he began to work his jaws like a man who has found something interesting and wants to test it. He was so sure the idea of no mouth was a dream that he could investigate it calmly. He tried to work his jaws and he had no jaws. He tried to run his tongue around the inside of his teeth and over the roof of his mouth as if he were chasing a raspberry seed. But he didn't have any tongue and he hadn't any teeth. There was no roof to his mouth and there was no mouth. He tried to swallow but he couldn't because he had no palate and there weren't any muscles left to swallow with.
He would be in this womb forever and ever and ever. He must remember that. He must never expect or hope for anything different. This was his life from now on every day and every hour and every minute of it. He would never again be able to say hello how are you I love you. He would never again be able to hear music or the whisper of the wind through trees or the chuckle of running water. He would never again breathe in the smell of a steak frying in his mother's kitchen or the dampness of spring in the air or the wonderful fragrance of sagebrush carried on the wind across a wide open plain. He would never again be able to see the faces of people who made you glad just to look at them of people like Kareen. He would never again be able to see sunlight or the stars or the little grasses that grow on a Colorado hillside.Lying on his back with only memories for company, Joe almost goes mad – until he finds a way to keep track of time (based on the daily cycle of the nurses) and finally, to communicate. But even that is doomed to end in disappointment, as the author is determined that we shall not escape.
"Joe dear darling Joe hold me closer. Drop your bag and put both of your arms around me and hold me tightly. Put both of your arms around me. Both of them."
You in both of my arms Kareen goodbye. Both of my arms. Kareen in my arms. Both of them. Arms arms arms arms. I'm fainting in and out all the time Kareen and I'm not catching on quick. You are in my arms Kareen. You in both of my arms. Both of my arms. Both of them. Both
I haven't got any arms Kareen.
My arms are gone.
Both of my arms are gone Kareen both of them.
Kareen Kareen Kareen.
They've cut my arms off both of my arms.
Oh Jesus mother god Kareen they've cut off both of them.
Oh Jesus mother god Kareen Kareen Kareen my arms.
...So did all those kids die thinking of democracy and freedom and liberty and honor and the safety of the home and the stars and stripes forever?Honour, Patriotism, Liberty, Chivalry... all fine words, thundered by world leaders across the globe from pulpits to the deafening cheers of their followers. And what does it bring the “little guy”, the soldier at the front? Nothing but death and misery. There is no honour in war, in killing and getting killed.
You're goddam right they didn't.
They died crying in their minds like little babies. They forgot the thing they were fighting for the things they were dying for. They thought about things a man can understand. They died yearning for the face of a friend. They died whimpering for the voice of a mother a father a wife a child. They died with their hearts, sick for one more look at the place where they were born please god just one more look. They died moaning and sighing for life. They knew what was important. They knew that life was everything and they died with screams and sobs. They died with only one thought in their minds and that was I want to live I want to live I want to live.
There's nothing noble about dying. Not even if you die for honor. Not even if you die the greatest hero the world ever saw. Not even if you're so great your name will never be forgotten and who's that great? The most important thing is your life little guys. You're worth nothing dead except for speeches. Don’t let them kid you any more. Pay no attention when they tap you on the shoulder and say come along we've got to fight for liberty or whatever their word is there's always a word.
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.There is no doubt where the guns will be ultimately pointed. No wonder it pissed off many people!
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. Make no mistake of it 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.
Now that the war is through with me
I'm waking up, I cannot see
That there is not much left of me
Nothing is real but pain now
Hold my breath as I wish for death
Oh please, God, wake me
All that I see
I cannot live
I cannot die
Trapped in myself
Body my holding cell
Has taken my sight
Taken my speech
Taken my hearing
Taken my arms
Taken my legs
Taken my soul
Left me with life in hell