(a WWI soldier in a hospital bed has come to learn that he has no arms or legs or face and can’t eat or smell or hear or see; he’s being kept alive by an oxygen and feeding tube. He finally breaks out of his ‘prison’ by tapping Morris Code with the back of his head against his pillow. The response from his military doctors is: “What do you want?”….)
An ice cream cone? A good book? Dancing lessons, the bed’s a little hard, bring me a glass of water, the coffee you’ve been pouring in my veins needs more sugar?
You stupid bastards I want what you take for granted. Eyes to see with. A nose to smell the faint perfume that stays in the air after a girl’s passed by. A mouth to kiss. Arms and legs to work and be like a man, like a living thing.
But I also want what you can give me.
I want out. Out of this bed, away from this empty room, doing something, anything — I could do something — I can pay my own way! I could be an educational exhibit! People wouldn’t learn much about anatomy from me but they’d learn all there is to know about war, the difference between a war in the newspapers and liberty bond drives and a war that’s fought out lonesomely in the mud somewhere, a war between a man and a high explosive shell —
Take off my nightshirt — build a glass case for me and take me wherever people are on the lookout for freakish things — I’m the alive man that’s dead! I’m the dead man that’s alive!
Take me to wherever parliaments and congresses and chambers of statesmen are meeting. I want to be there when they talk about honor and justice and the fourteen points and self-determination of peoples. Let them form blocks and alliances and mutual assistance pacts and guarantees of neutrality. Let them draft notes and ultimatums and protests and accusations but before they vote to start killing each other, let the main guy rap his gavel down on my case and say:
“Here gentlemen, is the only issue before this house, and that is:
Are you for this thing here?
Or are you against it?”
* * *
(from my theatrical adaptation of Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun.”