Friday, October 01, 2010

The end of banned books

It's the end of banned books week and I'm left feeling a bit bemused. Most of the books that count as "banned" were challenged in schools or libraries, usually unsuccessfully. A few of the books that were challenged were required reading in schools, and I have to say that forcing a child to read a book that is too adult for him or her seems rather cruel to me. As censorship goes, this isn't very successful.

Then you have the entirely different case of Operation Dark Heart. The author collaborated closely with the US Department of the Army in writing the book but this wasn't good enough. He was summoned to meet with the US Department of Defense, after which existing copies of the book were destroyed and a new version was produced with some of the information removed. The publishers claim that this isn't censorship and I'm left wondering what they think it is. But it was in the interests of national security so that's all right then.

I wonder if there are some books that should be banned, such as books inciting hatred or telling you how to make a bomb. My guess is that with the internet nothing can stay banned or secret for long but the Operation Dark Heart case suggests that some people at least think otherwise.


Adam Heine said...

That Operation Dark Heart business actually doesn't sound like censorship to me.

My guess is that someone the author talked to accidentally revealed classified information, or else the author simply guessed at some information that was so close to the truth as to scare the DoD. Like maybe information about troop movements or US military capabilities (the DoD doesn't like the public--meaning enemy nations as well--to know everything they're capable of doing).

So it might technically be censorship, but not the kind intended to protect people from themselves. Rather the kind intended to protect our soldiers from things the enemy might learn.

It's a very interesting case though, one that could easily be taken too far. Considering the subject matter of the book, this sounds justified to me.

fairyhedgehog said...

Adam, I don't think he was just guessing, but he did clear it with the Army first.

I hadn't thought of the distinction between censorship to protect the reader and censorship to protect someone written about in the book. And I'm not sure where I stand on it.

Adam Heine said...

Yeah, that part's weird. Maybe whoever cleared it did a bad job.

I'm just talking from my experience with the DoD. Information is generally classified to protect those in the field or to give the US an advantage in the field. It can certainly be abused (hello, Vietnam), but the only other option is to require the government to be open about everything, which means our enemies know everything too.

When we're talking about black ops in a country we're still at war with, I'm willing to give the DoD the benefit of the doubt, unless it sounds like the author was whistleblowing. But I can't say that would be my stand for all time. It really depends on the specifics.

Old Kitty said...

Oh that list of banned books that's been bandied about (the american list - I can't remember off hand) but anyway - I was so shocked to see that Harry Potter and To Kill a Mockingbird were part of this list - people actually objected to these books.

I'm really not into banning books full stop - fiction or not. I appreciate that there will always be those books that are questionable (David Irving's for instance and worse) whose contents are inflammatory or may be misconstrued by the more impressionable as such but I can't say ban what I don't like and not the rest.

I appreciate that there must be guidelines for school curriculums (definitely) and even more structured ones for moderators of internet sites (perhaps) but banning words for me is the start of something worse like burning books.

I'm not familiar with this book you cite here though - that's definitely censorship and that's a whole other thing altogether!

Sorry I'm not very articulate - I'm at work (lunch break) but the woman opposite me is making a very personal phone call and talking very loudly and putting me off my thinking! :-)
take care

fairyhedgehog said...

Adam, I'm always suspicious of government's keeping secrets but I'm not sure that I disagree with you about this one. I just feel uneasy about it and can't work out where I stand.

Kitty, it's amazing what some people can find to object to. I've just been reading that A Wrinkle in Time was one of the challenged books.

Sorry to hear you're having a less than stellar time at work. You deserver better!

Stacy said...

But often the books are "banned" by people who have never read them, so I think those guidelines tend to be meaningless.

fairyhedgehog said...

stacy, it's a good point about people not even reading the books they want banned. I hadn't even thought of it.

Polenth said...

Some of the banned books are a bit odd in their criteria. Wanting a book made non-mandatory isn't the same thing as banning. It means putting it on the shelf as an option, rather than reading it in class. It'd be interesting to see a better breakdown between total ban requests and moving it outside class requests.

fairyhedgehog said...

Polenth, when I think back to the days that books could be truly banned, i.e. not allowed to be published at all, then I think we've come a long way. I'm in favour of not making strong literature compulsory to young kids - they should be allowed to grow at their own pace.

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