We See Book-Burning

We see book-burning as a crime against humanity: it’s intolerable because books represent a kind of freedom to us.

~  Samantha Harvey

PG wonders where book-banning falls in the field of crimes or harmful actions against humanity.

To his way of thinking, book-burning and book-banning are two sides of the same coin – taking actions that are not calculated to rebut the opinions of authors with whom some or many disagree, but rather pursuing a course designed to remove political thoughts deemed by someone to be offensive or incorrect from all human perception.



Harm­ful and Unde­sir­able: Book Cen­sor­ship in Nazi Germany

From The Jewish Book Council:

Read­ers may be famil­iar with the pho­to­graph of the Nazi-orches­trat­ed book burn­ing in front of a Ger­man uni­ver­si­ty in May, 1933. What is not wide­ly known is that Hitler’s gov­ern­ment estab­lished a rigid sys­tem of book cen­sor­ship and an index of unde­sir­able books that exist­ed until the end of the war. Inher­ent in Nazi ide­ol­o­gy was the claim to total dom­i­na­tion of the world of ideas.

In his new book, Harm­ful and Unde­sir­able: Book Cen­sor­ship in Nazi Ger­many, Guenter Lewy informs us that 5,485 book titles were banned by the end of the war. The entire cen­sor­ship process was imple­ment­ed by a num­ber of com­pet­ing bureau­cra­cies, but main­ly the Reich Cham­ber of Lit­er­a­ture (RSK). The banned books includ­ed those of alleged moral cor­rup­tion, works of Marx­ism and paci­fism, books and arti­cles per­ceived as dam­ag­ing the mar­tial spir­it and morale of the Ger­man peo­ple and those prop­a­gat­ing Catholic or oth­er con­fes­sion­al ideas, and works that fell into the catch des­ig­na­tion of ​fail­ure to live up to what was to be expect­ed in the new Ger­many.” But what of books and pub­li­ca­tions by Jew­ish authors and pub­lish­ing companies?

Nazi pro­pa­gan­da had long equat­ed being Jew­ish with being un-Ger­man. But an unex­pect­ed com­pli­ca­tion came with ban­ning ​Jew­ish” books: after the Nurem­berg Laws were imple­ment­ed in 1935, it became increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to deter­mine which ​Jews” were to have their books banned — three-quar­ter Jews, half-Jews, quar­ter-Jews? There was also the dif­fi­cul­ty of Jew­ish pub­lish­ing firms. In the 1930s the Nazi gov­ern­ment was in des­per­ate need of for­eign cur­ren­cy, and clos­ing down Jew­ish owned pub­lish­ing hous­es meant a severe loss of essen­tial income. How­ev­er, Joseph Goebbels, the Min­is­ter of Pro­pa­gan­da, insist­ed that cul­ture trumped eco­nom­ic neces­si­ty; and so many Jew­ish-owned cul­tur­al enter­pris­es were ​Aryanized.” Goebbels argued that ​the peo­ple of the poets and thinkers had let their cul­ture be admin­is­tered by Semi­tes,” and claimed that ​40per­cent of all Ger­man authors had been Jews,” who ​had devel­oped their deca­dent and cor­ro­sive ver­sion of Ger­man lit­er­a­ture in order to sub­ju­gate the Ger­man peo­ple, a step in the Jew­ish con­spir­a­cy to rule the world.”

Until 1938, the strug­gle against Jew­ish books was focused on those writ­ten by assim­i­lat­ed Ger­man Jews. The list of banned Jew­ish authors includ­ed such writ­ers as Vicky Baum, Emil Lud­wig, Lion Feucht­wanger, Franz Kaf­ka, Arthur Schnit­zler, Kurt Tuchol­sky, Franz Wer­fel, and Arnold and Ste­fan Zweig. In addi­tion, the Min­istry of Pro­pa­gan­da warned the book trade that no men­tion was to be made any­where of the works of Hein­rich Heine. One Nazi jour­nal pro­nounced that ​Heine is not a poet, he is a Jew.” Once World War II start­ed in 1939, the works of Jew­ish authors world­wide were either banned or placed on an index of unde­sir­able books.

