WASHINGTON — Servicemembers interested in reading a new book charging the military was negligent in exposing troops to burn pits will have to look outside their bases to find a copy. Post exchanges aren’t selling it.
The book, “Burn Pits: The Poisoning of America’s Soldiers,” is by former Marine and investigative journalist Joseph Hickman, who claims the military was criminally negligent in exposing troops to deadly chemicals. He won a national magazine award for his reporting on prisoner abuse at the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
Army and Air Force Exchange Services, including stores at overseas bases where it can be more difficult to find English language book sellers, are not carrying “Burn Pits.”
The book’s publisher called it censorship. But AAFES said there is no effort to censor controversial material and decisions are made purely on projected sales.
David Talbot, the editor for the series under which the book was published, said the book’s content, which is critical of military leadership, is what is keeping it off the shelves.
“I don’t think the military wants that message going out to their families,” he said. “I think this is an obvious case of censorship.”
Chris Ward, AAFES spokesman, said the exchange never censors material due to content, other than pornography, and it is more difficult for smaller publishers to get on their shelves because of limited space. Skyhorse Publishing, which released the book, produces about 1,000 titles yearly and claims 36 New York Times Bestsellers.
“The distributor needs to make money, so if it’s not a top seller, it’s tough,” Ward said.
But AAFES has banned material based on content in the past and withstood charges of censorship. In 2010, it refused to stock the popular video game “Medal of Honor” because of its realistic depictions of Taliban fighters killing American troops. That same year, AAFES caused an outcry when its movie theaters did not show “The Tillman Story,” a documentary exploring the government’s cover-up in the wake of the friendly fire death of Army Ranger and former NFL player Pat Tillman in Afghanistan. An AAFES spokesman then said it was due to the film’s small audience. In 2012, AAFES refused to carry “No Easy Day,” a memoir by a former Navy SEAL who took part in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, claiming the book contained classified information.
AAFES operates more than 2,400 facilities in 33 countries. It is sometimes the only place to buy certain American products for troops stationed overseas.