Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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The Australian Military Reading List

I don't know what I expected when I clicked the link for the suggested reading for the Australian Military, but I think I was surprised by what I got. My natural instinct is to be down on the military, simply because of what they do with the bang bang, bomb bomb, and that leads me to think of the people involved as being narrow minded, and usually right wing. I've known a few guys in the military in my time, and I know that's not true, on either account, just as I know that it also is true. People in the military are there for a variety of reasons, and that draws a variety of people, just like everywhere else, and that natural thought of mine is nothing but childish cynicism, and mine to get over.

But still, I was kind of fascinated to read the fiction side of this reading list. A lot of the non-fiction is memoirs, and battles, and creative thinking books, none of which I'm well read in, so I didn't have the same interest as I did in noting that, in the early ranks--in fact, the very first rank, that of soldier--the amount of science fiction that was found. It's mostly very simple, and basic stuff: Birmingham's Weapon's of Choice series, Heinlein's Starship Troopers, and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game, but then there's Chuck Palahniuk's awful novel, Fight Club, which is described like so:

"This book, which inspired the film of the same name, poses interesting questions about small-group dynamics, the nature of self-identity, the role of violence in the masculine imagination, and the dangers and benefits of loyalty and leadership. Intensely psychological, with barbs against consumerism and mass movements, this book has many parallels with the way soldiers are inculcated into the military."

That last line makes you sit up, doesn't it?

As the list goes on, however, and as the ranks get higher, the reading levels change, mostly to reflect the age of the men and women at that rank, I imagine. There is even odd little terms that pop up to make one rock back a little. One occurs at the Corporal Rank, where George Orwell's 1984 is mentioned: "Written when Stalin’s purges were current affairs, and often ranking in the top ten of any list of great literature, this bleak dystopian novel warns the reader about power and authoritarian government. Orwell’s hero, Winston Smith, is an individual trapped in a world of conformity, where the past is flexible and the future fixed. Winston Smith’s urban society lives on the edge of fear in a time of perpetual war, and the place of human rights and dignity seems most at risk. Nearly six decades later, this novel’s relevance increases as the Long War unfolds around us."

The Long War?

Are we in the Long War?

Later, at the Sergeant level, Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt is recommended for it's alternate history content: "The award-winning science fiction writer imagines a world in which the European population died of the plague in the fourteenth century and in which China, India and the Islamic world came to dominate. Essentially an alternate history and a novel of ideas, this is a challenging book that rewards the reader on a number of levels." Does Robinson's book function as a social warning? Something to be wary of? What exact point does an alternate history in which the Islamic world is dominant doing on this list--not that it's a bad book, but what exactly is its function at this point?

Pressing on, I did have to laugh that a Warrant Officer was expected to read Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October and Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, since to me, the two writers could almost be put at opposite ends of a reading list that includes them. I can't imagine anyone who took something from the Clancy novel lasting with the Conrad and vice versa, but perhaps that's the point. But, you know, pushing on, there's more alternate histories--the Australian military, it can be argued, offer a lot of cautionary visions with alternate histories, or perhaps I'm just looking at that wrong--and for the most part, I'm quite cynical of the whole thing, until, at the Captain level, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse 5 gets listed:

Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time—he keeps re-living his experiences in the Second World War, as well as jumping ahead in time to where he is kept by aliens in a zoo. Vonnegut, a prisoner of war held in Dresden, lived through the awful Allied firebombing, and this incident forms the core of Billy Pilgrim’s character. Funny, tragic and often irreverent, the book explores fate and fatalism as well as post-traumatic stress and the appalling impact of war on people and societies.

For those of you who haven't heard of the Vonnegut book, it's one of the great anti-war novels.

Kind've surprising, huh?

Anyhow, the whole list is linked below. Have a look through it--it makes for an interesting fifteen, twenty minutes, at any rate.

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