Friday, June 26, 2015

When Books Went to War

I just finished reading a phenomenal book titled "When Books Went to War: The Stories That Helped Us Win World War II" by Molly Guptill Manning. I picked it up, just by chance, at the library. It caught my eye on the "New Books" display as I let my kids do puzzles and play on the computer. I read the inside cover and was intrigued.

It claimed to be "an inspiring story for history buffs and book lovers alike." I didn't think I really had time to read of three kids, four and under. I don't get a lot of "me time" and the time I do get is precious. But, I checked it out, and I started reading it that night after the kids were in bed.

The history buff in me loved it for its small nuggets of World War II history I had never heard before. For example, I learned about the propaganda campaign Hitler waged against France before ever attacking. He funded radio programs that were entertaining, but slyly laced with paid broadcasters who "expressed worry over the German army's dominance and military strength." The French became paranoid. They were frozen by fear. "The mere innuendo of invasion somehow reinforced the idea that France would undoubtedly be defeated." When Germany did invade France, it only took them six weeks for the French to surrender.

It was inspiring to read how the determination of Americans to provide books for their service men. They truly felt they were fighting a war, not of weapons, but of ideas. Books were weapons. "We are waiting, Adolf Hitler. The books are waiting, Adolf Hitler. The fire is waiting, Adolf Hitler. The Lord of Hosts is waiting, Adolf Hitler" wrote Stephen Vincent Benét.

There are first hand accounts of soldiers who's war time experiences were tempered by books. Books were a relief and a refuge. Books were passed from man to man to man. Read and reread until you thought the ink would wear off.

Sadly, there were some, even American librarians and politicians, who did not support the efforts of the Victory Book Campaign. It made me consider: what other worthy causes are ridiculed and fought against, despite the good that they do? In response to one such politician, Althean Warren penned "He is so full of criticism and with no suggestions to help." How often do I criticize without creating a solution of my own?

As impressive as the Victory Book

Campaign was, it was not the ideal solution. There was a job to be done, namely, the soldiers needed easy to carry, lightweight books and donated hardcovers didn't meet that need. That's when Armed Service Editions (ASEs) were born. Small, reproduced copies of a variety of titles, ASEs were exactly what the Army and Navy needed and they were gobbled up by service men. You'll just have to read for yourself about all the work that went into the production of these wonderful books. "It would go down in history as one of the best-coordinated production programs of the entire war."

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