There are no do-overs in war.
November 3, 2018 7:44 PM   Subscribe

This summer I found myself grappling with what I know about war and what my daughters know via a children’s book called “War in Afghanistan: An Interactive Modern History Adventure." The book is part of the You Choose series published by Capstone Press, a popular children’s format in which young readers are asked to make decisions throughout the story that lead them down different paths. The “War in Afghanistan” edition, written for children aged 8 to 11, includes a chapter set in Marjah in 2010, in which the reader is a squad leader with First Battalion, Sixth Marine Regiment — this was my old unit, on a deployment I was on, as part of the offensive operation I fought in. My daughters’ adventure began with a helicopter insert into the fields before sunrise...

Trigger warning: war and all the things that go with it.
posted by Toddles (15 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

All I can say is that one of this book's authors is the kind of person who gives his own books 5 star ratings on goodreads.
posted by glonous keming at 8:46 PM on November 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

No excuse. None.

There is nothing I can say that reflects how I feel about people who would produce this book.
posted by Etrigan at 10:02 PM on November 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Wow, that is super, super fucked up. Has Capstone Press responded?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:10 PM on November 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

[wariovoice] WHY?
posted by Quackles at 11:57 PM on November 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is this really more horrific than all the Andy McNabb etc war porn that sells by the truckload? At least not shooting was the right decision.

Yeah, it sounds like it's probably a pretty exploitative book, but I'm not really getting why the "choose your own adventure" angle makes it worse. Particularly because I remember reading a few historical choose you own adventure book as a child, including one about the Troubles, which was actually a well thought out and challenging take on what it would mean to get caught up in a situation where every side is comprised of villains.

So, I dunno. I guess I wish there was a review of the actual book, rather than a couple of sections. If it glorifies or gamifies war, then I will condemn it, but I'm not sure that I'm ready to condemn it yet.

And, to be honest, I'm not sure that someone who chose to kill real live Afghani people for money is the person I'd ask to make that judgement.
posted by howfar at 1:58 AM on November 4, 2018 [3 favorites]

Maybe this moment of discomfort in my home was inevitable.

...once I’d enlisted in an adventurist imperial force.
posted by pompomtom at 1:00 AM on November 4, 2018 [4 favorites]

One of the hardest parts of parenting is reconciling what I did during the war with who I am now in the eyes of my children.
Watching my daughter navigate escalation of force and rules of engagement made me sick.
I won’t participate in the presentation of the Afghan war as an adventure.
Yes, the problem here is clearly that this person “chose to kill... people for money”. The problem couldn’t possibly be that shit like this is presented to pre-teens in a nice binary “Oops! You appear to have committed a war crime! Flip back to page 86!” sort of way. Nah. He certainly deserves most of the scorn in this situation, because he lived in that perfectly rational pre-2008 world where these messages weren’t baked into every other facet of society. What an asshole he is for having freely chosen to join an adventurist imperial force despite never having been exposed to pro-military propaganda in his own life and then having the temerity to complain about this totally new innovation only when it affects his children.

I hope this utter prick understands how bad he is for not being as smart as we are at every previous point in his life, and then daring to come around to not quite agreeing with us enough now.
posted by Etrigan at 3:18 AM on November 4, 2018 [19 favorites]

I would cut the author some slack, his words seem to come from the right place.

Extrapolating a lot here, but Zachary Bell was 10 or 11 in 2001. I think it might have everything to do with why he enlisted that he does not want books for 10-12 year olds to romanticize 21st century wars.

A book I liked about the experience of being a Marine, and where the author explains why he enlisted when he was seventeen, was Eat the Apple, by Matt Young.
posted by haemanu at 3:59 AM on November 4, 2018 [6 favorites]

From somebody who (from the tone of their article on American Sniper at least) is firmly pro-military, I do note they don't seem to be offering any excuses or really representing their deployment as something other than "the place my friends went to and died". Not exactly Rah-Rah.

And yeah, rough calculations from information he's provided suggests he was 19 when he enlisted in 2007 (so 13 in 2001? I could be off by a couple of years either way).
posted by solarion at 4:14 AM on November 4, 2018

I read the article this morning and I will admit in the back of my mind, I was prepared to not like it (I don't feel great about the military in general, it's a bias that I'm working on).

