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Radical Students Want to Ban Books

I hope all of you who celebrated Christmas had a merry one, and that the rest of you had an enjoyable day off.

College students are often  excitable, enthusiastic, engaged, idealistic, and hopelessly naive, which is what makes them so great and occasionally so annoying. People in or barely out of their teens, with relatively little education or experience of the world, believe that reading a few websites or books gives them the authority to teach everyone else how the world really works.

It’s cute until it’s not.

Take a look at this article about a new radical student group at GWU, the “Internationalist Students’ Front.” That name alone is soooo 1930s, and in the late 1930s would have probably attracted the sort of students who were anti-war right up until Hitler broke the Nazi-Soviet pact.

The group, according to the article, “aims to oppose nationalism across the world and contest popular narratives about U.S. foreign policy.”

Opposing nationalism across the world seems like the kind of thing a small student group at one university would be very successful at if the world were completely different than it is.

They plan to “host teach-ins about the consequences of fascism and advocate internationalism, a political ideology similar to socialism that believes all people should unite to advance common interests.”

Sounds like they’re going to have a lot of fun with each other while the rest of the students politely ignore them to get on with the business of schooling.

Supposedly, a “main tenet of internationalism is believing all people are equal,” which is a statement so meaningless or demonstrably false only an idealistic college student could believe it.

They’re not content with just teach-ins, though. They also want to corrupt the intellectual integrity of the university’s library collection and frustrate the aims of education at a research university.

Zhang said the organization plans to host a memorial event either this month or next for those who died in the Nanjing Massacre, an early-20th century mass murder of about 300,000 Chinese citizens by Japanese troops during World War II. He said the organization also plans to circulate a petition and deliver a letter to Gelman Library demanding that two books – one of which is called “The Alleged ‘Nanking Massacre’: Japan’s Rebuttal to China’s Forged Claims” – written by members of the Japanese far-right denying the occurrence of the massacre be taken down or labeled as propaganda.

That’s the kind of thing fanatics and ideologues do, whether they’re fascists or communists. They like to ban books and impose their ideology everywhere. If they want to teach about the consequences of fascism, they should discuss book banning.

Let’s consider just how ridiculous that petition will be. Most importantly, GWU is a research university, and research university libraries do their best not to reflect a particular political ideology. 

The book in question might be ridiculous, but in research terms it’s important. It provides the perspective of the perpetrators of the Nanking Massacre. You can’t understand the Nanking Massacre without understanding the perpetrators’ motivation.

I’m sure the students of the Internationalist Students’ Front wouldn’t agree. Just like they believe the know the truth about politics, but probably couldn’t begin to articulate the rationales of people who disagree with them. Why bother to understand “the enemy,” after all?

What about the other suggestion, labeling the book as propaganda?

For one, doing that for one or two books would be ridiculous. There would have to be a policy, which means there would have to be people deciding what is propaganda or not.

The library couldn’t let groups of fanatical students do that, so it means yet another job librarians would have to take on.

Once there’s a policy, it can’t stop with one or two books some meddlesome busybodies in a student group happen not to like. It would have to be applied library-wide.

First on the list might be one of the most effective pieces of propaganda ever written, the Communist Manifesto. Great book, pure propaganda. Add to that every work on Marxism by Marxists, because they’re all propaganda.

We’d of course have to add to that any book by “internationalists” advocating internationalism as opposed to scholarly studies of internationalism. Pure propaganda. Despite what the ISF would have us believe, internationalism isn’t some truth of politics, but an ideology with an agenda.

We’d also have to add all the books on fascism by fascists, conservatives by conservatives, liberalism by liberals, socialism by socialists, etc.

Then we get into the religious literature. Whatever else they might be, the New Testament is propaganda for Christianity, the Koran for Islam, etc.

Books advocating gay rights? Often propaganda. Maybe they could get a pink triangle on them.

Do we ban all these books, or just label them as propaganda? What a silly choice.

What’s ironic about this call for banning or labeling is that it comes from students who believe themselves to be educated.

However, it’s a mark of educated people that they can discern propaganda when they see it, because they have acquired sufficient knowledge of an area of study. Nobody is going to be tricked by these books.

Educated people know that the Communist Manifesto, Mein Kamph, or books on the Rape of Nanking by right-wing nationalist Japanese writers are propaganda.

Educated people know that reading a book isn’t the same as believing in a book.

That’s why plenty of people who aren’t fascists read books on fascism, or who aren’t Muslims read the Koran, or who aren’t socialists read books on socialism. They don’t read books to agree with them, but to learn something about the world from them.

Ideologues, possibly because of their own limited knowledge, believe that everyone else’s access to knowledge should be limited as well.

And they’re the sort of people who might organize teach-ins about fascism without having read any actual fascists to try to understand why someone might adopt that ideology. It’s only fair, I guess, because fascists would do the same.

Instead of trying to block up the fountain of knowledge that is the library, the students should stick to their own propaganda agenda. That way, everyone might learn something, and there’s no harm to the possibility of education in a free society.



  1. Suzanne Tecza says:

    No book should ever be banned, period!

  2. After reading this, I have to wonder why Library Journal thinks you deserve a platform to voice your ideas at all.

  3. You just wrote an entire article about the dangers of not reading and understanding why “someone might adopt that ideology” while dismissing every single thing Marx wrote as ‘propaganda’? You don’t see the contradiction and ignorance here? Did you even contact the student group to speak with them?

    • Communism — bad. Capitalism — good. Me no read Marx cause humans not ever able to be fair. They will always feather their own nest. I did read Animal Farm. No Utopias on this earth and certainly non dreamed up by 18 year-old college students who don’t know s**t from apple butter.

    • AL did list a lot more things that would be labeled as propaganda…

    • Marx wrote more than The Communist Manifesto. Which IS propaganda. That was the whole point, he was trying to get people on board for the revolution. “Propaganda” isn’t book herpes, it’s one of the oldest literary traditions, right alongside and often incorporating everything from epic verse to satire.

  4. I’m not sure if mud fence is replying to me but the intellectual rigor here is astounding.

    For anyone on here that enjoys reading and learning, I highly suggest you take on Marx’s ‘Capital’ as it is a classic and absolutely essential to understanding the nature of capitalism. If you have kneejerk reactions to hot topic works of literature, then maybe you shouldn’t be a librarian.

    And yes, for anti-intellectual ‘the both-sides-ism’, I’ve read Mein Kampf. Its mainly ranting about Jewish people being subhuman. Marx describes the labor theory of value. Its apples and oranges and good for these students taking capitalism seriously and trying to fight back. *Most* librarians have your back in the fight against ignorance and exploitation.

    • Sure, Trevor, Mein Kampf is “mainly ranting about Jewish people being subhuman,” but have you tried the recipe in the appendix for spaetzle? Worth getting to the end.

    • anonymous coward says:

      To think that reading Mein Kampf and Capital means you have read both sides is… well… a great example of a failure of thought.

  5. Harukogirl says:


    “Propaganda: spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person”

    So, yes, books by Marx would be considered Marxist propaganda, by dictionary definition. That is AL’s point – dismissing and labeling something merely because it could be considered propaganda is fascist.

  6. somebody’s butt hurt. i think the point was that banning books because of opinions is kind of facist. and that in some people’s opinions, promoting anything can be labeled propaganda. also, i’m pretty sure this is an editorial, sooo…..

  7. Brilliant. Free speech faces dangers from both the left and the right.

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