armed forces.jpgI hope that you are seated for what I am about to say. You’re seated, good. Here goes. Our troops in the field and back at garrison are being done a serious disservice. This oversight and its subsequent repercussions may potentially –if it hasn’t already- limit our armed services effectiveness not only in retention, leadership development but also combat effectiveness. The fix has already been laid out; it’s merely the delivery method that is flawed. What I am referring to is the need for further integration of e-books, digital libraries and e-readers within our military.

Presently, the US armed forces have extensive professional development reading lists, which cover a whole of host of military topics. The dilemma lies not in the ambitious scope of the services’ separate reading lists but in the mechanisms that they utilize in their efforts to provide our young men and women access to the literature they need to read. Libraries are considered luxury items on smaller military installations leaving our men and women with a sense of isolation that can be hard to convey to a person who has not served.

Sociologists have a term, Gemeinschaft, which they use to describe strict, conservative cultures that are collectivist in nature. The military with its uber-macho culture is a relatively strong real world example of this abstract concept. Unfortunately, the Gemeinschaft’s collective strength is also its inherent weakness in that it ostracizes members who are deemed too radical and/or abnormal: some military leaders believe that this dynamic may be accentuated during high tempo periods possibly leading to an increase in fratricide incidents. It is also believed that this societal dynamic may play a pivotal role in hindering mental health treatment for service members suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), Substance Abuse problems and/or Depression.

The problems not addressed while service members are in the military are further aggravated when our courageous young men and women re-enter our country’s general population. They are immediately expelled from the organized Gemeinschaft world of the military into the pell-mell Gesellschaft society in which we all live: a society defined by its strict focus on the pleasures of the individual over that of the collective. Many social advocates believe that this sudden change of environment results in a sense of anomie which may hinder our veterans’ successful transition into society. This strong sense of alienation coupled with pre-existing problems caused by and/or aggravated by exposure to an over masculine culture that frowns on displays of personal weakness has serious consequences.

Statistics clearly indicate that even with access to robust benefits that our service members/veterans are still subject to disproportionately higher rates of homelessness, poverty and even suicide. Where e-books and e-readers come into play is in helping military leaders prevent the strengthening of the military’s Gemeinschaft culture while mentally preparing our men and women in uniform for their transition into the civilian Gesellschaft world. Themes such as compassion and emotional courage can be weaved into the required reading in a way that even the most recalcitrant members will be exposed to subliminally, thus hopefully lowering the psychological hurdles our troops face when seeking help.

There is also the added benefit of helping develop leadership traits in the military ranks. By adopting subsidies to help personnel purchase or just outright issuing e-books and their e-readers, our military leaders can help improve access to procedural information out on the front lines. Information regarding detailed operational concerns may seem frivolous but it may mean the difference between life and death for service members who are forward deployed. These e-readers could be used to help keep our young men and women’s psychological health in working order thus making life easier for not only themselves but for the people who serve with them. A more pleasant work environment could help when it comes to meeting retainment goals in turn lowering the recruitment burden faced by our armed services. I told you, that you might need to be seated. If it helps make this news a bit more palatable take the words of Marcel Proust when he said: “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” Wouldn’t you agree it’s about time we give these young men and women a new set of eyes to view the world through?


  1. I agree that e-readers and e-books would be a good thing for the troops, but I really doubt they would have a significant positive impact overall.

    The problems, unfortunately, go much deeper and need to be addressed seriously by the country as a whole.

    We are systematically destroying our military, the long arm of defense that keeps everyone safely watching “American Idol” on their couches back home. No amount of p-books or e-books will solve the deep psychological wound created by rotating our forces in and out of war zones over and over and over again. A year or so in combat followed by a 12-18 home and then another year in combat…and repeating that cycle ad infinitum is something we have never done before and should not be doing now. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Americans continue with their daily lives and wait anxiously for the new Apple iPad.

    In reality, nobody really knows what the long term effects will be — physically, emotionally, or psychologically. But those effects will be serious and will be compounded the longer this goes on.

    Until ALL of the American society is willing to sacrifice their comforts to support the troops this travesty will not end. And it will likely set an unconscionable precedent for the future.

    From a concerned veteran.

  2. Walt, its a pleasure to speak to you. From one veteran to another: “thank you for your service.” I am definitely not suggesting that e-books and e-book readers are a silver bullet when it comes to dealing with the aforementioned issues. I am merely suggesting that they be further adopted as part of a overall culture change in the military.

    The inequality of the Vietnam era draft brought about a volunteer service which has its own inherent flaws. The isolationist mentality as was so beautifully portrayed by Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” is very real and tends to cover up things which should, nay, must be addressed publicly. This tendency to close ranks only further contributes to “the normalization of deviance” concept I elaborated on an earlier piece. I think this is further compounded by the repeated deployments which strain our troops’ support systems to the breaking point.

    A good place to start would be in reintroducing ROTC in our country’s universities. The influx of a wider population of officers, increasing the likelihood of introducing more liberal officers by itself could affect massive change. What is certain though is that we need more civilian contribution than we presently have.

    I’ll leave you with the following story. I work as a student teacher in a suburban high school. One day I was teaching a lesson on World Cultures and one of the key terms was “Jihad”. My teacher’s assistant -this being a lower level course- asked a young girl if she knew what the term meant. The young lady starts laughing hysterically while making goofy faces and says :”How and why am I suppose to know that?” I was about floored and bit deep down to not lose my cool. Truth is Walt our men and women in uniform are sacrificing their lives for a country which is consciously condoning a dereliction of duty on the part of its young people.

    From one concerned veteran to another.

  3. Authors and publishers have been providing the troops with free books, both paper and e, for years. In 2002, one of my publishers, for example, asked for authors to volunteer their books for a free electronic library that was open to only the troops and their family members.

    Many of our troops have laptops and Blackberries now so electronic books certainly are a good fit.

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