Link to the rest at The Jewish Book Council

From Culture Trip:

The control of the Soviet government stretched long and far. Literature, being one of the most powerful forms of conversing ideas, was under the close watchful eye of censors. While some books were edited, some were completely banned. Here are ten works that were banned in the Soviet Union.

. . . .

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

The novel Doctor Zhivago had a very unfortunate fate. The manuscript was first approved by the government publishing house, but some time later they retracted their decision. The reason was the anti-revolutionary sentiment in the book. Luckily, Pasternak had also sent a copy to an Italian publisher who refused to return his copy and went ahead to publish the book in Europe. Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his novel, but under the pressure from the Soviet government, declined it.

. . . .

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

A seemingly innocent book about a traveller stuck on a deserted island, nevertheless this book made the list of foreign books unwelcome in the USSR. The main fault of Robinson Crusoe is the idea that one man can carry out so many heroic acts. In the views of the Soviet government, history is made by a collective effort, not by the acts of separate people. As a result the book was basically rewritten, skipping most of the time Robinson Crusoe spent alone and placing more emphasis on ideas of the importance of human society.

. . . .

Animal Farm by George Orwell

This story tells of farm animals that have had enough of being overpowered by their owners, and instigate a coup. New rules are installed to make sure that everybody is equal, but eventually some were more equal that others. The comparison to the 1917 Russian Revolution was evident and to no surprise the novel was forbidden by the Soviet government who didn’t appreciate the author’s irony. Animal Farm along with other writings of Orwell were forbidden in Russia until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Link to the rest at Culture Trip


Spotlight on Censorship: ‘Eleanor and Park’

From The Intellectual Freedom Blog, sponsored by The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association:

Published in 2013, Eleanor & Park is a young adult novel of first love, acceptance, and self-image. For the first time, this New York Times bestseller is listed on ALA’s Top Ten Challenged Books list, clocking in at No. 10.

While there are a number of discussions and debates about the problematic depiction of race and abuse in the book, the reason most consistently reported to ALA for parental complaints is offensive language.

In an interview with The Toast, author Rainbow Rowell talks about the irony of these objections.

“Eleanor and Park themselves almost never swear … I use profanity in the book to show how vulgar and sometimes violent the characters’ worlds are.”

On the first page, Park is pressing his headphones into his ears.

“He’s trying to block out the profanity! And Eleanor hates that her stepfather curses so much. She complains about it throughout the book,” said Rowell in the interview. “There’s also some pretty vulgar sexual language that the parents have objected to: Someone harasses Eleanor by writing gross things on her school books. It’s one of the more traumatic things that happens to her.”

During the 2013 challenge in Minnesota, Anoka High School principal Mike Farley explained to the Minneapolis Star Tribune that the novel mirrors some of the same situations students find themselves in.

“We did acknowledge some of the language is rough, but it fits the situation and the characters. I deal with this stuff every day working in the school with students. Did I think the language was rough? Yes,” Farley said. “There is some tough stuff in there, but a lot of the stuff our kids are dealing with is tough.”

The parents challenged the book’s selection for school libraries, calling it “vile profanity.” They cited 227 uses of profanity or the Lord’s name in vain, including 60 instances of the “F” word.

“It’s is the most profane and obscene work we have ever read in our lives,” said one parent, Troy Cooper, to the Star Tribune.

In 2016, incensed Chesterfield parents were joined by Virginia state Sen. Amanda Chase in demanding that Eleanor & Park be removed from voluntary summer reading lists, calling the books “pornographic” and filled with “vile, vile, nasty language.”

Ultimately, based on the recommendation of the review committee, Superintendent James Lane concluded that the book would not be banned. But it also can not be recommended. No books can be recommended by anyone in the Chesterfield County School District. Summer reading lists can no longer be distributed to students by teachers or librarians.

Instead of talking about language and the power of words like profanity or racial slurs, censors trash talk the novel and often the author, librarians, and teachers who recommend it. In both the Minnesota case and the Virginia case, the school librarians were threatened with disciplinary action and termination.

In both of these public cases, the book was retained in the school library.

