Sunday, February 6, 2022

Book Burning Again?

My father was thrown out of University in Munich in 1933 and left Germany the following year. Recent events have brought this rushing back to me as have so many other events in recent years.

While book burning wasn’t new, in May of 1933 Nazi-dominated student groups carried out public book burnings around Germany. Works by Jewish, liberal and leftist writers were the primary targets including Helen Keller, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud to name a few of the authors. The students made a spectacle of the events by creating bonfires for all to see. It prompted Time magazine to coin the word “bibliocaust.” Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) already warned in the 19th century, “where one burns books, one soon burns people”!

Now symbolic book burnings have already started in the United States. This time, however, it is the adults who are scared of the truth who have started them.

Conservative Texas State Representative, Matt Krause, has published a list of 850 books that he wishes to see banned in Texas schools and he is running for the post of Tarrant County District Attorney! The list focuses on Racism, Sex Education, Pregnancy, Abortion and LGBTQ+ topics. He posits that these would be disturbing to the psychological well-being of the students.

I started writing this Missive when I read that that Art Speigelman, the cartoonist, had denounced the Tennessee School district’s ban on his Graphic Novel “Maus” regarding the Holocaust. It might have been some consolation that it boosted the publication to the top of the bestseller’s list, but that obviously is not the point. Then last week the New York Times headlined a story “Book Ban Efforts Spread Across the U.S.”.

My daughter, Cathy Fiebach has an independent bookstore, Main Point Books, in Wayne, Pennsylvania outside of Philadelphia. She told me she was horrified to have seen another indepent bookstore owner burn a book written from a right-wing perspective. She pointed out to me that her shop carries 8,000 titles and over half a million books are published yearly in the U.S. and that is a conservative estimate. So every independent bookshop owner curates their shop’s collection. They may decide not to carry a book, but she believes banning and certainly burning books is never right.

A corner of Main Point Books

The books that are the target of recent censorship are objected to by right-wing parents, school boards and legislators. On the opposite side of the political spectrum is the current movement to remove statues of historic figures. The result is that we will learn nothing of these l leaders, neither their contributions nor their failings. I grew up thinking that Robert E. Lee as well as Abraham Lincoln were heroic figures. Being the son of German refugees, 100 years after the civil war I was happy that the Union won. If you want to teach me why Robert E. Lee should not be considered a hero, let me know with a text next to the statue so I can learn. That goes double for young people. How are you going to explain the Civil War if the statue is no longer there? You could write the history in a book but then the objectors would do away with the book and again no one would learn about our nation’s past. To repeat that old saw “He who forgets history is bound to repeat it”… and who does that help?

As to LBGTQ+ subjects, we all feel better when we know that we are not alone. If you feel more attracted to the same sex than the other, knowing there are others like you gives one confidence. On the other hand, believing you have to hide allows the doubters and haters to think they have succeeded in stamping out what they are scared of, but in reality, they have achieved nothing. Reducing fear, makes one a more productive person, benefiting all.

From the Irish Sunday Times

With all the books published world-wide yearly, and one estimate pegs that at 2.2 million, Mr. Krause’s list of literature that can be found to cause “discomfort” is anything but complete. By at least one analysis it is faulty as well. Banning any books, however, is harming education and allowing a dumber society to prevail. Will we ultimately find that leaders in sciences, medicine, technology, and the arts increasingly be from other countries?

My daughter ended our conversation by quoting Viet Thanh Nguyen a Vietnamese-American novelist and professor Professor of English and American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California.

“If we oppose banning some books, we should oppose banning any book”.

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