Banning Fahrenheit 451 – Really?

In an editorial in The Charlotte Observer yesterday called “NC is vulnerable to a new wave of book banning,” by Sara Pequeno, she clearly and correctly notes “Restricting books is a trademark of fascism.” Pequeno is referring to North Carolina Lt. Governor Mark Robinson who received a lot of flak a few months ago about his homophobic comments. It should be Mr. Robinson is proud of his comments and did not deny them offering they relate to specific books he wants banned from public schools. While several of the books are about sexual preferences, one was even more telling in its irony – “Fahrenheit 451.”

As more than a few folks may know, “Fahrenheit 451” is about an autocratic regime cracking down on people reading books. In fact, the title represents the temperature needed for a book to burn. The folks burning the books were called “firemen.” So, it is ironic that a book on banning and burning books is on a list to be banned. At least, banned in the mindset of the homophobic Mr. Robinson. What I take from this is Mr. Robinson does not want people knowing that banning books is not a good thing.

Here is a summary of the book and its origins from Wikipedia:

“Fahrenheit 451 is a 1953 dystopian novel by American writer Ray Bradbury. Often regarded as one of his best works, the novel presents a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found. The book’s tagline explains the title as “‘the temperature at which book paper catches fire, and burns”: the autoignition temperature of paper.

The lead character, Guy Montag, is a fireman who becomes disillusioned with his role of censoring literature and destroying knowledge, eventually quitting his job and committing himself to the preservation of literary and cultural writings. The novel has been the subject of interpretations focusing on the historical role of book burning in suppressing dissenting ideas for change.

In a 1956 radio interview, Bradbury said that he wrote Fahrenheit 451 because of his concerns at the time (during the McCarthy era) about the threat of book burning in the United States. In later years, he described the book as a commentary on how mass media reduces interest in reading literature.” 

It should be noted that anytime someone is equated with Senator Joe McCarthy, that is not a positive thing. Maybe they will ban Margaret Atwood’s book “The Handmaid’s Tale” as we certainly would not want people to see what living in autocratic, dystopian environment looks like. But, there is one thing for certain. If you want to bring greater attention to a book or movie, tell people they cannot read it.

Tin soldiers – a history lesson worth remembering

A day that lives in infamy can be summoned to memory with the words “Kent State.” If you are not familiar with this term, please Google it as it reveals what could happen today, by showing what did happen in May, 1970.

In short, President Nixon called out the national guard to keep a protest of college students at Kent State University in Ohio from turning into a riot. The dilemma is these “tin soldiers,” as they were termed in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s powerful song “Ohio,” were armed. So, when one of the protesters was alleged to have thrown a rock, a guardsman opened fire and was joined in fire by the other guardsmen. Four college students were killed and nine were injured.

Nixon is remembered mostly for resigning before he was impeached for Watergate (in essence running a burglary operation from the White House), yet his calling out the national guard on college students is a horrendous decision. To understand the magnitude, picture your child being faced down by the national guard.

I mention this today as during an interview with Margaret Atwood, who wrote the dystopian novel “The Handmaid’s Tale,” she said totalitarianism first occurs when a leader has troops fire on protesters.

What scares many is the possibility of our current President calling the national guard on a group of protesters is not a stretch. It is also not a stretch for one of the armed militias that feel empowered by this President doing the same.

It is interesting that two dystopian books are going through a concerned revival. One is “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the other is “1984.” We need to be strident in protecting our rights to assemble and protest. We need to be civil in these respects, but it is well within our rights to question our leaders. And, we should not be shot at.