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February 10, 2005

Op-ed: Johnny got his gun but Terri Schiavo just had Michael!

Topics: Terri Schiavo's Life Counts

Terri's War is one of life, a struggle for her to be given an opportunity to live and be treated, a war fought by others in her behalf.

In the 1971 film "Johnny Got His Gun," from the novel by Dalton Trumbo, a young American soldier (Joe) in WW I is wounded by a landmine. He looses his arms, legs and eyes as well as his ability to hear, speak or smell. Lying in hospital he is not able to distinguish if he is awake or if he is dreaming. Trying to find out he relives his story in strange dreams and memories. Lying in her small dark room, Terri lives, for now, not able to use her arms or legs, or even speak, but she hears and if you were allowed to see the video, you would see that she also responds to stimuli, she is not just a torso.

The anti-war novel by Dalton Trumbo is written from Joe Bonham's point of view . As the plot progresses we realize how severe the injuries are (most of his face has been blown away and eventually his arms and legs must be amputated--leaving a faceless torso) and why the story is being told by an interior monologue voice.

Interspersed with recollections of Joe's life is a description of his amazing struggle to remain human. Joe's quest begins with a search for "time," and once time has been found, he begins to "organize" his world. After many years of struggle to orient himself, he tries to reach out to others by "communicating" with them. Unfortunately, his initial attempts to move his head in Morse Code are initially misconstrued as seizures, for which he receives sedatives. Eventually, a nurse new to his care realizes what he is trying to do and informs his doctors.

What Joe wants most is to let the world know about the horrors of war. He assures his keepers that he could support himself in this venture if only they would let him out (people would be glad to pay to see a "freak" such as himself). The answer he receives in return, one which had to be "literally" pounded into his forehead: "What you ask is against regulations."

Terri wants us to know about the horrors of a life denied of all sensation including love and simple human compassion. The character Joe Bonham was in only one war, World War I, whereas Terri Schiavo has lived through two wars - one that night with her husband and possibly a few months preceding it, that resulted in multiple fractures from her ribs to her ankles and in which she endured trauma to her neck and had her mental capacity significantly altered (interesting that the emergency staff that admitted her, conclusively ruled out the possibility that any heart attack had occurred since her blood chemistry did not contain any elevated enzyme levels present in all heart attack patients), and then a second war to survive fifteen years of her husband (who lives with another woman with whom he has fathered two children) and an ethically-corrupt judge (George Greer) trying to terminate her life. Terri, like Joe Bonham,  struggles to remain human, and Terri's struggle to live is no less human that that of Joe Bonham's! Like Joe Bonham, Terri deserves to live and receive the necesary therapy to maximize her potential for an interactive life, but what she deserves is "against regulations" because a judge and a husband from hell have made it so!

Meanwhile, like Joe Bonham, Terry lies there, thinking,feeling, hearing, sensing, wondering why the world has abandoned her. Terri committed no wrong, but she has been sentenced to fifteen years of solitary confinement, and now faces a death sentence - death by painful starvation and dehydration and the hands of her husband(sic) and a judge(sick). When she was a child, her parents instilled in her the need to commit to a relationship before she married. Now, as an adult and while her husband lives with a woman and their two illegitimate children in a marriage-like relationship -- and continues to speak for her just because the world can't hear her cries from within - please help me, please help me, she must be wondering what happened to that relationship and what, if anything, did it ever stand for., and why, why, why in the name of humanity has the world allowed this horror to happen to her.

Terri Schiavo was never been taught Morse Code but she is responsive and could possibly communicate in her own way if anyone was allowed to stimulate her, if she was given the chance - she has been denied all forms of stimulation and even her shades are drawn, she isn't even allowed to hear music that her parents know she can relate to with past memories. But Terri has the same internal voice as Joe Bonham and the rest of us have, and she, like Joe Bonham is pleading to be heard, just lying there day after day for fifteen years with no legal representation of her own, and no way to communicate that we know how to hear, for now. To the extent that she can, she has had fifteen years to "organize" her world, to think about the value and the meaning of her life, and surely to wonder why "we" the world are allowing this horror to continue to be inflicted upon her.

Sadly, Terri has never seen "Johnny Got His Gun," and has no way of knowing or realizing that her life has come to have great meaning, and that she has come to stand for one of the most powerful examples of "man's inhumanity against a woman" that the world has ever known, even more so than the Islamic law in Iran that stones women to death for "crimes" that men can committ with little or no punishment. She has done as much for ecumenism as Pope John Paul II and the re-election of President George Bush by being a rallying focus for all Christian denominations, Jews, and even secularists.

She has helped all of us wake-up to the fact that an ethically-corrupt judge and a selfish , self-centered, incompassionate, wife-abusing(alledged - but just what else or who else is responsible for the "train-wreck" injuries to her body) husband can sentence someone to such a painful and barbaric method of execution that society would revolt against if used to execute a convicted killer. And Terri has also become a symbol, as has Pope John Paul II, of the importance of life, even if the life is that of an old sick man or a young sick woman - innocent life is not our's to take! Terri's novel is an anti-anti-life story, one that speaks to the importance of life itself, and man's capacity to love and fight for other's that they don't even know, have never seen, and never will.

Footnote: of great interest is the fact that Michael Schiavo had his attorney sue the Schindlers (Terri's family) to prevent them from showing videos on the Internet that prove that she responds to stimuli!

Posted by Hyscience at February 10, 2005 10:52 AM

At the end of the book, the soldier uses his head to tap out "kill me kill me kill me." The nurse who does so, in an effort to honor the soldier's wishes, is seen as a heroic figure. Why did you omit this from your essay?

Do you assume that the people who read your essay have not and will not read the book for themselves? What does this say about your audience?

Posted by: Dalton at March 24, 2005 4:41 PM

I have read the book. As a matter of fact, I have read the book several times. It does not end with the nurse killing him... that was the Hollywood movie ending.

Perhaps you should read the book :)

I do agree, however, that the humane thing to do would be to kill him.

Posted by: Jo at May 20, 2005 9:46 AM

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