It is a widely held myth that the first thing the Nazis did when they took power in German was to take everyone’s guns. In truth, while they prohibited gun ownership among people they called “unreliable” persons — primarily Jews — and later among the natives of countries they occupied.
What is not a myth is that the Nazis systematically assaulted free thought, destroying books that ventured into ideas they opposed.
Americans concerned with losing their freedoms ought to be more concerned with the reality of 1930s Germany than the myth. Free thought is under attack.
Voters in a Western Michigan town this month voted to defund the local library after the library board refused to remove graphic novels featuring LGBTQ+ characters, according to the Wall Street Journal. A conservative community group successfully led the effort to defeat a requested tax levy renewal that provides 84 percent of the annual funding for the Patmos Library in Jamestown Township near Grand Rapids.
The questionable books were shelved in the adult book section, according to the community’s nonprofit online new source, Bridge Michigan. After some residents complained, the library moved them behind the counter, but it wasn’t good enough, and the group of objectors launched the anti-levy campaign.
“Of the people who voted no, almost every one of them said, ‘oh no, the library will never close — we’re just letting them know that we’re unhappy with this,’” wrote Ron French, Bridge’s senior writer. “Well, unfortunately, it does have consequences, this vote. That funding runs out in January unless there is a re-vote.”
The consequences go far beyond one library and its funding.
Keller ISD made national headlines this month when it pulled copies of the Bible and an illustrated telling of Anne Frank’s diary from its shelves for review after complaints were filed against them. The Bible had multiple complaints filed, with one of the objectors saying i”it is a map to slavery, incest, sex between donkey and women, misogyny, murder, pedophilia you name it, it’s in there.”
Little doubt the efforts to remove the Bible and Anne Frank book are in response to conservative efforts to prohibit books with themes they disagree with — the same LGBTQ+ book that fueled the Michigan initiative is among those on Keller ISD’s list for review. “Out of Darkness” by Ashley Hope Pérez, which follows a love story between a teenage Mexican American girl and a teenage African American boy in 1930s East Texas is also subject to complaints in Keller.
The war over appropriate books demonstrates how efforts to control thought through the offerings of both school and public libraries can backfire. Because at the heart of things, the environment is not a war about books but about ideas and desire to quash those that make some people uncomfortable.
We see it in the attempts to hide and rewrite our nation’s history and that of Texas, minimizing the role of slavery in the formation of each. Recent programs at the Levi Jordan and Varner-Hogg historic sites focused on memorializing the lives of the enslaved people who toiled there were met with some hostility, as though merely mentioning that real aspect of our past is a personal assault. Such teachings and research are not an attempt to assign modern blame to past sins or portray one race as inferior or superior to another — it is intended to portray the history of all races as equally valuable.
During sixth grade, our teacher, when we were particularly well-behaved, would treat us by reading a chapter from a book. The one that most kept us at rapt attention was about Harriet Tubman’s life as a slave and work on the Underground Railroad. More than anything we had learned from history classes, that book provided insight and humanity into the lives of enslaved Americans.
That is the type of book, though, and lessons being targeted as inappropriate for our children to read. So are books about people who confront deal with bigotry against their sexual identity and skin color.
Just as it has been said about TV programs people find objectionable, changing the channel is always an option. So is leaving a book on the library shelf. Burning the book — or in Jamestown Township, Michigan’s case, the whole library — isn’t the America of free expression and ideas we have been promised.