Dalton Trumbo wrote Johnny Got His Gun in 1938 and published it in 1939. This harrowing novel deals with an American youth missing in action and hideously injured in World War I--his arms, legs and face have been blown away--who can do nothing but endure his tomb-like existence and recall the memories of a family that is unaware that he has survived and relive his life before his dismemberment. Although the novel is set in the years following World War I, it is not primarily interested, like Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, in recording the experiences of the Great War; instead, the novel is meant to be a pacifist statement at the beginning of World War II.

But the world goes on in its usual way, and Trumbo reissued Johnny Got His Gun for yet another war, this one in Vietnam. In an introduction written in 1970, he does a bit of arithmetic for us.

Numbers have dehumanized us. Over breakfast coffee we read of 40,000 American dead in Vietnam. Instead of vomiting, we reach for the toast. Our morning rush through crowded streets is not to cry murder but to hit that trough before somebody else gobbles our share.

An equation: 40,000 dead young men = 3,000 tons of bone and flesh, 124,000 pounds of brain matter, 50,000 gallons of blood, 1,840,000 years of life that will never be lived, 100,000 children who will never be born.

Let us use his same arithmetic for World War I; 9,000,000 dead young men equal 1,350,000,000 pounds of bone and flesh, 27,900,000 pounds of brain matter, 11,250,000 gallons of blood, 414,000,000 years of life that will never be lived, and 22,500,000 children who will never be born. The dry if imposing figure "9,000,000 dead" seems a little less statistical when we view it from this perspective.

These 9,000,000 recorded here were military casualities. An even great number of civilians-- 12,500,000-- died as a result of military action, massacre, starvation or disease. (Patric Bridgwater, "German Poetry and the First World War," European Studies, 1 [1971]). All told, 21,000,000 people, combatants and civilians, perished in the four years of the war.