As someone who writes a guide about the city of Paris and searches for off-beat travel, I can relate to the language of pocket guides. I guess you could say it’s kinda my thing. But what if I wasn’t writing for the leisurely wanderer? What if instead, I was writing for a young, newly-enlisted soldier headed off to war in a foreign land?
I found a very generous serving of scans on the net today; a collection of pocket guides to countries including Syria, Iran and China, prepared in the 1940s for military personel by the United States Army’s Morale Services section. America had already joined the fight against Hitler and the axis powers, and these guides would have been handed out to soldiers depending on where they were being sent, serving as a “here’s what to expect when you get there” handbook. They provide some cultural and political background information about each country, important Do’s & Don’ts and useful phrases in local languages for American soldiers who might very well have never left own their state, let alone the continent.
Read the full Syria guide here. It’s also interesting to see how the Iraq guide recycles the exact same artwork as the Syrian guide. Apparently the war department didn’t differentiate the two cultures much.
While some of this stuff is obviously outdated and peppered with imperialist attitudes, overall, I found them to be a pretty neat read. The writers even crack a few jokes about home, which would no doubt have been comforting to a young soldier and the artwork is certainly entertaining. I’ve put together a few exerpts from a few of the guides (there are 20 in total which you can download and read in full from the SMU digital archives).
I like this guide especially because it orders the topics alphabetically, a bit like a children’s book…