There is a story popping up all over the Internet today that is giving me some personal consternation. It seems that some undoubtedly well-intentioned individual sent 20 copies of one of Bill O'Reilly's bound collections of tripe (Pinheads and Patriots) to a unit of American soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. The young soldier who released the information on the Net, said that the books were then dumped in the burn barrel on the orders of his commander, and set ablaze. The amateur reporter even included a photograph of the books as they were being consumed by the fire.
The reported justification for this troubling act was that individual living space is severely limited for servicemen in the war zone, and they primarily live out of their duffel bags. There was no place to store these non-essential items and no local post office through which to send them back, so the commander took the expedient action of ordering the books burned.
While the young man who released this information over the Internet made it clear that he had no love for Mr. O'Reilly or his radical views and conservative philosophy, he did declare unequivocally that the book-burning was not a political act. He suggested that if people wanted to send gifts to the troops, they should consider items with a more utilitarian value - such as soap or food.
Okay, book-burning is wrong - it is an offense against civilization. But it is hard not to smile, just a little, when the tables get turned and it is the books of the censors and those who spend vast amounts of time telling the rest of us how to behave that are cast into the flames. If this story is true, and it was on the Internet so it must be, the commander is sure to face the wrath of every wingnut macaroon from James O'Keefe to Ann Coulter - and all of the maggots in-between - and will likely lose his job. But he probably felt like what he did was both correct and necessary.
And as far as war atrocities go, this one was relatively small potatoes.
(For an accurate and very disturbing look at how our troops stationed in remote outposts in Afghanistan actually live, check out the documentary, Restrepo, by Sebastian Junger.)