Saturday, February 14, 2015

Did Books Win World War II?

There was an interesting piece in The New York Times Book Review about a thought-provoking book, When Books Went To War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).  The book talks about the Armed Services Editions, books that were purchased by the US government and shipped overseas to inspire, comfort, and distract soldiers who confronted death, morality, and isolation on a daily basis.  Manning’s book shows how books took on a greater role than one could imagine.

The government's program that sent 123 million copies of 1,322 works over four years was inspired by an American Library Association push called Victory Book Campaigns, where books were collected and donated by the public and given to the servicemen.

According to The Times, publishers adopted the slogan “Books are weapons in the war of ideas,” and formed the non-profit Council on Books in Wartime.  It was “dedicated to the belief that the dissemination of serious books (or at least the promotion of reading) could help counteract the Nazi assault on freedom."

I think it’s great a book was written about this movement to grow book-reading and to do so in a way that made a difference in the lives of people whom we depended on to defend the free world.

On the other hand, can you imagine how that list of books was carefully trimmed to only represent books that didn’t discuss politics, war, and the serious issues of the day.  The government was not sending books that would in anyway upset the soldiers or counter anything that would take way from their ability to kill and win the war.  In some ways, this program can be looked at as one of censorship, though that would bastardize the true intent and need for the program.

Some questions that come to mind about the program are these:

Did soldiers come home more literate than when they left? 
Did they continue to read voraciously upon their return? 
Were the books and writers disseminated during wartime become the favorite of non-soldiers as well?
Were books also sent to the wives and children of soldiers to distract them during wartime?

I wonder if we do such a thing today.  Do we ship books to soldiers stationed in Korea, Japan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere?  Will they be reading the same books that you and I might read?  Will these books make them better soldiers – or better people?

I guess anytime books are used to make a positive difference in the world and of the lives of others we should celebrate such a victory.


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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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