Link to the rest at The Intellectual Freedom Blog


29 thoughts on “We See Book-Burning”

  1. Books no longer have to be burned or banned. They’re just shunned. Manuscripts that do not advance the new progressive culture are ‘passed on’ by 20-year old female editors in ‘houses.’ (Sorry, not for us.) And if one does manage to get published, it is ignored by progressive ‘reviewers.’ And if it is entered for prizes, it will never win. And if the author attempts to promote it on social media, he may be deplatformed if some progressive complains about his or her book. So, the new Nazis, aka progressives, can ban and burn books, while at the same time, saving the planet. Isn’t that nice?

  2. In my opinion, any time a government bans a book, it is wrong. And by ban I mean forbids publication, confiscates copies, demands book sellers provide the names of people who bought a copy, that level of banning.

    Disapproving of a book, especially a book for young readers, is different. I don’t always agree with the decision, but it is not truly banning the book. So long as people can still find it, buy it, read it without the state punishing them, then it isn’t banned. I set a high bar, I know.

    Hunting out texts and destroying them is a crime lower than genocide or mass murder, but edging close. Because history seems to suggest that governments opposed to ideas then move to banning those people who wrote, taught, or spoke those ideas. And then…

  3. If I recall, no books were banned when I was in my local school system from the mid’s through the early 80’s. So even back then, my progressive public school system was progressive even back then.

  4. The irony of George Orwell’s books is that he tried to described fascism (or NAZI which was not fascism, but a variant of socialism) instead he described to the teeth communism-socialism. First time I read his books was in the US, and I was amazed how well he described the communist hell I escaped from. Thought control was the ultimate goal of the communists, but never achieved it, and long and behold it was achieved in US nowadays. The Big Brother, or Big Social Media knows more about you and what you’ll do next than your significant other. Book burning, censorship? Child play compared with what they have in store for each one of us, unless we become model citizens as described in 1984.

    • For all that a certain camp tries to paint Socialism, Fascism, and Communism as distinctly different the three are merely three faces of the exact same philosophy: State Controlled Collectivism. Minor variations of Statism: the belief that citizens belong to the state. As opposed to the state belonging to the citizens. It’s Persia vs Athens still.

      It’s all part of the same spectrum which runs from 1984-style authoritarianism at one extreme, to total anarchy at the other, with democratic systems spread along the middle.

      Even among those you have a spread. It ranges between those who argued that they didn’t have to offer up a tax cut during the recent recession because they were already giving taxpayers the boon of not raising rates (Rather like the time in the 70’s Swedish taxes could add up to over 100% of total earnings and the system required citizens to apply for rebates to pay for expenses.) to the crowd that expects the state to pay them a living wage even if they choose not to work.

      It’s enough to make you long for a large asteroid strike. 😉

      • The Depression of 1920-1921 is too often overlooked. It was severe, yet it was short. There are many lessons there.

      • As an aside:

        Rather than an asteroid strike, the far more likely Extinction Level Events(E.L.E.) are:

        – The Carrington Event, a vast EMF pulse wiping out modern society, killing billions

        – The Coming Ice Age, where more of the Arctic Ocean is uncovered leading to massive snow and rain, killing billions. We have already seen a bit of that this year in the midwest flooding, caused by a small region of the Arctic Ocean destabilizing the Polar Vortex.

        – Then there is the Kessler syndrome, as seen in Gravity (2013 film). We will see this in our lifetime, where we lose access to space. That’s millions dead, rather than billions dead. I have a dear friend who is lost without GPS to guide him. He drove all the way across town to get to the tire store, and only on the way back saw that there was one just a block from where he started.

        All great story ideas. HA!

        • Here is a gorgeously written account of the first recorded Carrington Event. The gorgeous writing comes mostly from the newspaper accounts of the time, in 1859. People wrote pretty back then 🙂

          Observe that according to the 1859 papers, the storm did disrupt the telegraph’s batteries … but it enabled the operators to work without them, too.

          Boston operator, (to Portland operator) – “Please cut off your battery entirely from the line for fifteen minutes.”

          Portland operator – “Will do so. It is now disconnected.”

          Boston – “Mine is disconnected, and we are working with the auroral current. How do you receive my writing?”

          Portland – “Better than with our batteries on. Current comes and goes gradually.”

