- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 25, 2002

NEW YORK War-ready U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf will be digesting free, custom-made editions of the ancient Chinese military manual "The Art of War" along with their Christmas dinners tonight.
Sun Tzu's fifth century B.C. classic is one of four book titles sent to troops overseas as part of a project that echoes the greatest distribution of free books in history during World War II.
William Shakespeare's "Henry V" is another title chosen by the project's coordinator, Andrew Carroll, 33, an English literature graduate and founder-director of the Legacy Project a nonprofit organization that collects wartime letters sent home by soldiers.
Working with three major publishing houses, Mr. Carroll and his team started shipping 100,000 specially formatted, pocket-size books last month to U.S. soldiers in countries from Bosnia-Herzegovina and Japan to Kuwait and Afghanistan.
Mr. Carroll got the idea several years ago when he came across a World War II "armed services edition" of John Steinbeck's "Cannery Row."
"I was immediately enthralled," Mr. Carroll said. "I started my own collection, and then I thought why not bring the idea back."
First published in 1943, more than 123 million such editions were handed out to U.S. troops overseas, marking the largest-ever free-book distribution.
More than 1,300 titles were published, running the gamut of literary tastes from detective whodunits to heavyweight classics like "Moby Dick."
The two other titles printed and distributed in Mr. Carroll's project are "Medal of Honor: Profiles of America's Military Heroes from the Civil War to the Present" by Allen Mikalien, and "War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars," edited by Mr. Carroll himself.
Mr. Carroll said he picked the titles while driving around Army posts in the United States, sounding out the idea and talking to servicemen about which books they might like to read.
"Some people look at the military-related titles and think we are involved in some pro-war propaganda effort. But nothing could be further from the truth," he said.
"The books pay tribute to soldiers but are hardly a glorification of war itself. After all, one of the most famous lines from Sun Tzu is 'the best way to win war is not to fight.'"
The project, which receives no funding from the government or the military, was developed with publishers Simon and Schuster, Hyperion and Dover Publications, as well as a $50,000 donation from a major U.S. retailer.
With more money, Mr. Carroll said he hoped to do a print run of 250,000 books next time, and get the go-ahead to print contemporary authors like the comic and writer Steve Martin.
"This is not a project to unload unwanted books on troops," said Mr. Carroll, who decided early on that the books should be printed in the same horizontal format and with the same vintage covers as the original editions from World War II.
"We partly wanted to pay tribute to those who did the books in the 1940s and also wanted the troops now to know we did it just for them," he said.
The response from initial shipments have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, and Mr. Carroll has received thousands of e-mails, from individual servicemen and women and also senior officers requesting bulk orders for their troops.
"We could give out a million books tomorrow if we had the resources," he said.
Dover Publications President Clarence Strowbridge said the company jumped at the chance to become involved in the project.
"The [armed services editions] of World War II inspired a whole generation of servicemen and women to become lifelong readers, and I have no doubt these books will do the same," Mr. Strowbridge said.
Mr. Carroll hopes the success of the book-handout project may help to internationalize his war-letter Legacy Project.
"The main aim is to encourage people to preserve their war letters, and that means letters from any country and any war," Mr. Carroll said.
"The letters are the true testimony of the effects of war on communities and individuals, and are a striking contrast with the current vogue for romanticizing warfare, which I frankly find pretty scary."

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide