The Reading List

I stared blankly through a little window in the wall at a poster advertising Military Earth Day 2010.

” You will need this form. This is the justification and that goes in here. Now, last time someone at your organization filled this out – blah, blah, blah”

I tuned out. He burst into a strange grunting song as he slowly printed and gathered the forms I  would ‘need’. I didn’t ask him to define need for me.

I turned away  and gazed down the stark hallway. One table filled with brochures, a line of plain black chairs. Something on the table winked at me. The U.S. Army chief of Staff’s Professional Reading List.

Curious. People in the Army read? I thought they drank SoCo and Red Bull and played Call of Duty in their free time. Do they have a cook book too? What was on this so called reading list?

A few interesting things. You can get the 2013, 2011 and the 2002 editions on line at But let me give you the highlights:

The Constitution of the United States

Available online – As Soldiers (their caps) and civilians, we swear and oath to defend this document as the basis of our government and way of life. It is time to revisit our nation’s foundational document to refresh our understanding of the principles that organize and balance our society and remind us what we are swearing to “support and defend.”

I’m a civilian and I don’t remember having to swear to defend any document or “our way of life”. But I do think it’s a good idea for people to read the Constitution. It seems to be mostly about power and money, but I still get a good laugh from Article IV, section 2. Oh yeah, that’s about power and money too.

On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

Dave Grossman (2009) New York: Back Bay Books. – The book investigates the psychology of killing in combat and stresses that human beings have powerful, innate resistance to the taking of life. The author examines the techniques developed by the military to overcome that aversion during the Vietnam War, revealing how an American Soldier was more lethal during this conflict than at any other time in history. Grossman argues that the combination of the breakdown of American society, the pervasive violence in the media, and interactive video games is conditioning our children to kill in a manner similar to the Army’s conditioning of Soldiers.

Their caps – isn’t ‘soldier(s)’ a common noun? This scares me. A lot.

Discourses on Livy

Nicolo Machiavelli (1996) Chicago: University of Chicago Press – The discourses have captivated scholars of political thought for five centuries. Machiavelli eloquently explains how to maintain vibrancy in a republic through “new modes and orders.” The discourses, written in the early sixteenth century, offer a unique perspective on world history through frequent references to the virtuous aspects of ancient Greek or Roman history, the conformity of the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance. Army professionals should study this book to gain insights into the origins of modern political thought, which is the sphere in which our joint force operates. 

Our joint forces operate in the sphere of modern political thought? I thought they were operating mainly in Afghanistan. Virtuous aspects of the Roman history? Are they referring to the practice of soldiers bringing male concubines with them on war campaigns?

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway (1995) New York: Scribbner – This classic novel of a man fighting on the side of the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War and coming to terms with violence, death and the ultimate futility of war. 

The U.S. Army Chief of staff was recommending that soldiers read a book on the ultimate futility of war? Hemingway? I shoved the list into my coat pocket and turned back to the window. “Are you going to fill this out by hand?” The slow man asked me, so very slowly.

“Didn’t you just send me an email asking me to come in to your office for blank forms, because you only have it digital in a format I can’t fill out on the computer?”


“We got rid of the typewriter last year – so yeah. I guess -”


SOS does not stand for Save Our Ship in this case, it stands for Shit On a Shingle. I personally wouldn’t eat this, but some people really like it.

Army SOS Creamed Ground Beef


Original recipe makes 6 to 8 servings
1 pound ground beef
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cube beef bouillon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 pinch ground black pepper
2 1/4 cups milk


Brown beef in a large skillet over medium high heat. Stir in flour, bouillon, salt and pepper. Saute all together for about 5 minutes or until flour is absorbed. Gradually stir in milk and Worcestershire sauce. Bring all to a simmer, stirring constantly. Cook until thickened, about 5 to 10 minutes. Serve hot!


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