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by on April 19, 2023


by Marco M. Pardi

The weapon of the dictator is not so much propaganda as censorship.” Terence H. Qualter Introduction to Propaganda and Psychological Warfare. 1962

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Those of you who have been keeping up with the news have likely seen mention of the spate of book banning and even attempts to defund libraries going on in Republican ruled states. Some people have expressed surprise. I’m surprised, but not by these actions. I’m surprised that some people seem to not know this has been going on for many decades. The Comstock Act of March 3, 1873 banned, among other things, material on sex education, and the knowing mailing or delivering of “any drug, medicine, article, or thing designed, adapted or intended for producing abortion”. Most of the provisions of the act were struck down by 1959 or before, but this one remains. It forms the purported legal basis of the decision made by Federal Judge Kacsmaryk to ban the “abortion pill”. However, it is immediately obvious that this “judge” imposed his religious/non-science views on the women of America.

I first took serious interest in my national/social surroundings in the very early 1950’s. Undoubtedly, this was a response to where I had lived before. But this quickly developing interest provided me with the evidence to support the later statement, “Those who look at the 1950’s as the ‘Good Old Days’ simply weren’t there.”

Of course, I should say here that there were people of that era who truly did enjoy the United States they were ardently fashioning. And again, only decades later did I come to understand the foundation from which these people sprang. Why decades later? Simply because the films, including thousands of newsreels, of their activities in the 1930’s and early 1940’s were securely hidden away. And simply because the textbooks we children were required to read made absolutely no mention of these activities in recent American history. Why no mention? Simply because for decades Texas has been the largest state market for K-12 textbooks. Publishers cannot afford to tailor textbook publication to the values of individual states, so they heed the values of the largest market. Realizing this, the Republican/Evangelical movement in Texas infiltrated its ardent members onto the statewide board which approves textbook selection and the rest of the states had to accept the Texas approved books. Even the political movements and activities of the pre-war era were whited out.

To what am I referring? The very well structured and populated American Nazi Party. Only in recent years (during the Obama administration) have I seen the newsreels (quite sympathetic) of the mass rallies filling Madison Square Garden and other large venues with brown shirt uniformed men and women surrounded by all the accouterments of the Nazi Party in Germany at the time. Only in recent years have I read the hundreds of pages of historical analyses of this large movement, including major newspaper editorials, transcripts of speeches given by leading figures in American industry and “conservative” politics, and sources from which to buy the uniforms, flags, and paraphernalia indistinguishable from that seen on the streets and meeting halls of Nazi Germany. Only in recent years have I seen the documentation of what were then broad efforts to ban certain books, silence particular authors, subvert the democratic foundation of America, and arrest dissenters. Large refugee ships, crowded with European Jews, dissenters, and anyone deemed “subhuman” by the Nazis sailed into New York harbor, passing the Statue of Liberty welcoming them, only to be turned back to return to the fate awaiting them in Europe.

But only a few years into the amazing growth of the malignant tumor called the American Nazi Party the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. War was reluctantly declared on the Axis Powers – Germany, Italy, and Japan. Like roaches and rats caught suddenly in the light the American Nazis scurried into darkness, changed their clothes, and re-emerged into American everyday life, in offices, factories, and the halls of Congress. And who would today assume that along with their clothes they changed their minds? Who would today assume they counseled their children to reject the errors, the hatreds, the violence they had so recently upheld? Or did they bide their time.

After the war in Europe was “officially” over the reprisals began with fury in the formerly occupied countries. The Germans, well deserving the appellation they were given in the previous war – Huns, had murdered, robbed, raped and destroyed everyone and everything in their paths as they tried to retreat. Collaborators, women who sold themselves to Germans, and sympathizers were dragged out and beaten, heads shaved, sometimes killed. And this went on for months. But were there such actions in the United States? Not that I can find.

