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What Soldiers Eat, Pray and Love

written by Lewis Manalo
on August 23, 2010

In her memoir Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert gets divorced, makes-over her life via a year-long trip around the world and, newly self-actualized, manages to find Mr. Right, who is tall, dark, handsome and Brazilian. Though they all deny enjoying it, millions of women (and a few men) read the book, gave it as a gift for girlfriends and chatted over it in book clubs. And millions of women (and a few men) will see Julia Roberts in the movie. I suggest that soldiers and returning veterans suppress their gag reflex and read the book or see the movie, too; not because I think that they'd enjoy it, but because what soldiers eat, pray and love can be so very different from what Elizabeth Gilbert and her fans feast on.

Throughout Eat Pray Love there is a lot of Gilbert finding herself and exploring her feelings. As she says, "the younger me was the acorn full of potential, but it was the older me, the already-existent oak, who was saying the whole time: 'Yes — grow! Change! Evolve!'" And how Elizabeth grows.

In her follow-up to Eat Pray Love, Committed: a Skeptic Makes Peace With Marriage, where Gilbert and her Brazilian get married, Gilbert sees her relationship to her husband as yet another aspect of her personal growth. She says her husband's "energies (sexual, emotional, creative) belong in large part to me, not to anybody else — not even entirely to himself anymore... he belongs to me now. And I belong to him, in exactly the same measure." Her husband is a possession that answers to her sexual, emotional and creative needs (and, as an afterthought, she is him). When did ownership of other people come back in vogue? Women seem to have developed a female chauvinism as idiotic as the male type. Feminism must be rolling in its grave.

Soldiers and veterans, male and female alike, need to understand Gilbert because her work highlights a fundamental difference between contemporary civilian and military cultures. Gilbert's solipsistic personal growth is her main — and possibly only — concern, and if Gilbert's sales are any indication, these self-centered "emotional needs" are the only concern for many other people in the civilian world, too. By contrast, from the moment a soldier takes his or her oath, the soldier is indoctrinated with ideas of service and self-sacrifice, swearing to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies." In the Soldier's Creed, the first creed many soldiers are taught, a person affirms that he or she "serve[s] the people of the United States." Sailors, airmen and marines all learn similar creeds.

When the rest of the country is looking to buy a version of self-actualization that isn't quite what Abraham Maslow had in mind, the soldier is in large part putting his or her thoughts of self aside. Soldiers sacrifice marriages, family life and personal ambitions so that their countrymen can be safe and so their nation can achieve its goals. If you can't understand why a person does that, then stick with Elizabeth Gilbert and her fans.

What do soldiers eat, pray and love? Service. And they choose to do so because other people won't. Of course, I don't think Elizabeth Gilbert is a person with bad intentions. Of course, soldiers are far from perfect people. And many soldiers have personal reasons for joining the military. But at least those selfish jerks won't bend your ear with a fantasy fueled by misunderstood pop psychology.

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Lewis Manalo

Freelance writer, book buyer, and former combat engineer in the 82nd Airborne

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War By the Numbers: Statistics and What They Mean »
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