Dalton Trumbo with his wife Cleo at the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in 1947.
Dalton Trumbo was a Hollywood movie script writer and author of the anti-war novel Johnny Got His Gun, which won one of the early National Book Awards in 1939
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Trumbo became one of Hollywood’s highest-paid screenwriters, at about $4000 per week while on assignment, earning as much as $80,000 in one year.
But Dalton’s left wing politics aligned him with the Communist Party although he didn’t join the CPUSA until 1943 when the USSR was our ally against Hitler.
In October 1947 , the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) summoned Trumbo and nine others to testify for their investigation as to whether Communist agents and sympathizers had “surreptitiously planted communist propaganda in U.S. films.”
The writers refused to give information about their own or any other person’s involvement and were convicted for contempt of Congress. They appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court on First Amendment grounds and lost.
In 1950, Trumbo served eleven months in the federal penitentiary in Ashland, Kentucky. In the 1976 documentary Hollywood On Trial, Trumbo said “As far as I was concerned, it was a completely just verdict. I had contempt for that Congress and have had contempt for several since. And on the basis of guilt or innocence, I could never really complain very much. That this was a crime or misdemeanor was the complaint, my complaint.
Trumbo was blacklisted by Hollywood although he continued to work behind flacks who took credit for his writing. His uncredited work won two Academy Awards; the one for Roman Holiday (1953) was give n to a front writer, and the one for The Brave One (1956) was awarded to a pseudonym. The public crediting of him as the writer of both Exodus and Spartacus in 1960 marked the end of the Hollywood Blacklist. His earlier achievements were eventually credited to him by the Writers Guild, 60 years after the fact.
“World War I began like a Summer festival – all billowing skirts and golden epaulets. Millions upon millions cheered from the sidewalks while plumed Imperial Highnesses, Serenities and Field Marshals and other such fools paraded through the capital cities of Europe at the head of their shining legions.
It was a season of generosities, a time for boasts, bands, poems, songs, innocent prayers. It was an August made palpitant and breathless by the pre-nuptial nights of young gentlemen officers and the girls they left permanently behind. One of the Highland regiments went over the top in its first battle behind forty kilted bagpipers skirling away for all they were worth – at machine guns.
Nine million corpses later, when the bands stopped and the Serenities started running, the wail of bagpipes would never again sound quite the same”
Dalton Trumbo – May 25, 1959
“Eleven years later, 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 gobbles our share.
Do we scream in the night when it touches our dreams? No. We don’t scream because we don’t think about it. We don’t think about it because we don’t care about it. We are more interested in law and order, so that American streets may be made safe while we transform those of Vietnam into flowing sewers of blood which we replenish each year by forcing our sons to choose between a prison cell here or a coffin there. “Every time I look at the flag my eyes fill with tears.”
If the dead men mean nothing to us (except on Memorial Day when the national freeway is clotted with surfers, swimmers, skiers, picnickers, campers, hunters, fishers, footballers, beer-busters) what of our 300,000 wounded? Does anyone know where they are? How they feel? How many arms, legs, ears, noses, mouths, faces, penises they’ve lost? How many are deaf or dumb or blind or all three? How many are single or double or triple or quadruple amputees? We don’t know. We don’t ask. We turn away from them”.
Dalton Trumbo – January 3, 1970
Biographer Larry Ceplair quotes Trumbo as describing America as “fundamentally racist, with racism the keystone of national policy both domestic and foreign.”
“How many gooks have we killed in Korea? How many slopes in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia? Millions, and we’re still killing more of them. Our thirst for the blood of dark-skinned sub-humans is insatiable.”
Above are the words of Dalton Trumbo, telling it like it was. Little has changed.
And so we still send our fine young men to war – our sons who worked in factories, bakeries or the local food market. The rich and mighty point the way to aim the guns – “the slime that rule, that would have one cobbler kill another cobbler…..a man who works kill another man who works….a human being who wants only to live kill another human being who wants only to live.”.
Memorial Day has come and m any will be looking forward to the sales at the mall and the start of Summer at the shore.
The Veteran’ Administration is years behind in its basic work – to look after veterans.
No one cares because only “volunteers” have to go. War is fought by other people. Fought by kids from Flint, Michigan or West Virginia with high school diplomas and no prospects; fought by kids whose dads are out of work.
“Tearless the enemies of peace.”