No, the United States quickly and effectively pivoted away from attention to Fascism, in its Italian origins or its German manifestation, and toward Communism, or what was called Communism. While some may think this was considered a new threat, the “Red Scare” actually arose in the fierce and murderous anti-union movement especially as it arose in the 1920’s. But the new incarnation in the 1940’s and especially 1950’s carried a new and additional raison d’etre: the position that one’s sexual preferences might open one to blackmail, thereby becoming a security risk. The “Lavender Scare” was born; homosexuality in any form was to be stamped out. Authority for this was derived from the 1952 American Psychiatric Association classification of homosexuality as a mental illness, a “sociopathic personality disorder”. J. Edgar Hoover, the blatantly Fascist FBI Director, moved quickly to support the severely alcohol impaired U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy (McCarthy died of alcoholism) in conflating Communism and homosexuality into a mortal risk to the American way of life. McCarthy hired the now infamous attorney Roy Cohn, who then added a younger attorney, G. David Schine to the team and the “UnAmerican Activities Committee” was off and running, destroying countless lives. Most Americans are familiar with the activities of Senator McCarthy. Less well known are his actions done through his attorneys, Cohn and Schine. On his orders, in April 1953 they entered the Amerika Haus in Frankfurt, Germany, a very well received meeting place for Germans and Americans to share research, books, and films. In reviewing the titles of the books, magazines, and films Cohn and Schine declared the majority to be propaganda favoring Communism and/or of prurient interest. On their orders over 30,000 books and magazines were pulled from shelves and stored in the basement; what could not be stored was burned. A deja vu image of Nazi Germany.

Some of the media bans during the 1950’s backfired amusingly. I was raised in an extreme Roman Catholic household and so had to attend Sunday Mass. The few portions then in English (I preferred the Latin) included the reading of bans; the priest would open a notebook and read off the titles of books and films we were banned from reading or viewing on pain of mortal sin, which could land you in Hell, never to eat ice cream again. But eventually I was enrolled in a private boarding prep school run by the Brothers of the Holy Cross. Well, not all of the boys were Catholic, at least not extreme Catholic. And so I came into possession of a paperback book entitled Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

The first thing I noticed was the banner across the cover, BANNED IN BOSTON. I wondered how they could do that. Sound trucks driving slowly through neighborhoods? Police raids on bookstores and libraries? I never got that answer, but I did find that such a banner wildly boosted book sales across the nation. Maybe one day I could write something banned in Boston.

But the strangest episode that happened to me involving bans occurred in early 1972. In response to a wave of sexually explicit materials, including films such as Deep Throat, communities across the country were devising “community standards” as a means of defining pornography. I was on the faculty of a small state college, teaching Anthropology and nearing tenure. In fact, I was the only practicing Anthropologist in a very large and very conservative county.

An attorney came to my college office and informed me he had a client, the manager of a large truck stop in the county, who had been arrested for maintaining a selection of sexually explicit magazines in a curtained off room in his truck stop. Undercover Sheriff’s deputies had spent months visiting the book area before selecting a sample magazine and charging him with a felony. As part of his defense, proving the behaviors depicted did not violate or exceed community standards, the attorney was gathering “Expert Witnesses” including the chief of library acquisitions for the largest county library, a Psychologist in private practice in the county, and an Anthropologist – me. Although the college was a state institution the administration was openly fundamentalist, hard-core Christian. I would be risking my chance at tenure. So, of course I agreed to appear.

The trial, attended by a packed courtroom, lasted three full days, much of the first day taken up with jury selection until each side ran out of strikes. Each Expert Witness had been given a copy of the magazine to examine and the jury had also been awarded a copy. I was first up on the stand, facing prosecutors who seemed angrily embarrassed by their paltry credentials. Indeed, throughout the lengthy interrogation I waited for someone to ask the obvious: As a person who had only recently come to the county, how did I know anything about community standards? Shockingly, no one asked. Did they assume I spent my nights peeking in bedroom windows? Badgering people in grocery store waiting lines? Testing my students? (Ya’ll know how them co-eds go fer it)

The rest of the trial followed along the same lines but the prosecution seemed confident about something. The trial ended (I’m not joking) in a hung jury. Yes, a sex trial and a hung jury. Why? We later found that one older male had made it clear his “Christian faith” meant he would not look at the evidence but would convict simply on the charge. The state chose not to retry the time consuming and expensive case. And I got my tenure.

I’m not reflexively against bans. I am active in the efforts to ban assault style weapons. I’ve seen what they do. I’ve also seen the wreckage of humans using certain drugs. And, I am very active in seeking to ban people with a history of abusing non-human animals from ever being near them again. I can list a few other things.

