The destruction of culture and history is running rampant in America. We see enemies of freedom taking it upon themselves to burn books or tear down statues. We have Black Lives Matter, Antifa activists, and their loose-knit supporters demanding the removal of statues, the renaming of streets, and, in fact, the very erasure of history.
Book burners and history deniers are rife in the distant and not-so-distant past. The idea that you can destroy a book and still be on the correct side of history shows the activists for what they really are: ignorant of history. Examining the past brings understanding. It is not less history that we need, but more. It is not fewer ties to the past that is required. It’s more.
Has there ever been a case in history where we look back and praise those who put the past to the torch?
In the U.K. and U.S., statues are being torn down. The phrase “Decolonize Your Bookshelf” is making its way into the common parlance, with even some writers pushing this dangerous concept. Certain books are not being republished, and libraries are choosing not to stock them. Private citizens are being attacked for the books they have on their shelves. What is to become of these poor books that are no longer socially acceptable? They will end up on the fire.
The German poet Heinrich Heine perhaps put it best when he wrote:
“That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well.”
Not surprisingly, the Nazis tried to erase him from history.
You Can’t Kill a Concept
This brings us to the very truth of the matter. Books are a reflection of a writer. Destroying a book, tearing out the pages, is never enough to silence an idea. They are the messenger, not the message. So, what comes next? What is the next step when the ideas in books are spoken aloud?
We don’t need to guess to answer this question. We saw the answer in the last century, in Germany, in Warsaw, in Communist Russia. It is but one step away. And if these closet fascists took the time to learn history, they would perhaps not be so eager to begin the short journey down this dark path.
On April 8, 1933, there began, in Germany, a campaign to destroy all the books that were deemed bad. It was called the “Action against the Un-German Spirit,” and was a co-operation between the German Student Union and its press and propaganda office. The effort was supposed to be a “purification” of the language, and the expulsion of all things considered deviant. Is this so different from today?
This is an unwinnable war for the destroyers of history because you can’t use an eraser on select parts of history. The past must be accepted, learned from, and the people of today made stronger and more resilient by those lessons.
The erasure of history creates one thing: ignorance. If these censor-happy activists chose to learn history rather than destroy it, we could together focus on building a better future for all.