There’s no word worth your life. I would rather work in a coal mine deep under the earth and never see sunlight and eat crusts and water and work twenty hours a day. I would rather do that than be dead. I would trade democracy for life. I would trade independence and honor and freedom and decency for life. I will give you all these things and you give me the power to walk and see and hear and breathe the air and taste my food. You take the words. Give me back my life. I’m not asking for a happy life now. I’m not asking for a decent life or an honorable life or a free life. I’m beyond that. I’m dead so I’m simply asking for life. To live. To feel. To be something that moves over the ground and isn’t dead. I know what death is and all you people who talk about dying for words don’t even know what life is.
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.
Just say mister I’m sorry I got no time to die I’m too busy and then turn and run like hell. If they say coward why don’t pay any attention because it’s your job to live not to die. 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? What’s noble about having your legs and arms blown off? What’s noble about being an idiot? What’s noble about being blind and deaf and dumb? What’s noble about being dead? Because when you’re dead mister it’s all over. It’s the end. You’re less than a dog less than a rat less than a bee or an ant less than a white maggot crawling around on a dungheap.
You’re dead mister and you died for nothing.
You’re dead mister. Dead.
Excerpted from Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun”.