Joel Bius Q&A
Now, this Saturday may be Small Business Saturday, but along with all of our celebrating the little guys, we will also be highlighting a very large business: cigarettes. Well, author Joel Bius will be highlighting them by being in the store with his book SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM, about the history of the relationship between the military and their cigarettes. I got to send Joel a few questions so that we can get to know him a little before we meet him this Saturday!
1. Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em approaches such a specific and unique discussion. What was it that inspired you to start researching the topic of cigarettes, or to use it as a door to broader conversations?
Well, there are many parts required to answer this question. I went to grad school at Southern Miss to study a Civil War topic. After a semester, I found that so much has been written on the Civil War that it was hard to find a "do-able" dissertation topic. I happened to take a class during my second semester on the History of Tobacco/Cigarettes in America - the dissertation and now book started out as a small research paper for that class.
While researching this small paper, I found it stoked many interest areas. I love John Grisham novels, and this book is definitely part novel from that genre - the legal/political thriller. It held my interest as I chased down the many twists and turns in the historical records. I was also deeply interested in the history of American military culture. What was it like to be a soldier then versus now? What was the same? What was different? This topic allowed me to explore that interest. And finally, as I took graduate courses and prepared for qualifying exams, I found the soldier-cigarette topic was a vehicle with which to explain/interpret vast portions of Twentieth Century American history. There are political, economic, business, military, agricultural, social, and cultural histories (the broader conversations) all wrapped up in this story of the rise and fall of the military cigarette ration between 1918 and 1986.
2. This is the first book you've published, yes? Was there anything in the writing or publishing process that surprised you or that was different than your expectations?
Yes, this is my first "cover to cover" book. I previously was part of a couple edited volumes - but this is the first with my name on the cover. I knew this was a very interesting, untold story, and I was pleasantly surprised that a publisher thought so as well. The Naval Institute Press has been wonderful to work with. I guess this was a surprise because I have heard some strange stories about publication. They are a crossover press in that they are a scholarly press with, for example, a rigorous peer-review process. However they are also committed to making the book accessible to a broad readership through production, editing, and marketing. I hope this book will speak to academics as well as general readers looking for an interesting story. I was also surprised how thorough, and beneficial, the copy editing and indexing professionals were. These people really know what they are doing and I was very happy to work with them. I guess I now know what musicians mean when they praise their producers and sound people - the ones working behind the scenes.
3. Would you mind walking us through what a typical day looks like for you?
I am active duty military, so I am proud every day to put on the uniform and go to work. I teach at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama. I live in a historic district only three miles from the base, so it is an easy commute. Sometimes I ride my bike. As an Assistant Professor in the Joint Warfighting Department, I teach classes on War Theory and Joint Warfighting, and I also teach electives on American Military Culture and the American Civil War. When I am not teaching, I am either teaching others to teach (as Director of Instruction and Faculty Development) or preparing to teach myself. In my department, I get to teach with a great combination of Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine officers, as well as civilian academics. Working with these folks every day, as well as teaching our diverse student body, covering all the military services, plus Department of Defense civilians and officers from 74 foreign countries, means I never have a dull day.
4. What is your favorite thing to do when you find yourself with some free time?
We have four children ranging from 17 down to 1 - so free time is fun with the family time! We are a traveling circus, and I usually have a book with me so I can stay up on my reading for my job during timeouts or halftime at ball games! Another outlet for me is music. I formed a band with 2 other professors I work with - I play rhythm guitar/harmonica and sing. We all teach air power history, and we all have PhDs in history, so we call our band "The BombDocs." We love playing guitars and singing together, and we found that other folks like it to, so we play on base or in the community from time to time. It would be great to have a book - and write/record a song one day! Maybe that is next ...
5. As a historian, do you have a favorite period in history? What do you find most intriguing about it?
I find that my favorite moves around. In general I am a War & Society historian, which is much broader than just Military History. I get intrigued with some aspect/period of War & Society history, and I camp out on it for a while. For example, I've spent months reading on the wars of the Protestant Reformation and Church History, then moved on to extended reading on soldiering and military culture. I once spent considerable time reading and thinking about the total upheaval of the French Revolutionary period, and how it reverberated through the ages as the seed bed for the extreme ideologies at the heart of WWII violence. Lately, I find myself fascinated with Southern History, and particularly the period after the Civil War when decisions were made in Southern society that reverberate to this day. I am drawn to "contingency history" ... the places in history where men and women made decisions that made a difference - both good and bad. I never want to take the human being out of history, nor the "story" out of history.
Don’t forget to come out and support musician, active military member, family-man, and author Joel Bius this Saturday from 2-4 p.m. when he’ll be in the store signing copies of SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM!