A fundamental idea behind our democracy is that good policies will prevail in public discourse over less good ones. For this happy outcome, we need an educated population, a responsible free press and freedom of expression. We need a government separated from religion, so it cannot dictate what people believe, and strong democratic institutions that ensure votes count.
Censorship stifles ideas and prevents democracy from working. Censorship is not American.
Some countries openly support censorship: Russia, Iran, China, North Korea. The Taliban are a big supporter.
On May 10, 1933, in Nazi Germany, students pulled more than 20,000 “non-German” books from libraries, bookstores and homes, throwing them onto Bebelplatz, the cobbled city square in front of the Berlin State Opera. Joseph Goebbels (Minister of Propaganda) addressed the crowd of 40,000 and his speech was broadcast on the radio. Music played while books burned, and the crowd was told that these events, which were repeated throughout Germany, were “Against decadence and moral decadence!” For discipline and decency in the family and the nation!
History suggests that censorship accomplishes neither.
Libraries were ordered to keep only books that upheld “German values”. It is estimated that 80% of school libraries and three-quarters of all science libraries in the country were burned down.
Here in America, we have never experienced broad, coordinated censorship. But there are Americans who want it.
Recently, a Mount Juliet pastor held a public book burning. ‘Harry Potter’, ‘Twilight’ and other books were burned in a celebratory spectacle involving speeches and music.
Texas State Rep. Matt Krause has put more than 800 books on a “watch list” that deal with racial or LGBTQ issues.
In Oklahoma, a state senator has introduced a bill to ban books and programs related to gender, sexual and racial identity.
The Madison County, Mississippi, Public Library reports that the mayor of Ridgeland has cut funding until books he dislikes are removed.
Many states, including Tennessee, have censored K-12 education that makes students feel guilty or uncomfortable because of their racial or sexual identity.
The McMinn County School Board in Tennessee has excluded the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Maus” from the college curriculum. This comic book tells the story of the author’s grandfather, a Holocaust survivor.
Jews are depicted as mice, Nazis as cats. There are eight “swear words” in the book and a cartoon image of the author’s grandmother, who committed suicide in a bathtub (the cartoon shows a breast, seen from the side). The book is heartbreaking, but our young people need to know more about the Holocaust.
The McMinn County BOE thinks 14-year-olds with internet access will be harmed by eight “swear words” and a cartoon image of a breast. Maybe they grew up on Mars.
Across America, many districts have considered banning the books. Just in the week leading up to January 28, 2022: Wentzville Missouri; Billings, Montana; Orange County, Florida; Henrico County, Virginia; Pitt County, North Carolina; Madison County, Mississippi; Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; Sartell-St Stephen School District, Minnesota; Lexington-Richland, South Carolina; Williamson County, Tennessee; Mukilteo, Wash.; and Walla Walla, Washington.
Most current efforts to ban books aim to censor discussions of racism or gender identity. A few books (eg, “To Kill A Mockingbird”) aim to “protect” readers from offensive portrayals of minorities.
Whether motivated by conservative or liberal ideology, banning the books is an un-American mistake.
It is appalling that book banning has become a movement, right here in America.
It is terribly disappointing that the largest and most powerful democracy in the world is banning books left and right, and that we are outlawing the teaching of parts of our history in our schools. Our founding fathers must be turning in their graves.
Tin dictators shouldn’t determine what books the rest of us can read, what ideas we can be exposed to. Those who censor ideas set their sights on people who have been harshly judged by history.
There is a memorial to the book burning in Bebelplatz, Berlin. In the middle of the cobbled plaza is a 15-foot square clear glass panel. Pedestrians step through the glass and look into a well-lit room below their feet. The underground room is filled with empty, white shelves – enough for 20,000 books.
This memorial was built by Germany as it began to mourn its book-burning past.
Those inclined to censorship should ask themselves, “Will America ever have reason to build its own memorial?”