What if all of Carlisle read and discussed one book? The Carlisle Reads title for 2016 will be No Man's Land: Preparing for War and Peace in Post-9/11 America. An exciting program of events is in the works for this winter, including a visit by the author, Elizabeth Samet, a professor of literature at West Point.
Carlisle Reads is sponsored by the Friends of the Gleason Public Library. Would you like to receive updates on library events? Click here to subscribe to our monthly enewsletter.
2016 PICK: NO MAN'S LAND
This year's choice for the Carlisle "town read", No Man's Land, is a meditation on how best to educate future military officers. This brief characterization, however, does not do justice to the author's engaging writing style, her wide-ranging literary interests, the understanding she clearly displays of students and their thinking, and the anecdotes she supplies to elucidate her points. The book is short (~200 pages), profoundly thoughtful, and, despite its subject, basically apolitical. It offers questions, not answers, concerning its basic theme: that today's military is in unexplored territory and needs to be prepared to invent new solutions to the problems it will inevitably encounter.
The author, Elizabeth Samet, is a Professor of English at the United States Military Academy. She has taught at West Point for nearly twenty years, during some of which she directed the English literature class taken by all plebes (first-year students). For someone like me who has little familiarity with West Point and its academic offerings, it was fascinating to realize the breadth and depth of the literary curriculum that military cadets study. They read Plutarch, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Dickens, Walt Whitman, T. E. Lawrence, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Georges Simenon, to name only a few of the authors whose work Samet discusses. Left to their own devices, they read even more widely: J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and even Tolstoy's War and Peace. Like other college students, cadets choose a major, take part in seminars, and write undergraduate senior theses. They are educated, not simply trained.
Cadets, however, are not ordinary collegians. They are constantly mindful of what lies ahead – or what they believe lies ahead for each of them: combat, and more than that, combat command with its accompanying responsibilities for the lives of others. Samet examines the profound changes that occur in those graduates who do go into battle as well as the unease they encounter, in themselves and in others, when they return home. The disconnect between America's civilians and its military is a major source of concern for Samet, as it must be for thoughtful Americans everywhere.
The experience that Samet anticipates for cadets matriculating now and in the near future is quite different from what they themselves expect. Most cadets, she writes, envision themselves as leading troops in battle soon after they are commissioned as second lieutenants. Samet, on the other hand, believes that today's wars will dwindle, and that a majority of young officers will find themselves assuming administrative jobs upon graduation. She wonders how "the U.S. military, but perhaps especially . . . the army–the service most strained over the last decade¬–[will tell] a story sufficiently convincing that the nation will understand the force's role and that the most promising soldiers and officers will decide to stay in. How, in other words, amid the vertigo of a postwar no man's land, will the army write its next chapter?"
Samet's book, like her earlier, prize-winning, Soldier's Heart, is peppered with literary, historical, and cinematic references. A brief list of the works from which she quotes at the start of each chapter gives a sense of the scope of her citations: "Edmund Blunden, Undertones of War (1928)", "Till the End of Time (RKO, 1946), directed by Edward Dmytryk", "E.M. Forster, Howard's End", "T.H. White, The Once and Future King", and "Thomas Hardy to John Addington Symonds, April 12, 1889". She finds relevance in classic films (The Best Years of Our Lives, The Blue Dahlia and Saving Private Ryan), in famous military campaigns (Hannibal's crossing of the Alps and Grant's ultimate defeat of Robert E. Lee), in plays (Henry V and Othello), in memoirs (Edith Wharton's Fighting France) and in novels (Virginia Woolf's Orlando, Joseph Heller's Catch 22, and Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall). The eclectic nature of her literary allusions, and, in some cases, in-depth discussions, underlines her belief that the usefulness of an education cannot be assessed in advance. Because the future is unpredictable, preparation for it needs to be as broad and as all encompassing as possible.
Samet concludes her book with poignant reflections on two young officers who died in combat, both of whom she had known as students and had continued to correspond with after their graduations. She remembers them vividly, fondly, with tears but with open eyes. Her book is one that for me stands out as unique among the many I have read. I hope that you, as fellow Carlisle readers, will find in it food for much future thought.
If you have suggestions for future titles or programs, or if you'd be interested in helping to plan Carlisle Reads, please email Martha at firstname.lastname@example.org or ask at the Library any time.
- Monday, January 11, 10:30 a.m. Book Discussion: No Man's Land
- Thursday, January 14, 7 p.m. Talk: "A Tight Rope": Preparing our communities and our police officers for current trends and threats with Chief Fisher
- Wednesday, January 20, 7 p.m. Documentary Film: Restrepo (96 min., rated R)
- Tuesday, January 26, 10:30 a.m. Poetry discussion: War and Peace
- Thursday, January 28, 7 p.m. Book Discussion: No Man's Land
- Wednesday, February 3, 7 p.m. Panel Discussion: "Choosing and Living the Military Life" (at St. Irene Church)
- Saturday, February 6, 4 p.m. Author Talk: Elizabeth Samet (at Corey Auditorium)
- Wednesday, February 17, 7 p.m. Fiction Book Discussion: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Book Discussions: No Man’s Land
Monday 1/11, 10:30 a.m. and Thursday 1/28, 7 p.m.
Reading No Man’s Land: Preparing for War and Peace in Post-9/11 America? Interested in discussing it with friends and neighbors? Join the Gleason Library for two book discussions on Monday, January 11 at 10:30 a.m. or Thursday, January 28 at 7 p.m.
Talk: “A Tight Rope”: Preparing our communities and our police officers for current trends and threats with Chief Fisher
Thursday 1/14, 7 p.m.
