Spoiler warning for Cyberpunk lore and some info on Johnny's backstory, including mentions of his flashback events. Important points in bold. This has been lingering on my mind for weeks now and it's currently almost 4am, so forgive any incoherencies or ramblings. Tried to stay to-the-point. TL;DR at the bottom.
So, for all that Johnny likes to talk about
his c*** himself and other people tell us all about their opinion of him, there's not a lot we KNOW about his life. And what little facts we do have… there are some inconsistencies. So:
He was born as Robert Linder on 16 Nov 1988. Okay. Gotcha.
The next event we know of is that at some point before or during the Second Central American War (2nd Mexican Conflict) he enlisted in the military and fought in that war. We don't know why he joined or where he lived before then or what branch he was in, but that's beside the point. The 2nd Mexican Conflict is stated as starting in 2003 and lasting only until 2010, so he must have served and left sometime during that period.
But, somehow, he also formed Samurai with Kerry (+ Denny, Henry, and Nancy) no later than their recruitment for Universal Recording in 2003 at the Rainbow Cadenza. They were producing chart-toppers basically right off the bat and kept it up until 2008, when they broke up after the loss of Nancy to jailtime.
Unless we assume that Cyberpunk world allows 14-year-olds to enlist, there's really no way he could have participated in the war after it broke out in 2003, lost his arm, received the chrome prosthetic (which I guess would have had to be upgraded to a grown-man size arm later), legally changed his name from Robert Linder to Johnny Silverhand, formed Samurai, and risen to fame all before the year ended. I mean… I guess you could say it's "possible", but really…. let's not anybody argue that just to make a point. There's more to consider, too.
I've tried to figure out how this could be possible, with no luck. Aside from the illogicality of it, here's what I've tried to figure out:
We know a few things about his deployment, but not much. We know that he deserted the military because this war that traumatized him (per his own confession to V), cost him his arm, and killed his friend (the owner of the tags V wears who sacrificed himself for Johnny) was only being fought for the sake of the corporations. In order for the last bit to be part of his motivations, he would have had to been active at least up until the point that the corruption was publicly leaked. This means he was part of the majority of service members who deserted after corporate greed and power was revealed as the true drive of the whole war. We don't know when that revelation actually occurred date-wise, only that the whole campaign ended in a very Vietnam-esque fashion by total loss of morale/public support and official withdrawal of troops by 2010 with no discernible victory.
I'm not knowledgeable in military history but I don't think mass desertion would have occurred all at once. I expect it would have gone on over some period of time in waves as their reasons to stay/not go were outweighed by reasons to go/not stay (eg. pro-con calculations on things like desertion charges, risk to life and limb, trauma, steady income, purpose, etc.) so it's entirely possible the public revelation came earlier around, say, 2006, and total withdrawal wasn't declared until 2010. Therefore the timing of his desertion based on revelations of corruption is hard to determine, but we know it was part of the package.
Undoubtedly, so was the loss of his arm. This part's interesting, as I realized it could have gone one of two ways.
A) He lost his arm while serving and it was immediately provided with a prosthetic in order to enable him to remain in service.
The only way I see this as plausible in any way is if Johnny was an incredible soldier because of his skills/abilities/training, and they were willing to invest in an asset to that extent. Given his proficiency with a pistol and general combat, I could see it. Plus, it would be helpful for explaining his inflated arrogance. I don't see them doing this for even an above-average soldier, considering how the corps backing the military viewed them (evidenced most by the horrible anti-deserter campaign they launched to make them public enemies after the war failed). Later, when the corp-military corruption was revealed, he would have deserted with his chrome arm. In my mind the advanced nature of the chrome arm is like the Marvel Bucky Barnes arm of CP, in that it's a pretty advanced piece of tech for its time and not exactly your average cybernetic prosthetic. The civilian prosthetics we see even 70 years later in 2077 on NPCs are like trash grabber tools in comparison. In the 2013 flashback, Santiago (left hand) and Yeshen (forearms) have partial limb cybernetics of quality, for sure, but that's it, nobody else – and that memory of 2013 was probably several years after Johnny first got his arm, as well.
B) He lost his arm around the same time the corruption leak occurred, and he promptly deserted to at some point later (soon) get the chrome prosthetic on his own.
Now, this one's complicated… If we're flexible with the lore, then at the time of the corruption leak he might not have been driven to desertion just yet – but then suffered the loss of his arm and was discharged because he could no longer serve. Being sent home in these circumstances can be difficult enough, but keep in mind at the same time the country was being swamped with anti-deserter campaigns. Society might not have readily distinguished regular veterans and deserters as distinct, unjustified or not. This would be very similar to what a disabled Vietnam vet would have experienced returning home to the climate of hate and scorn. His anti-corpo sentiments might have developed after the fact, in that month of depression he spent staring at the ceiling of the Pistis Sofia. Alternatively, the corruption leak and loss of his arm occurred virtually simultaneously, and he then deserted on principle knowing he was possibly also walking away from the possibility to receive a prosthetic. Could be, but I don't know how a one-armed public enemy would have been able to make the scratch for a nice prosthetic like that before becoming JS and forming Samurai. Couldn't have even played the guitar on the street for change. As interesting as this option could be, I just don't think it meshes well with the overall events of Johnny's character arc, especially as a deserter.
