Are Book Burnings Next?
As a youth and a bibliophile, I found newsreel clips of book burnings from 1930s Germany deeply disturbing. It is only now that I understand that, as dramatic as these images were, their purpose was not to destroy the books themselves but to send a chill through all those harboring any ideas that might be contrary to those staging the conflagrations. The pinnacle of methods for suppressing opposing views were recently on display in bills passed by the Trump Republican dominated Texas legislature and signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott.
In an excellent, highly recommended (and free) article entitled “Reading While Texan” Doug Muder discusses the latest chilling reaction to the Republican extremism of state laws recently passed in Texas:
NBC News received an audio recording of an administrator in the Dallas suburb of Southlake , telling teachers that a new law (HB 3979) requires them to offer an “opposing” perspective if they have books about the Holocaust in their classroom libraries. When a teacher asked “How do you oppose the Holocaust?” the administrator didn’t offer a suggestion, but replied “It’s come up. Believe me.”
How long will it take before a science teacher in Texas is hauled before a board for broaching the subject of biological evolution without giving equal time to Biblical creationism?
Dr. Heather Cox Richardson, a much published professor of american history and author of Letters from an American, wrote a detailed dissection of what’s in and what’s out in teaching history in Texas established by the new law S.B. 3, the text of which you can read here. One among the many atrocious additions and deletions Professor Richardson details in the law that stuck out for me was the line through (deletion of) “the history of Native Americans” from “the essential knowledge and skills” for the K-12 social studies curriculum.
If your response to all this is “Oh, well, that’s just in Texas” I have news. Most of this push in Texas is riding on the wave of idiotic outrage Republicans have whipped up over “critical race theory”, a subject not touched on as such in K-12. The words “Critical Race Theory” is the new fairy dust of Republican outrage. Critical race theory outrage is nearly always interwoven with the anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-evolution hysteria among the folks making school board meetings intolerable in Spokane valley’s Central Valley School District (CVSD). Similar groups, similarly inspired have forced Spokane Public Schools School Board meetings to go virtual in order to comply with public safety rules. If one scratches the surface of the groups instigating these assaults on school board meetings, one often finds a reactionary, fundamentalist religious fervor, a desire to impose the group’s idea of doctrinal purity on the broader society.
It is this type of quasi-religious reactionary fervor in Germany in the early 20th century, the Völkisch movement, that, in the 1920s, took control of the German Student Union. In 1933, just months after Adoph Hitler became Chancellor, it was the German Student Union that announced a nationwide “Action against the Un-German Spirit" that would climax in a massive burning of books on May 10, 1933. On that occasion, Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda meister, gave a speech heard by tens of thousands. Goebbels exhorted his listeners against “decadence and moral corruption” and in favor of “decency and morality in family and state.” Those words (not unlike rhetoric you hear today) were code for a hugely broad range of literature, including the works of H.G. Wells, Thomas Mann, and “all historical writings whose purpose is to denigrate the origin, the spirit and the culture of the German Volk, or to dissolve the racial and structural order of the Volk, or that denies the force and importance of leading historical figures.” This last should sound chillingly familiar in the context of current anti-CRT hysteria. (Read more of the wide range of literature condemned to the flames here.)
The German Student Union/ Nazi book burnings of the 1930s, while broader in scope, served the same two fold purpose as recent state laws passed here: rouse the faithful—and instill fear in anyone holding a view or wishing to pedagogically consider any view that might run counter to the orthodoxy.
When I started writing this post, book burnings, as far as I knew, had not been carried out recently in the United States. That changed on February 2 at the “Global Vision Bible Church” about fifteen miles east of Nashville, Tennessee. Pro-Trump, anti-mask Pastor Greg Locke said he was “called by God” to stage a book burning of offensive materials—like the Harry Potter books. It made national news. For a full account of the event visit this “Nashville Scene” article.
The primary intent of Pastor Greg Locke’s book burning was to rouse and unite his fundamentalist flock, though we should have no doubt that if Pastor Locke were able to sufficiently spread his views he would be happy to instill fear among those he considers the unbelieving heathen.
Surely we are not yet at a stage of actual national book burnings like those of 1930s Germany, but the same fundamentalist, reactionary sentiments of the German Völkisch movement are alive and well in the anti-CRT, anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-evolution, anti-sex education salvos we now see directed at local school boards.
Recognize where these movements are coming from. History rhymes, but it doesn't have to repeat.
Keep to the high ground,