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27 September 2013
I'd be willling to bet that almost everyone reading this has either read the book, watched the movie, or at least knows that the temperature to burn books is 451 degrees Fahrenheit.
Didn't we all read the book when it was published in 1953? Along with "Brave New World" and other popular science fictions works of the day.
I remember being shocked that people could even think of burning books. And yet that was the rule, destroy the books and destroy the culture. Yet "Fahrenheit 451" proved that a people's love of the material in books could not be killed. A cult formed where people memorized their favorite book and then could tell it to others, and could teach it to a young person who would carry on that tradition into the future. There might not be paper books, but there were living books.
I thought about that, on this "banned book week," when I was reading "Babi Yar" at Logos the other day. I started the book when we were on our trip and it is a fascinating account by A. Anatoli (Kuznetsov), who was a kid in 1941 and who witnessed, and lived through, the atrocities of that period in Kiev.
The book was first published in 1966 in a highly redacted version, with huge swaths of material removed by the Soviets. Following Kuznetsov's defection to Britain, the complete version was published in 1970. In the complete version, the Soviet cuts have been restored and are printed in bold, so you can see what they wanted removed.
We are familiar with the worst excesses of German atrocities, seen in the concentration camps, and recounted in the Holocaust museums. Kuznetsov tells of other atrocities that we may not have heard of. Sixty eight thousand men were killed in the camp Darnitsa. In writing his book, Kuznetsov searched to find out what happened to those who ran that camp and discovered there were no Nuremberg trials for them. They apparently just got away with it.
Not only Jews were killed at BabiYar, but it became an all-purpose killing field, for anybody the Germans felt needed to be killed. The patients in a large mental hospital nearby were all killed, and by that time the citizens of Kiev didn't even notice. They were so used to the sound of gunfire along the edges of BabiYar.
They also got rid of all the books. Libraries, schools, and even homes were looted and books were tossed out into the rain, or burned. It got me wondering about book burnings and how common they were.
It turns out that book burning has a long history, starting in the 7th century BC. Whenever someone came to power, it appears that one of the important things to do is to get rid of any printed material that is against the teachings of whoever is the current ruling faction.
Wikipedia has a list of "notable book burnings" through history, some 140 from Zoroastrian scriptures, burned by Alexander the Great through non-Catholic books, burned by Torquemada in the 1400s, to Martin Luther burning theological books by Angelo Carletti, all the way up to Harry Potter book burnings in New Mexico and South Carolina, and Qu'ran burnings in Florida in 2010.
Whole libraries have been destroyed. In 2011 protesters in Egypt burned a library in Cairo, destroying thousands of rare books, journals and writings worth tens of millions of dollars, and many items considered priceless.
In 206 BC, Xiang Yu, rebelling against emperor Qin Er Shi, led his troops into Xianyang. He ordered the destruction of the Epang Palace by fire. (Qin Shi Huang had ordered the burning of books and burying of scholars earlier.)
And then there is the famous burning of the Library of Alexandria in about 48 BC, which became a symbol of "knowledge and culture destroyed."
Books are dangerous things. The next time you're reading "Hop on Pop" to a grandchild, beware of the implications...the child may actually start jumping up and down on Daddy.
In his recent ridiculously useless filibuster against the implementation of Obamacare, Senator Cruz read from Dr. Seuss' "Green Eggs and Ham." I wonder if he listened to the story. It's the story of a cat who states categorically that he does NOT like green eggs and ham, though he has never tried it. They keep telling him that if he would just give it a try, he might like it. But throughout the book he rants and raves about how he will not try it, he knows he's going to hate it. But in the end, when he actually tries green eggs and ham, he discovers that he absolutely loves it.
Perhaps a bad book choice for Cruz. Maybe he should have burned the book instead.
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