An Open Letter to America Concerning the Crap Books You Are Sending Our Troops

Hi America,

Let me start this by saying thanks. You’re really being very nice about this whole off-at-war thing. We may have passed the era of knitting socks for our boys at the front but that doesn’t mean you’ve stopped giving. Just look at the DC Caribou Coffee’s Amy’s Blend/Support our Troops mashup! For the mere cost of a regular pound of coffee including 95% profit margin, Caribou will not give you your pound of coffee and send it to some guys you’ve never met in Afghanistan instead.

Deployed troops don’t drink coffee—they have a voracious thirst for suspect energy beverages you’ve never heard of—but it will sit there in the back of the mess hall, pretty and pink, until someone gets around to throwing it away. The troops will feel your love, and you’ll get to improve Caribou’s public image in the process! This also allows Caribou to dispose of their shittiest beans in an environmentally friendly manner, without anyone actually attempting to brew or drink them, by tossing them into the potentially-carcinogenic burn pit of a forward operating base in Lashkar-Gah.

But enough about the good things—let’s get down to the hard stuff. Because, America, when it comes to one of our troops’ most valuable resources, you’ve only been paying lip service. This is the resource that is going to win them the war. The resource that distinguishes them from every other fighting force, particularly the illiterate donkey-fucking hobos that make up the insurgency after a decade of bombing the crap out of anyone smart enough to rise to the top.

I refer, of course, to our troops’ brains.

I don’t mean brains as in zombie braaaaaiiins nor as in ‘heavily-reinforced headgear to prevent soft tissue damage’ brain. I mean the smarts. The average American infantryman today has to operate a set of equipment that in its complexity approaches something like drunkenly puppeteering a live cat. They operate in an environment where clues along the lines of ‘that man’s coiffure is recently trimmed, yet he claims to have been caring for his explosively incontinent grandmother all week and the nearest barbershop is in Shamalamabad, two hours away by camel,’ can make the difference between identifying an insurgent or getting an IED up the woopsie.

You have made an effort here, America. The boxes are there, filled to the brim with generously donated tree pulp, and the troops are enormously appreciative. Inside the boxes, everything looks kosher. Covers, check. Page numbers, check. Suspiciously out-of-context jacket quotes, check. There are even some hardbacks! Those things are worth like three fucking pounds of pink coffee!

But America. America, America. Did you really think you’d get away with it? Did you think no-one would notice? I’m here, sitting in front of them, right now. All those colorful pastel covers, those boldly embossed authors’ names. Those chiseled pectorals. Those… titles.

America, you have sent the military entire libraries’ worth of dirty drugstore romance novels.

Now I don’t know exactly who these come from. In my head I picture fifty-something divorcees who wear curler irons 24/7 and have a Pekinese named Mister Bigglesworth, but there can only be so many of those and somehow the entire fucking bookcase over here is Danielle Steele making sweet book buttlove to Cristina Dodd. Maybe there’s a hipster book club underground out there who meet up to read shit like A Hellion in Her Bed and pencil ironic comments in the margins. I don’t know and I don’t care.

Because we are talking about the safety of our fucking country here. We are talking about defending freedom. And you want to do that by feeding our troops’ brains the moral equivalent of McDonald’s doused in dysentery juice? How would you feel if that was what we fed their bodies? Bet there’d be some uproar then. No, don’t ask what dysentery juice is. You’re changing the subject.

Did you think this was what they wanted? Did you really? I bet you did. I bet you pictured it in your head. A bunch of well-muscled soldiers, soiled from battle, stripping to their skivvies in the bunkhouse as dusk closes in. Massaging each other’s aching shoulders while they read out their favorite passages from A Well-Pleasured Lady in the scented candle light and GOD FUCKING DAMNIT, AMERICA.

America, get your shit together. I want to see some Penguin classics over here. I want to see some motherfucking Dostoevsky. Some Thomas-bleeding-Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow stuffed with pamphlet copies of Crying of Lot 49 until it looks like a pregnant ferris wheel. I want books that you need to read whole other books afterwards to even comprehend what you just read.

This isn’t just about our troops. This is about the freedom of the entire civilized world being at stake here, America. So go buy a fucking flat-rate mailing box, fill it up with the good shit, and ship it out to Afghanistan (don’t bother with Iraq, by the time it gets there they’ll be gone anyways). Make sure you tell the post office it’s books, you get a discount for that.

And while you’re at it stop being such a cheap bastard at the check-out till and send me a few more pounds of that delicious pink coffee. My stash is running low.

  1. Sunny says: December 26, 20112:35 pm

    I have adopted a Marine that is oversees and I had to send him a care package for xmas and let me tell you it is harder that i thought it would be. Does he like Old Spice deodarant or Axe? Should i get him after shave, or just the blades? 2 blades or Gillettes Quatro? Beef Jerky, or Sunflower seeds? Magazines, books? I ended being at Target for 3 hours going up and down the aisle and surveying products by asking random guys which would you want if you were in Afghanistan in the winter. I did not send him any reading materials because most guys were telling me to buy him Maxim magazines and since I have never talked to him or know how he is, I don’t want him thinking I am a weirdo, but after reading this article, I am taking notes and sending him a box load of deep thinking books. I just hope he doesn’t write back upset I didn’t send him the Maxim’s. Thanks.

  2. Cora says: November 21, 201111:46 am

    This is one of the best articles about Afghanistan that I’ve read, honestly. I think it brings home the point pretty quickly. Great writing Lars!

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