Sunday, May 24, 2009

"Favorite Books" -- Reaching Out To Our Military

This post roughly describes a new connection between civilians and the military. Memorial Day has everything to do with the living, not just the dead. 95

Sometimes we feel “out of the loop” when we are offered the standard invitations to contribute to the USO. Our small check to purchase toothpaste or shampoo seems dismally paltry when we compare it to the incredible sacrifice the recipient is making for us and our country. It seems discouragingly impersonal and even stingy.

As voters we have acted forcefully to rectify the infuriating inattention which marked the lack of body armor and the trips to Iraqi landfills to find material to fortify vehicles against IED’s. That official “lack of concern” has passed into history along with the entire flock of elitist ideologues who foolishly thought we would ignore it.

Those soldiers and Marines are Americans, sons and daughters who would be getting jobs and going on dates if they were not in the military. They are not second class in any possible way, and here is one voter who will never allow future draft dodging effeminants to treat them as such ever again.

Yet, what can we do? How can we communicate our gratitude and our present concern about every one of them every day when they are so far away? Somehow, the toothpaste and one or two USO comedians during a term of enlistment seems to fall terribly short.

There may be a workable addition which could make a small difference in the daily lives of those service members, and if that is the case, we here in civilian America should get right on it.

The plan? “Favorite Books.”

We all have a favorite book of some sort. It might be a detective fiction, a text on some history or an account of some inventor’s life. It might be science fiction, poetry or some drippy romance. It doesn’t matter too much. What does matter is that it is personal. That book is exactly what we think of as a great book whether it is simply a super-entertaining page turner or a soul adjusting life changer.

We’re not talking about cases of untouched volumes vomiting out by a weird political party or some aggressive religious proselytizer. We are talking about individual copies of our favorite book, sent one at a time to an unknown American somewhere working long boring days and still risking everything for us. Granted, he or she might prefer something else, but that’s not the point. The point is that we have removed this special book, probably a paper bound pocket edition, from our book shelves and sent it directly to its new owner.

We have written a short note -- with a pen or pencil in our own hand -- about why we enjoyed it so much and offered our sincere hope that its next reader will, too. We can include our address if we like, mentioning that we’d be pleased to correspond about the book or anything else that comes up in the life and duty of someone so far from home. However, most important, every one of these books is a personal message.

“We’re thinking about you.”

“We hope that this book that we liked so much is a good, solid distraction from whatever may be burdening your spirit, an entertaining and satisfying break from your daily schedule.”

“Maybe you can think about us, too. Even if you’re lonely or bored, you can always remember that we always remember you. Every day.”

Now, the Defense Department can buy boatloads of books for the small price of a few cases of ammunition, but those books are going to be selected by some anonymous procurement officer somewhere. Sure, he may get some direction as to what to buy, but no matter how conscientious he is, his books won’t be a match for our books!

The USO is already prepared to gather books here and make sure that they arrive there. The Defense Department is certainly capable of making sure there is a small book shelf to hold them. DoD mail services can rotate available books, although no one will be cut up and bleeding if a soldier in some distant place keeps one for himself. A special book. A book with a special note inside the cover from some unknown civilian back home. Some book that has a special meaning for him. Some book he wants to lend to one of his fellows he thinks might like it.

There is some kind of fundamental difference between a nice new copy of some book which, theoretically, should be popular and a worn out favorite with a personal note about how much the previous owner enjoyed the story and how sincerely that previous owner hopes his favorite will provide the same special joy to its next reader.

I already have a list of my favorites ready to go. They all gave me a great read, some really serious hope for the future and some valuable ideas I have carried with me long after I finished them. I can look at them on my book shelf, fondly tucked in some little cranny, ready to be lent to someone I encounter -- perhaps some friendly visitor to my apartment after our conversation wanders to some relevant point. I’m sitting there with my coffee when I grow excited about the common thread of our talk and what I gained from my book, and out of the blue, I want that visitor to have the same opportunity.

If any MeanMesa visitor knows the way to relay this idea to the USO, get with it! I suspect that there are many avid readers among us, each armed with a favorite or two, who are ready to jump right in! There is nothing about playing and replaying video games or listening to endless doses of Rush Limbaugh on Armed Forces Radio which validates anyone's military service. There is nothing about the enforced ranting of Christian evangelical officers which is included in the oath these brave Americans took when they raised their hands.

My favorite books offer a very concrete alternative to these rude impositions. I'll bet your books do too!

Armed Forces Radio actually does a pretty good job. To get acquainted with what a service member might tune into on a typical day, take a look at what is offered:

and for a more in depth view of what the USO does -- everyday --look at their web page:

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