          Boston – “My current is very strong at times, and we can work better without the batteries, as the Aurora seems to neutralize and augment our batteries alternately, making current too strong at times for our relay magnets.

          Suppose we work without batteries while we are affected by this trouble.”

          Portland – “Very well. Shall I go ahead with business?”

          Boston – “Yes. Go ahead.”

          If you use a Carrington Event, do incorporate the lovely descriptions the news accounts give of the heavens during the event. It could be spooky juxtaposed to whatever apocalyptic events you have going on in your story:

          Later, these strange fires overran the entire heavens—now separating into streamers, gathered at the zenith, and forming a glorious canopy—then spreading evenly like a vapor, shedding on all things a soft radiance; again, across the sky waves of light would flit, like the almost undistinguishable ripple produced by the faintest breeze upon the quiet surface of an inland lake; a pale green would now cover half the firmament from the east, while rich crimson met it from the west—then the ruddy light would concentrate itself at the zenith, while beneath it fell in folds of beauty the mild purple and green. To the east and to the west lay huge fields of luminous clouds, tinted with a bright rosy flush, wholly unlike that produced by the rising sun and if possible even more beautiful.

          • Thanks…

            I still have to read the book:

            The Sun Kings: The Unexpected Tragedy of Richard Carrington and the Tale of How Modern Astronomy Began by Stuart Clark

          • Having lived through a Carrington-lite scenario I want nothing to do with the real thing. Too slow and lingering way to go.

            Equally scary is the EMP bomb strike. (Cameron toyed with it on *his* FALLEN ANGEL TV show.)
            Scarier still, the US figured out how to do it in the 60’s (nuclear) and 70’s (nuke free). The ARMY ran tests with massive loads of conventional explosive seeded with conductive particles. Come boom time, the particles were driven at high speeds and generated an EMP. (The French reportedly tried it circa 1995.)

            They also built microwave cannon and ebombs: https://science.howstuffworks.com/e-bomb3.htm

            Even they were scared.

            Definitely a “bomb them back to the stone age scenario”.

            • Now that is fun. Everything goes into the Story folders.


              I remember the Popular Mechanics issue about the EM pulse bomb. I’ve seen the description of it now and then online. Here is a wiki list that is useful.

              wiki – Electromagnetic pulse in popular culture

              I always thought that it should be possible to have shotgun shells, grenades(especially underslung) that can be fired at advancing mechs like the Cybermen from Doctor Who. The idea is so fun, I plan to use it in future books.

              BTW, When I was at University in the 70’s Sandia Base built an all wood test frame to hold planes and such to see how they would withstand an EMF pulse. We got to play with nuts and bolts made of plywood in class. There was a snack shop on base that was a little too close to the testing frames, and the tests EMF pulse would occasionally blow the fuses. HA!

              wiki – ATLAS-I

              To see a picture of the wood structure.

              • The Sandia tests is what I remember: a lot of reports early on followed by total silence. Normally, failures are acknowledged but successes…

                Good story fodder but real life fear.

            • Thanks, guys. These are going in the possibilities folder.

              a lot of reports early on followed by total silence. Normally, failures are acknowledged but successes…

              Intriguing … I wonder if there are any thrillers that build upon these.

              From the Indian Defence link:

              High altitude nuclear EMP is likely to cause catastrophic damage to electronics in vast regions across thousands of kilometres, and may often affect even the state using the weapon.

              Hmmm. For now that sounds like a deterrent. But, for sci-fi purposes, it also sounds like an EMP could be a plausible first-strike decapitation weapon for a “state” from another planet to be used against Earth. No nukes needed, if the idea is to still leave Earth habitable. I don’t think the elephant aliens had that in “Footfall.”

              • Nope.
                The “snouts” only had orbital lasers and Excalibur beat that. Don’t think they had nukes, either. But they could move asteroids and drop them.

                Their biggest handicap was a lack of peer-combat experience and zero R&D. No concept of guerilla warfare or on the fly weapons development. Going from biplanes to jets in five years was inconceivable.

                • Help me out Felix.

                  I know Excalibur as a magic sword and a precision artillery round but it’s not found by searching my Kindle copy of Footfall so what are you writing about? The nearest competitor to lasers I can think of in the book is the spurt bombs.

