Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo
This is quite a famous novel. I had always thought that it was a 60's peacenik book but it turns out to have been written and released just at the start of WWII. It was, however, re-released during the Vietnam era and became a touchstone for the peace movement. It was a book I had always wanted to read mainly because I remember seeing it on all the bookshelves of my parents hippy friends. I think the "war is horror" message is a good one to revisit in these times of a major sanitized and removed conflict.
The story concerns a young soldier who has awakened in a hospital with horrific injuries. As his consciousness returns, he slowly realizes the extent of his wounds. He has lost all of his limbs and is completely senseless having had his face blown off. The novel switches back and forth between the terror he feels in this "lump of meat" and his dreams and memories of growing up in small town America. You come to realize that his story is one that is only uncommon in that he is still alive, in a sense. He gains small satisfactions in things like determining the passage of time by the feel of the morning sunlight on his skin or feeling the touch of a nurse on his forehead.
This was a failrly depressing book to read but it is a relatively short novel and the author keeps you wanting to know a bit more about how things are going to turn out for the man. Unfortunately, the ending leaves a lot unresolved and in the end that is alright. The real message of the novel is that most soldiers are just cogs in the greater war machine but one should not lose sight of their individual humanity.
The book was also mad into a film in 1971. You may have seen clips of the film which were used in the music video for the Metallica song One.
"Then there was this freedom the little guys were always getting killed for. Was it freedom from another country? Freedom from work or disease or death? Freedom from your mother-in-law? Please mister give us a bill of sale on this freedom before we go out and get killed. Give us a bill of sale drawn up plainly so we know in advance what we're getting killed for and give us also a first mortgage on something as security so we can be sure after we've won your war that we've got the same kind of freedom we bargained for."