But I will say the article resonated and I felt bad for the author (Zachery Bell) with his experience at trying to make sense of it all, especially through the point of view in the given through the children's books. I am making the assumption that he didn't stretch the truth and he is writing about his own personal experience that he did not see reflected in the book (things like not having friends return or having friends return with prosthetic limbs). I'm also not surprised by this; I still remember reading things as a child that I knew even then were reductionist or leaving out a lot of information (I often feel this now when I read or consume things for adults).

So a part hopes that someone like Zachery and other people who had similar experience could write a collective "Choose your adventure" type book that is more nuanced and reflective of their real-life experiences: You come to the last page, and it's the really the end for that story line, or you see another friend visit you in the story and you find out what they've lost, whether it be a limb or their health.

I'd be interested in buying that book and learning more about their point of view.
posted by Wolfster at 7:26 AM on November 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Wolfster: "...a collective "Choose your adventure" type book that is more nuanced and reflective of their real-life experiences". Seems like a great thing to do as a Open Source build-a-world piece of collaboration software. Different viewpoints from different sides could be added on an ongoing basis. Probably already exists and I just don't know.
posted by aleph at 9:33 AM on November 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

Yeah I mean I guess they were going for some kind of critical thinking exercise while also trying to teach a little recent history, but I share many of the author's concerns. I suppose I can appreciate the intentions, but there have got to be better ways to do it.
posted by Man Bites Dog at 10:59 AM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the problem with Americans is that they think everything is a happy ending. So they write storybooks for kids.

And marines are forced to make sense of it.

Not a lot of evidence to support that kind of worldview. But that’s the story they live with.

There is no happy ending to George Busg’s adventures and decrees.
posted by nothing.especially.clever at 5:55 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

The wartime vocabulary was way too advanced for a kids book.
posted by bendy at 9:20 PM on November 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

I feel like this tumblr thread is highly relevant reading for some of the people in this thread.

Quote 1:

They offered the ASVAB at my HIGH SCHOOL. They CAME INTO MY SCHOOL and said “If you guys take the military aptitude test, you get free donuts and you miss the first half of the day.” They brought in hot dogs.

They brought food to a place where half of us were in poverty if not more, and they said, all you have to do is take a little test and you’ll get a snack, you don’t have to come in to school on time (an extra full hour of sleep that morning!). So we did. By the hundreds.

My younger brother, a year behind me in school, scored “the highest we’ve ever seen in the whole damn state, son,” and for the next. Three. Fucking. Years. They harassed him. He got phone calls from every goddamn branch of the military. People would show up at our house at random, trying to recruit him. They’d tell him horror stories about how much better it is to enlist than be drafted (as if there’d been a draft in our lifetime!). They called our Mom at work. They sent recruiters to talk to our stepfather, who’d been in the Army, to try to get a handle on my brother’s weak points.


My brother is the second child of six. My brother was thirteen by the time he had his own pillow for the first time. My brother was hungry all the time, dizzy from hunger some days–and oh, sidenote, my mother, stepfather and father are all abusive assholes who’d as soon hit you as look at you.

Guess what year my brother graduated?

If you guessed “May, 2002,” or “almost immediately after 9/11,” ding ding ding ding!

The ONLY REASON my brother didn’t join the military, in the end, is that his girlfriend at the time said “If you enlist, I will never speak to you again.” Her dad was a military man, and he was also an abusive shithead, so in her head the two were inextricable. But if she’d said “go for it?” Or if she hadn’t said anything at all?

Something like half of the males in my fucking graduating class enlisted.

It was better than starving.

And a great number of those are dead now.

I hate the US military industry. I’m disgusted by the things our military does. But by god I don’t blame our veterans for what was done to them.

Rich people don’t enlist.

The ones who join the military are the ones who are hopeful that for once they’ll know that they’re getting a meal, not just today but tomorrow too.

Quote 2:

I grew up in rural poverty. Out of 140 kids in my graduating class, 5 went on to university. 25, myself included, joined the military, because that was the only chance at upward mobility for most of us.

Have you noticed that a lot of homeless people are veterans? That’s because THEY WERE POOR TO BEGIN WITH and now they’re poor with PTSD, missing limbs, and other trauma.

Saying that you have no sympathy for people chewed up and spit out by the military industrial complex is like saying you have no sympathy for inmates caught in the prison industrial complex.

posted by Cozybee at 10:04 AM on November 5, 2018 [10 favorites]

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