February 27, 2015


Dalton Got His Gun : The lodestar of the Hollywood blacklist was all that his fans said he was--and less. (STEFAN KANFER, 27 February 2015, City Journal)

Between film assignments, Trumbo found time to write Johnny Got His Gun. The novel's protagonist is a limbless, faceless veteran of World War I, whose brain narrates what he cannot speak. At first glance, Johnny could pass for the tract of a conscientious objector, ruing the results of Woodrow Wilson's call to "make the world safe for democracy." But the book had a hidden agenda: Trumbo had fallen under the spell of Communism and now marched in lockstep with the Party line: Germany and Britain, preparing for all-out war, should duke it out themselves. Never mind the reports of Nazi atrocities; America must not get involved in this European squabble.

The Communist Daily Worker was delighted to serialize Johnny in its pages, and with good reason: the U.S.S.R. had recently signed a nonaggression pact with the Third Reich. But in June 1941, Hitler's armies invaded Russia. Overnight, Johnny was excised from the Worker's pages. Now, combat was not only moral but mandatory. When Trumbo's publishers chose not to keep his novel in print, he went along with their decision. Trumbo sees no inconsistency in the writer's position. "By 1941," the book straight-facedly reports, "Hitler had become a menace to the whole world, and when the United States entered the war against Germany in December of that year Trumbo saw 'no other way than to support it.'"

Journalist Allan Ryskind has a different take on Trumbo's about-face. In Hollywood Traitors, an exposé of the Communist film colony from the 1930s onward, he asserts that Trumbo's "fanatical cries for an isolationist foreign policy" were "nothing more than a shrewd tactic solely designed to please Moscow. . . . It's a pretty good bet that Trumbo and his 'anti-fascist' comrades would never have turned against the Fuehrer if he hadn't betrayed his friend in the Kremlin."

And then came 1947, the year the House Un-American Activities Committee visited Hollywood. The congressmen said that they were in pursuit of show business "subversives." Trumbo argues that the committee members were more interested in hunting headlines than in tracking down Reds. In any case, the leftist actors, directors, and writers turned out to have been pseudo-revolutionaries, singing "Arise, Ye Prisoners of Starvation" around their swimming pools. That hardly mattered to HUAC. It issued scores of subpoenas, demanding that each witness name the names of his comrades and fellow travelers. When ten men--among them Dalton Trumbo--refused, they were cited for contempt, sent to jail, and blacklisted from the business. That list soon expanded to include those whose crimes varied from Party membership to the signing of a petition or attendance at meetings that met with the congressmen's disapproval.

At this point, Trumbo portrays its subject as a martyr to Cold War hysteria. In fact, the scenarist remained loyal to the Kremlin and subservient to its world view throughout his investigation and imprisonment, and afterward. After V-E Day, Joseph Stalin renewed hostilities with the West. Earl Browder, who as head of the American Communist Party during the 1940s had encouraged a rapprochement between socialism and democracy, was deposed. Ryskind reports Trumbo's response: "It comes down to this, if Lenin was right, then Browder was wrong and vice versa. I prefer to believe that Lenin was right." Trumbo didn't leave the Party until 1956, when Nikita Khrushchev's speech stated what honest historians had known for decades: Stalin was a mass murderer, responsible for the death of some 20 million of his own people through deportation, mock trials and executions, and mass starvation--not to mention those who died because he had strengthened Hitler's hand.

Posted by at February 27, 2015 5:13 PM

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