US Veterans Speak Out Against Book Bans

After all their efforts to protect our freedom, how do our nation's heroes feel about book banning and censorship?

Fighting for our freedom includes the freedom to read.

Wess Rexrode of Florida was in the US Navy when terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Center and spent the rest of his military career fighting extremists who promote religious racism and censorship abroad. So it was a shock to him when his local school district began removing books from school shelves — a tactic he’d seen across the ocean in his twenty-one years in the Navy. He made the decision to speak out, referencing his career and the harms he’d seen done by things like banning books elsewhere in a public comment meeting with the county Department of Education. He compared it to religious fascism.

His commentary was filmed and put online, and it went viral. But he’s not the only military veteran troubled by the challenges libraries are facing, primarily with books written by and about members of the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. Even the one-hundred-year-old widow of a WWII veteran attended a Martin County education meeting to protest the bans, saying that banning books and burning books is the same thing, a reference to the book burnings that occurred in Nazi Germany.


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US Marine Corps veteran Anthony Swofford found himself coming at the issue from a unique perspective: His memoir of his time in the Gulf War, Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles, was recently removed from a school library in Michigan — twenty years after publication. A parent in the community had requested it be removed, but initially, it wasn’t; a seven-member committee comprised of teachers, parents, a building administrator, and a curriculum department member reviewed the book and voted unanimously to keep it in the library. But the parent appealed, and the local school board voted to remove it.

Swofford noted that those who wanted the ban pointed to the book’s violence and vulgar language. But his response was that that’s how war is; it’s not pretty and neat but is a morally dubious landscape.


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His thoughts were seconded by a woman in the community whose brother was currently a member of the Michigan National Guard, and her ex-husband had served in the army. She wanted the book to stay on the school’s library shelves, pointing out that military recruiters are allowed to come into the schools and recruit kids for the service, but those same kids wouldn’t be allowed by the school to read about others’ actual military experiences.

It’s disheartening, to put it mildly, to send service members overseas to fight the kinds of tyranny that think book bans and burnings are a good way to control a population, then return to the US to find the same ideas being propagated here. This month, which recognizes the service of those veterans on Nov. 11 each year, consider supporting their efforts by donating to EveryLibrary as we continue the ever-more-important work of battling book bans and supporting librarians who are caught in the battle.



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