But looking at the current wave of bans spreading across the so-called Red States it is clearly obvious these bans are driven by an ideological agenda I’ve seen before. And the fact that these bans are being successfully implemented speaks to the success of much earlier bans on information as cited above.


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  1. William Boyd permalink

    Thanks, Marco, for the essay. As you’ve done, we all need to call them out on their vile behaviors, then fight. BB


    • Thanks, Bill. It seems they are not responsive to being called out. Yet, more people are losing confidence in waging the fight through the ballot box alone. I don’t see a good outcome.


  2. Gary permalink

    Enjoyed this one – learned some new things.


  3. Tilly permalink

    The insidious undermining of public libraries & bans on literature are disturbing and book banning is one small step away from book burning as in “Farenheit 451″. We think ” that could never happen”, but that’s what I thought about many things that have in fact happened over the last few years. Restricting access to literature, or at least certain types of literature and information is yet another way to control people. Support your libraries & free access to books!!!


  4. Thank you, Tilly. As I hoped to point out in the post, I find the most insidious form of censorship is one which prevents the people from knowing something, such as an alternate view, even exists. That is precisely what has been done to generations of schoolchildren who have grown up never even knowing something was “banned” because they never knew it existed.


  5. Ray Rivers permalink

    Very timely – don’t say ‘gay’


    • Thanks, Ray. That mandate from the Florida governor seems to have struck a blow (pun intended) to that Christmas carol about “…now we don our gay apparel…”. What is gay apparel? Leather underpants with a hole in the back?

      I have a better idea: Don’t say Republican. As a portmanteau of Res – things, concerns and publica – of the people, it is quite clear the “Republicans” do not represent the social, medical, and economic concerns of the people.

      I keep waiting for the Republicans to be broadly held as objects of ridicule, but they haven’t gone far enough yet it seems.


  6. Dana permalink

    Marco, it’s incredible to think the same party banning books and (proven) life-saving, gender-affirming care, seems to be silent on banning child marriage in this country. As of today at least seven states do not have a minimum statutory age for child marriage. With “parental consent” and approval of the court, a lawful “caregiver” could marry off a child still in elementary school in states like California and West Virginia.

    And as we know many of those forced to marry as children, as I was, are from evangelical Christian homes – the same homes in which there are parents fervently working to ban and burn critical texts, literature, music, and film.


    • Thank you so very much, Dana. Yes, I have been examining this issue and taking action when possible. This illustrates the difficulty of writing a post like this; there are so many things I could have put in but didn’t want to turn off the reader. So I am tremendously grateful to you for posting your comment here.


  7. Interesting reflection Marco. The decisions made by the individuals in the position of authority reflect not only their personal beliefs but more likely the atmosphere of society at that time. Things change significantly throughout the decades. I find it interesting to look back at different time periods, at the societies at that time and the beliefs and attitudes. When I do this I can see the evolution, the good and the bad. I feel though, mostly it is for the better. My mind and heart can’t fathom the extreme accepted cruelty that used exist eg slavery, also the lack of things we take for granted like medicines and electricity.
    Moving forward to decisions made now for society, like back then, they will be made where we are in the evolution scale, hopefully that being on the good side.
    We will never have a perfect world, there will always be conflicts, changes, challenges, however that is what life is all about.
    I enjoy reading about your life’s perspectives and experiences Marco, your sharing of yourself this way is so inspiring to me, thank you 🙏🏻


    • Thank you, Julie. Your invocation of the concept of evolution is perfectly apt. Of course, when we look at the paleontology of evolution we find it is a blind process which has mostly led to dead ends. But as humans we have introduced a new confounder into the equation: Culture. And in this case we have allowed our misguided wants to become our needs. We have also devised ways to disguise past practices, such as the slavery you mention, while continuing them in forms justified by the belief that “the poor will always be with us”. And, as you well know, “good” and “bad” outcomes are judgments relevant only to the observer, not to the process of evolution itself. Still, I feel I see the arc of human evolution bending steeply toward its nadir, a not unusual outcome for a species in the overall history of things.

      I am glad you find my musings and recollections to be worthwhile. I enjoy your invariably upbeat adventures.


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