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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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Nov. 18th, 2007 04:35 am (UTC)
I once lectured at West Point, the US Military Academy, on the future of war. This was after my novel Life During Wartime came out--one of the instructors, a major, invited me to talk to his classes after reading it. I accepted for the giggle, but I had a cool time there. I tend to forget that soldiers, even most officers, aren't politicians and aren't necessarily the enemy.
Nov. 18th, 2007 05:32 am (UTC)
yeah, i get the same way, as i said.

cool gig, though. what did you exactly talk about on the topic?
Nov. 18th, 2007 05:40 am (UTC)
All the research I did for LDW, the similarities and differences between vietnamese and salvadorian fighters, all that....
Nov. 18th, 2007 04:39 am (UTC)
"Orwell’s hero, Winston Smith, is an individual trapped in a world of conformity"

haha...much like the army!

being an army brat and having met far too many army clods in my time, i'm tempted to say that "suggested reading" for soldiers is much like "suggested flannel-wearing" for gay men, in that, yes, you may suggest all you like, but it is very unlikely to happen.
Nov. 18th, 2007 05:33 am (UTC)
yeah, but isn't that like nearly everyone everywhere ;)
Nov. 18th, 2007 05:46 am (UTC)
what do u mean? come on now, i know it is difficult to admit, but there are plenty of flannel-wearing bogans out there! ;)
Nov. 18th, 2007 07:53 am (UTC)
some of them are even gay ;)
Nov. 18th, 2007 09:26 am (UTC)
"[...] This book has many parallels with the way soldiers are inculcated into the military."

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

Especially since, speaking as a former enlisted sailor, there is a case to be made for it.
Nov. 18th, 2007 10:39 am (UTC)
yeah? reckon you could explain it a bit for me--i'm curious, myself.
Nov. 19th, 2007 10:38 am (UTC)
"You are not a beautiful, unique snowflake ..."

The military has frequently been accused by lefties of indoctrinating its new members in a manner similar to that of a cult, and while I'd qualify that as an overstatement, there are elements of truth to it - like a cult, its induction process involves isolating new recruits from their friends, families and the outside world as a whole, while forcing them to withstand tremendous mental and physical stress and repeated trash-talk to the effect that they are no damn good.

Like Jim Jones or Tyler Durden, the military breaks you down to build you back up as they see fit, although in the military's case, this is not so that you are inclined to serve at the whim of any individual person, but rather, so that you will be ready for the rigors of carrying out the goals of your country as a whole.

As my dad, a former Air Force officer, explained to me before I enlisted in the Navy, the other reason they make boot camp so arduous and demoralizing is because they need to prepare you to go to war, and not only survive, but also succeed, in an environment in which you will have to endure far harsher than people yelling at you or ordering you to do more push-ups.

And by God, it works. Call it conditioning, call it brainwashing, call it whatever, but when my ship headed off to Iraq, we did so many goddamned chemical weapons drills and firefighting practices (just as every Marine is a rifleman, every sailor is a firefighter, because if your ship catches on fire, you're fucked for places to evacuate to) that I could have done that shit in my sleep, without it actually consciously registering that HOLY SHIT THIS IS AN EMERGENCY.

I'm a veteran of two foreign wars, even though I was never on "the front lines," and you know how I felt, by the end or both of them? Fucking bored, and compared to the alternatives, that's a good thing for the military, because if you're bored, you're not panicking and losing your shit.
Nov. 20th, 2007 02:05 am (UTC)
cool. thanks for that, man.
Nov. 18th, 2007 02:57 pm (UTC)
Vonnegut is God to me. By coincidence, I sent this to three people on Friday afternoon: http://leonardo.spidernet.net/Artus/2386/slaughter5.htm

Brilliant. Best excerpt I can think of, off the top of my head.
Nov. 19th, 2007 12:54 am (UTC)
i do like vonnegut, though i wouldn't call him a good for me. hey, i haven't sent you that email yet!
Nov. 19th, 2007 12:57 am (UTC)
Am I Vonnegut's bastard offspring?
Nov. 19th, 2007 01:05 am (UTC)
who knows. i wonder whose bastard offspring i am.
Dec. 11th, 2008 09:00 pm (UTC)
Notice all the selections on Islam...
...from the various armed forces reading lists:


Bernard Lewis' "Crisis of Islam" makes it on 4 of the 5 lists!
Dec. 11th, 2008 09:01 pm (UTC)
Re: Notice all the selections on Islam...
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