Bottom line on the arm as far as I see it is that there are narrative complications in either method of acquisition. If he really did desert because of the corpo corruption as lore states, he would have had to have lost his arm previously and continued serving with that chrome arm. Ergo, he must have been a serious asset, as advanced cybernetics were still rather expensive and more or less pretty uncommon around 2003-2010. However, I don't think Johnny was such an incredible warrior that he managed to become such an asset in a matter of a couple months. The only way for option A to work is if he did not form Samurai until at least a few years later than stated in CP.
But again… Johnny wouldn't have been 17 (minimum USA enlistment age IRL) until 2005. We could stretch a bit here since there's no specific lore (that I can imagine finding?) on minimum enlistment age in CP universe, but again, I don't think the world is so dystopian yet at 2003 to realistically allow for enlistment to drop from 18 to 14. If we accept enlistment at age 16 (there are currently only sixteen countries IRL that allow it, mostly w/ parental consent and just for cadet training) then he could have joined as early as 16 NOV 2004. In order to become a real asset worth investing an expensive cybernetic in, I think at least THREE years of service would be reasonable. Realistically people spend several years or even decades building a career in the military, but this is
Johnny Silverhand fiction we're talking about.
One must also give credence to the fact that this time period forever changed Johnny as a person, and to say it was just a few months or something is pretty cheap.
In an effort to make some sense of all this
and reconcile a nagging absence of character depth for both V and Johnny and rigid narrative I've just mentally shifted things forward a few years, pre-Alt. And filled in the blanks. Something like this:
1988: Johnny born Richard Linder, probably just some average Joe with no major prospects
2003: Richard ("Rich"?) and Kerry meet and bond over music, maybe occasionally performing for fun
late-2004: Richard, age 16, enlists to get a future for himself in an increasingly bleak socioeconomic climate; he proves himself in training and afterward, gaining rep and eventually rank… BONUS: friends call him Dick (of course, I mean they're soldiers), which turns into Johnson, which turns into Johnny (you're welcome for sharing my personal headcanon on that gem)
2006: 2nd Mexican Conflict becomes even more horrific; maybe Johnny is transitioned into more frontlines/spec ops squad based on his confessions to V about the things they were made to do during the war
late-2007: Johnny's squad gets caught in a bad spot and his best friend sacrifices himself to save Johnny, who still loses his arm; the military provides him with an advanced prosthetic; only a few short weeks later, information is leaked proving corporate agenda as the drive for this nightmare of a war; realizing so many people died for nothing and he just lost his arm for this, and his friend sacrificed himself for this, Johnny deserts and hides in Night City at the Pistis Sofia
2008: Johnny reconnects with Kerry, forms Samurai
From there I guess you could still have Alt die in 2013. The only thing that would have to be shifted is that the post-Nancy Samurai breakup would have to occur around, say, 2010 or 2012, so that Samurai could be back together in time for the Alt flashback to remain unaffected. Or just shift it all a few years if you want, having Alt die around 2016 or something to fill in the 10-year bender Johnny goes on between 2013 and 2023.
So how do we jive all this?? Am I missing something crucial? To the best of my knowledge this can't be chalked up to CDPR writing error, since the only things about Johnny's backstory they retconned from the original TTRPG (that I know of) is the circumstances of Alt's death and his "disappearance" in the bombing of Arasaka HQ in 2023.
ANYWAY. Christ. That is one long-a** post. Obviously I have been thinking about this way too much. Don't imagine anybody's as concerned with this detail as I am, if many have even noticed it at all, but just wanted to get this out there and hopefully hear others' thoughts. Also can't be the only one who wondered how he got from the name Richard Linder to Johnny Silverhand, lol, and Johnson seemed pretty on-point. And now, as promised:
TL;DR : Lore states that Johnny Silverhand was born in NOV 1988, fought in and lost his arm in a war that took place 2003-2010, deserted because of corporate corruption in the govt./military, and had already established the Samurai band at least by the end of 2003… When he was 14 years old. These events do not jive, by mine eye. This can be resolved either by A: accepting legal enlistment at age 14 in early 2003, and military life blows up in his face b/c he almost immediately loses his arm and becomes an insta-lifelong anti-corpo rebel, and we retcon his whole protest desertion because he is medically discharged and gets the prosthetic on his own in Night City… somehow, so he can form Samurai with Kerry a few months later in time for lore's 2003 deadline. Or B: accepting that the dates given are bad and shifting them forward by a few years in order to allow for reasonable enlistment age, time for training and rising in rank, actually experiencing the traumas he describes to V, and deserting in protest after he has lost his arm, received a prosthetic from the military, and learned of the corruption. This would land us at Samurai forming absolutely NO EARLIER than 2008, I'd say, when he's 20. NOT 2003.
SELF-FLAGELLATING DISCLAIMER: I am shamefully borderline disabled with maths. Do not shred me for miscounting at 4am, please.
(also never posted anything ever before, so if you've got a pointer or a kind 2 cents, feel free)
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