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Eric Goldstein, 12th Grade
Downingtown East High School
The Ultimate Weapons
“If this nation is to be wise as well as strong, if we are to achieve our destiny, then we need more new ideas for more wise men reading more good books in more public libraries. These libraries should be open to all—except the censor. We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty.” – John F. Kennedy 35th President of the United States of America
Censorship is never justified. The availability of ideas and knowledge threaten only those nations and states that wish to hide their existence. Then again, why wouldn’t any government or person in power wish to block what has historically been humankind’s ultimate weapon, the written word.
It is sometimes hard to attribute major historical events or time periods to books. A book is something simple in nature, comprising of paper, ink, and in some cases leather binding. The majority of people in the world have at least had some encounter with a book in their life. This availability of information sometimes changes our understanding of what a book is capable of. The Gutenberg bible helped spread Christianity throughout the world. In the American Revolution Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense helped convince many colonials to fight against Great Britain. Books such as Mein Kampf by Adolph Hitler can cause horrific historical times, and books such as Night by Elie Wiesel can teach the world the horrors of World War II.
Books are definitely weapons, and like any weapon can be used for good or evil. However, this possibility of evil gives no right for censorship of any kind. Former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said that censorship “is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.” A society that censors what is available to the public is in essence changing their society negatively. Imagine an American Society where books about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency were burned every time a Republican president took office. Or even more realistically a world where Nazi publications were unavailable to the American public.
As a Jew, I have heard many arguments growing up as to why to censor Nazi publications. My view however has always been to embrace all the information I can get my hands on in order to better understand one of the Jewish people and America’s greatest enemies. Mein Kampf was given to me as a present from my parents. At first I was apprehensive about reading it. I was afraid its contents might turn me into a self-hating Jew. However, I knew the only way to attempt to understand Hitler’s actions was to start with reading this book.
As I poured through the contents, I was met with an emotion that I find hard to describe. The only way it seems to make sense when I try to describe it, is by saying I felt happy in my disappointment. For me, Mein Kampf had always been what I thought would be a gateway into the mind of Hitler. I thought it would make me understand that never before answered question of “why”?
When I finished the book, I felt as though that question had not been answered. It was obvious the man had a hatred for the Jewish people, but there was nothing I found that I hadn’t heard before. Then, one night I was flipping through the pages hoping I would stumble upon an answer. In my failure to find an answer I discovered something else. I realized that I had spent the last few weeks trying to understand the mind of a mad man. Mein Kampf has been so significant to me because it didn’t answer the question of “why”? That’s where the happy part of my earlier statement comes from. I am happy that it didn’t answer the question because if it had then Hitler would have been just and right in his actions.
It is my belief that every book ever written should be available to anyone. People should be allowed to form their own opinions and ideas. Even books written and printed for evil can be used for good. Mein Kampf was written by arguably the most evil man in the history of mankind, and after reading his ideas I am not a Nazi nor am I a bad person. If anything I am better because all I derived from reading was a sense of how wrong Hitler was. The same is true for all books that some find should be censored.
When it comes to censorship I agree with historian Henry Steele Commager “The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose.” There is a famous saying that those who do not study history are bound to repeat its mistakes. Material whether offensive or evil is still history or an interpretation of history. Books contain people’s ideas about everything from gardening to death. Censorship on any level of any source of information is wrong, and history shows that a road traveled with censorship never ends in a good place.
A book like Mein Kampf may have helped convince a country to commit atrocities in 1939, but in 2010 it has helped me realize why prejudice of any kind is wrong. Thomas Jefferson once said, “I am opposed to any form of tyranny over the mind of man." I hereby agree and state that I am opposed to any form of censorship over ideas in any format, and just like Thomas Jefferson, I believe that “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."