While our military faces the challenge for training leaders in the Post – 9/11 America as described in No Man’s Land, a parallel discussion exists in law enforcement and communities as we battle challenges in our cities and communities. Chief Fisher will lead a discussion around the parallel thought processes in the book and in law enforcement.
Wednesday 1/20, 7 p.m.
This documentary by Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington chronicles the deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley. The movie focuses on a remote 15-man outpost, Restrepo, named after a platoon medic who was killed in action. It was considered one of the most dangerous postings in the U.S. military. This is an entirely experiential film: the cameras never leave the valley; there are no interviews with generals or diplomats. (96 min., rated R)
Author Talk: Elizabeth Samet
Saturday, 2/6, 4 p.m. (at Corey Auditorium) (PLEASE NOTE RESCHEDULED DATE)
Elizabeth Samet, author of No Man's Land: Preparing for War and Peace in Post 9/11 America, will speak as part of Carlisle Reads 2015.
Elizabeth D. Samet received her B.A. from Harvard and her Ph.D. in English literature from Yale, and she is the author of Willing Obedience: Citizens, Soldiers, and the Progress of Consent in America, 1776-1898. She has been an English professor at West Point for ten years.
In her critically acclaimed, award-winning book Soldier's Heart, Elizabeth D. Samet grappled with the experience of teaching literature at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Now, with No Man's Land, Samet contends that we are entering a new moment: a no man's land between war and peace. Major military deployments are winding down, but soldiers are wrestling with the aftermath of war and the trials of returning home while also facing the prospect of low-intensity conflicts for years to come. Drawing on a range of experiences-from a visit to a ward of wounded combat veterans to correspondence with former cadets, from a conference on Edith Wharton and wartime experience to teaching literature and film to future officers-Samet illuminates an ambiguous passage through no man's land that has left deep but difficult-to-read traces on our national psyche, our culture, our politics, and, most especially, an entire generation of military professionals.
In No Man's Land, Elizabeth D. Samet offers a moving, urgent examination of what it means to negotiate the tensions between war and peace, between "over there" and "over here"-between life on the front and life at home. She takes the reader on a vivid tour of this new landscape, marked as much by the scars of war as by the ordinary upheavals of homecoming, to capture the essence of our current historical moment.
Supported by the Friends of Gleason Public Library
Poetry discussion: War and Peace
Tuesday, 1/26, 10:30 a.m.
Dip or dive into the pleasures of poetry. This informal course, led by Mary Zoll, will include poetry readings and reactions, discussions of the patterns and techniques used in the poems, and perhaps some intellectual understanding of the poems. As part of Carlisle Reads 2016, January’s topic will be poems of War and Peace.
Panel Discussion: "Choosing and Living the Military Life"
Wednesday, 2/3, 7 p.m. (at St. Irene Church)
In conjunction with this year's book, No Man's Land, Carlisle Reads offers a panel discussion called, "Choosing and Living the Military Life" on February 3 at 7 p.m. at St. Irene Church. We are fortunate to welcome four panelists who are connected to West Point and/or have served in our armed forces recently.
Major Greg Fairbank, of Westford Street, is an army reservist and an intelligence specialist attached to Fort Belvoir, VA. He received his commission at Cornell University where he was a Distinguished Military Student. His subsequent military schooling includes the US Army Military Intelligence Officer Basic and Advanced Courses and Command and General Staff College. His last active duty assignment was to the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he represented his unit to the U.S. Congress and provided briefings to the senior leadership of the Departments of State and Defense. He and his wife Sherry have lived in town since 2003 and have two young children. He was a member of the Carlisle Veterans' Memorial Committee.
Alan Canova is currently the chair of Carlisle's Veterans Committee. He is a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force, He has a degree in Political Science and was commissioned through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps from the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He served 20 years of active duty service as an Air Force intelligence officer from 1994-2014. Assignments included unit- through headquarters-level intelligence including B-1 operations intelligence at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota; North Korean Weapons of Mass Destruction Intelligence Analyst, Osan AB, Republic of Korea; Acquisitions Intelligence, Hanscom Air Force Base; Intelligence Policy, Pentagon; and deployments to the Balkans and Afghanistan theaters of operation. Alan and his wife Paula moved to Carlisle with their children Thomas and Jessica in March, 2010.
Nicole Burkel, a longtime resident of Carlisle, is the parent of a West Point student, and will be able to give a perspective on the parent experience with the academy. She is a member of the West Point Parents Group, and can enlighten us on the application process and other details of the West point experience.
The final panelist is Kathi Snook of Concord. Kathi, known to Carlisleans as a member of the Concord-Carlisle School Committee, is the parent of three West Pointers, two of whom are still serving in the military. She is also a graduate of West Point herself, as well as a former teacher at the academy.
Come and learn about today's military life and training from those who have served, and about West Point from those who know it well. This promises to be a fascinating evening about the U.S. Military Academy and about the world its graduates will face.
Fiction Book Discussion: Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
Wednesday, 2/17, 7 p.m.
Interested in a fictional perspective on current issues of the war at home and the war abroad? Join us for a discussion of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is a satire set in Texas during America's war in Iraq that explores the gaping national disconnect between the war at home and the war abroad. Follows the surviving members of the heroic Bravo Squad through one exhausting stop in their media-intensive "Victory Tour" at Texas Stadium, football mecca of the Dallas Cowboys, their fans, promoters, and cheerleaders. Asked to be part of the Dallas Cowboys' halftime show on Thanksgiving, Specialist Billy Lynn, one of the eight surviving men of the Bravo Squad, finds his life forever changed by this event that causes him to better understand difficult truths about himself.