Chickens of the Interventionist Liberals - Henry Elmer Barnes

Book Burning

Led by Clifton Fadiman and others, the totalitarian liberals of our day have raised a great outcry about what they designate as "book burning." What they have in mind is the removal of some books written by Left-wing authors from the 285 libraries which have been established for the use of American soldiers and civilians abroad and a few possible European readers. Some of these books are of ephemeral value and the total removed is not impressive.

The wisdom of this move to censor the reading of Americans officially abroad and curious Europeans need not be discussed here. Even if we were to accept at its face value the most bitter criticism of the policy, this type of interference with freedom of thought and reading is infinitesimal compared with what the interventionist liberals have been doing in this country for the last fifteen years, and still continue to carry on to the best of their ability. Victor Lasky has dealt searchingly with some aspects of this matter in his article on "Book Burning on the Left," in Human Events, September 2, 1953.

As noted above, only a few books, some of them of dubious value, have been taken away from the very small American occupation forces residing abroad, and a handful of hoped-for foreign readers. The totalitarian liberals, in contrast, have done their best to prevent all books which tell the truth about American foreign policy since 1937 from even being printed here in our own country. They would have succeeded completely had not we possessed three small but courageous publishing houses that dared to defy the "historical blackout." Those books which have appeared have been almost uniformly ignored or smeared by the totalitarian liberals.

The early phases of this attempt to keep the American people in ignorance about the most important subject in our public life today were described by Dr. John H. Sachs in his brochure on "Hatchet Men," (1948) and by Oswald Garrison Villard in his article on "Book Burning— U.S. A. Style," in The Progressive, April 28, 1947. I have told the story in full in my lengthy brochure on "The Struggle Against the Historical Blackout," and in the first chapter of the Symposium on Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace (1953).

In this way, the totalitarian liberals, who are now raising such a rumpus about taking a handful of books away from a few Americans and Europeans in foreign lands, have done all in their power to prevent the tens of millions of American readers here at home from getting any books at all which deal honestly with our foreign policy in the last fifteen years. When they have not been able to prevent the publication of such books they have done what they could to discourage the more than 10,000 American public libraries from buying them, and with much success, as several sampling investigations have demonstrated. This story is told in part by Oliver Carlson in his article on "A Slanted Guide to Library Selections," in The Freeman, January 12, 1952, and by Gomer Barth in another article in The Freeman (May 19, 1952) on "The Libraries Buy Propaganda." In short, while the recent "book burning" has removed only a limited number of books from a few foreign libraries, the liberals have done everything they could to keep all honest books on recent world history from getting into our own libraries here at home.

The men in American public life today who are branded by the liberals as "book burners," seek at the worst only to remove from a few foreign libraries books which have actually been published and have already secured wide circulation at home, due to the notorious system of favoritism in book reviewing and book club selection which has been current here for years. But the interventionist and totalitarian liberals have sought, and generally succeeded, in figuratively "burning" the books which oppose their dogmas in manuscript, before they can even secure publication. Publishers have been so intimidated that they do not dare to bring out anti-interventionist books. Not one large commercial publishing house has issued an anti-interventionist book since the second World War. Such books of this type as have been published, mainly as the result of the courage of these three previously mentioned small, patriotic publishing firms, have, so far as the interventionist liberals could bring it about, been kept out of our public libraries and off the counters of our book stores.

The hostile attitude of totalitarian liberals toward books which have told the truth about our foreign policy was well illustrated by the action of Lewis Mumford, who heatedly resigned from the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1948 when this august organization awarded a Gold Medal to the late Charles Austin Beard for producing the best historical work by an American in the preceding decade.

The case of Lewis Mumford, in the 1920's a typical liberal supporter of neutrality, disarmament and peace, is a good example of the mental confusion of the interventionist liberals. His book, Men Must Act (1939), was a frantic appeal for American intervention against the Nazi menace. After the war, he apparently became fearful of the mental intimidation which might result from a permanent war scare. He wrote a splendid article in Air Affairs, March, 1947, on the eve of the Cold War, in which he cogently predicted that, even if we did not wage a third world war with atomic weapons, the fear of such a war might force upon us a type of life and regimentation which would be little better than barbarism. Yet, he continued to support the globaloney without which a cold war and the resulting cultural regimentation would be quite impossible. Mumford thus outdid the "double thinking" described by Orwell and gave us an imposing example of "triple-think."

An equally good performance was turned in by Quincy Wright in his address of welcome at the Spring Meeting of the American Association of University Professors in Chicago, March, 1953. After condemning isolationism (i.e. neutrality) as one of "the worst aspects of American society," Wright proceeded to a most realistic and able analysis of the ways in which a garrison state menaces liberty, social justice, and all other social decencies. Then he wound up with a plea for globaloney and American world leadership which have been almost solely responsible for such steps as have been taken to transform us into a garrison state.

While we are on the subject of totalitarian liberals and the loss of good books, we may well refer to one matter of which few Americans are at all aware, save for the authors who have suffered personally. Much has justly been made of Hitler's real "book burnings," but the Fuehrer at his worst made no such inroads upon the availability of important books as did Mr. Roosevelt and his liberal associates during the second World War.

A government order was sent out directing the melting of the plates of books which had not been reprinted in the recent past. This was an especially unfair directive, since, on account of the shortage of materials and high costs, many books which would normally have been reprinted were not continued in print during the war. This was even true of substantial textbooks for which the demand was lessened on account of the diversion of most college students into some form of war service. The plates of the large two-volume book I wrote with Professor Howard Becker on Social Thought from Lore to Science (1938) were reluctantly melted by the publisher. The permanent value of the book, generally regarded as the most complete and indispensable work on the subject in any language, was attested by the fact that it was recently reprinted at relatively great expense. Indeed, the plates of virtually every book I had ever written before 1941 were melted, including those of my History of Western Civilization, which was described by no less an authority than Professor Preserved Smith as "unquestionably the masterpiece of the new history." Other authors suffered proportionately.

It is literally true that, of all the books in print in 1940, almost none are now available at the publishers save for the Bible, some dictionaries and encyclopedias, a few classics, and textbooks so popular that they were reprinted in wartime. There was no need whatever for this absurd order. The metal derived from the melting of these plates did not amount to one ten-millionth part of that dumped into the Pacific Ocean or allowed to rust in our deserts after the war.

I endeavored to persuade Frederick Lewis Allen to have an able writer on Harper's staff expose this scandal in an article in Harper's Magazine. He replied, belittling the irreparable scholarly and literary loss, and, however incredible it may seem, he was supported by some of the top men in the publishing department of Harper and Brothers. The desire of the liberals to protect the Roosevelt myth in all its aspects seemed to outweigh loyalty even to the interests of the publishing industry and the reading rights of the American public. Yet, only the other day, I received a pamphlet entitled "The Freedom to Read," urging publishers and librarians to resist book burning and book branding. One of the signers was Cass Canfield, Chairman of the Board of Harper and Brothers, a great publishing house which has surely done all it could to see to it that the public will not have any "freedom to read" revisionist books.