                  And just to say, the section of Footfall from chapter 40 onward is one of my all time favourite bits of SF.

                • Project Excalibur was a parallel to Project Orion. Same time period.


                  Orion used hundreds to thousand of nukes to propel a spaceship; Excalibur used exploding nukes to power X-ray lasers. In FOOTFALL they did both at the same time: drive the ship and power their ofense. Drove the snouts crazy. “Who detonates nukes on their own planet?”

                  (Orion didn’t envision getting to orbit via nukes, but they were desperate…)

                  A lot of Footfall tech is “road not taken” stuff.
                  There is a long list of known workable technology that hasn’t been implemented for political reasons. Especially in the nuclear field.

          • One of my novel series is based on the premise that a colony world was abandoned by the founding corporation after a series of Carrington Events (company took a tax write off that made the investors very happy). Except some people survived “The Great Fires.” It was an interesting exercise in both “how do you do a space colony” and “what remains after a long, slow disaster.”

        • Geologically speaking, ice ages are preceded by warm spells that increase cloud cover.

          Way back, Niven & Pournelle did FALLEN ANGELS, which played with the idea that hamfisted attempts to fight warming would only accelerate the next ice age. They cast the whole thing as a bit of a paen to SF fen the way it used to be long before the puppy wars.

          Fun read.
          Might still be free at BAEN’s free library.

      • Exactly, there are no differences among Socialism, Fascism, and Communism, although some people think one is worst than another, or not as bad as the others, and need to be reminded that they are the same.

    • I think he was intentionally describing all three. The spookiest book I ever read wasn’t a horror book. It was “The Road to Serfdom,” and it was spooky because when Hayak described the rise of socialism — and how it led to Nazism, Fascism, and communism, he described a particular propaganda technique that Orwell had named “newspeak.”

      I had read “1984” a few years before “Serfdom,” and the parallels in the two books were eerie. Eerie enough that I looked it up, and found out that Orwell had reviewed the first book after it had come out. He wrote “1984” a few years later. I had previously thought that “1984” was strictly a product of Orwell’s imagination.

      Here’s a link to Orwell’s review. Excerpt:

      Professor Hayek’s thesis is that Socialism inevitably leads to despotism, and that in Germany the Nazis were able to succeed because the Socialists had already done most of their work for them, especially the intellectual work of weakening the desire for liberty. By bringing the whole of life under the control of the State, Socialism necessarily gives power to an inner ring of bureaucrats, who in almost every case will be men who want power for its own sake and will stick at nothing in order to retain it. …It cannot be said too often – at any rate, it is not being said nearly often enough – that collectivism is not inherently democratic, but, on the contrary, gives to a tyrannical minority such powers as the Spanish Inquisitors never dreamed of.

  5. “To his way of thinking, book-burning and book-banning are two sides of the same coin – taking actions that are not calculated to rebut the opinions of authors with whom some or many disagree, but rather pursuing a course designed to remove political thoughts deemed by someone to be offensive or incorrect from all human perception.”
    I agree with you 100% PG, sometime ago, a book called the culture of critique was banned with the same idea in mind, though the outcry against it was quite small.

  6. The Culture of Critique is an anti-semitic book that the Nazis would have loved and promoted. It is influential amongst the alt right. Its thesis is that Jews are harmful to non-Jews. It’s never been banned.

    All of which Anon presumably well knows but is presumably promoting here craftily in order to draw interest/attention to the book.

    • But aren’t you just doing what PG refers to, instead of critiquing the arguments presented in the book, you simply dismiss it offhand.
      The book is highly anti-Semitic it’s true, but it does unfortunately have Fans and people who are influenced by it and simply telling them that it’s wrong to read won’t affect them in the slightest.
      As for the book never having been banned, that depends on what the term book banning actually means.
      for example, it could be argued that a book can never be banned in the modern age since there will always be copies in electronic form yet there are many groups who believe that people are trying to discourage platforms from selling certain types of book which is censorship.

  7. Has there been a real book burning recently?
    Near as I can tell it’s been replaced with recalls and pulping of “scandalous” books.

    Different process, same result.

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