In 2022, two Marines created an Instagram account they called ‘@litofwar’ dedicated to books about the military and combat that they hoped would catch the eye of current servicemembers. Michael Plunkett is a former Marine Reservist while Tom Schueman is an active duty Marine Lt. Col. The two posted book covers, quotes and author bios for war-focused books that they believed a younger, active duty audience could benefit from.

Almost immediately, the account had caught on. The experience of war and how it affects those afflicted by it, said Plunkett, turned out to appeal to military members from every service and generation.

“We’re not just talking about guys who served and experienced combat but rather the experience of war, which touches every facet, every population. People who’ve never left the country are obviously affected by war,” Plunkett said. “That’s what we try to get out with the literature we cover.”

Today, the two have expanded the account into a non-profit, the Literature of War Foundation, that sends hundreds of books to military members around the world. Under one initiative, the foundation will send enough copies of a single book for an entire platoon to read it in the field. 

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“We’re trying to enhance critical thinking skills through empathy,” Plunkett said. “We achieve that by having service members read these books that they probably never would have been exposed to if they hadn’t gone through our program.”

After seeing the interest on Instagram grow, Plunkett held a “good old fashioned” book drive last year to provide free books to service members. It went so well that Plunkett’s South Carolina apartment filled up with about 400 donated books. He packed them in bunches of 100 and shipped them out to different platoons.

Despite the success of the book drive, they had no way of tracking what happened to the books as soldiers transfered bases and seperated from the military.. So they devised programming that would enhance engagement, called the Platoon Book Club Initiative. It starts with someone from a platoon filling out their form

“We get you 25 copies of the same book, you read it amongst your platoon at your own leisure — we try and do it within about two months — but we’re open to different timeframes given the high training tempo of a lot of units,” Plunkett said. “Then, we get back together with you, and we see how it went over Zoom.”

Two Marines are out to bring ‘literature of war’ to foxholes
The Literature of War Foundation sent copies of “With The Old Breed” by Eugene B. Sledge — one of the memoirs that inspired the HBO series The Pacific — to an Marine Corps platoon participating in the Platoon book club initiative. (Photo courtesy of Lit of War/Cadet Tibert)

Service members generally have downtime between training events or deployments and don’t always have a cell phone or computer handy. Books are a way of entertainment in any environment. They don’t require a charger or Wi-Fi connection and are small enough to fit in your pocket or ruck. 

“We had one unit that was doing an exercise out in Norway. We got these guys in full cold weather gear holding copies of Matterhorn and reading by lamplight, basically,” Plunkett said.

So many platoons signed up that they had to cap submissions at 50 platoons. So far, they’ve funded books for 15 units, with the goal of outfitting 50 with books. 

How a platoon does their book club is up to them. Still, Plunkett said they are a resource that can provide discussion questions, recommendations and approaches, and additional resources like videos with the author of the book they are reading. It’s all to engage those in the book club better so it doesn’t feel like a classroom lecture. 

Plunkett said reading is an act that can help military members connect with the world beyond their daily routines. He believes it shows people how their suffering isn’t unique. 

“On top of that, you’re doing it with the people you’re living, deploying, and training with every day,” Plunkett said. “But you’re doing it in a communal effort, and I think that that is going to be critical in strengthening the platoon as a whole.”

Plunkett said their long-term goal is to build a library staffed by veterans, that can curate literature of war for servicemembers and anyone looking into the topic. 

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