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The List: Burning thoughts and history

Members of the Hitler Youth are shown burning books in Salzburg, Austria, on April 30, 1938. (Associated Press)Members of the Hitler Youth are shown burning books in Salzburg, Austria, on April 30, 1938. (Associated Press)
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As pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center Church prepares for a Sept. 11 mass burning of the Koran in Gainesville, Fla., let's look at some other moments in history when man felt compelled to commit libricide by torching his written knowledge and cultural history.

  • The Mongol warlord Hulagu Khan's forces attacked Iraq back in 1258, and not only did they destroy the capital and kill upward of 1 million people, but they burned the Grand Library of Baghdad (aka House of Wisdom), containing a wealth of historical documents and invaluable books.
  • Author Salman Rushdie's famed 1988 novel, "The Satanic Verses," led to death threats and caused demonstrations in the streets of the United Kingdom by the Muslim population, with a number of book burnings reported.
  • John Lennon's declaration in 1966 that the Beatles had become "more popular than Jesus" sent off a shock wave in the U.S. and caused many a Beatle record to go up in smoke.
  • China's Emperor Qin Shi Huang ordered the burning of all books that did not align with his chancellor's school of philosophy back in 213 B.C. Oh yeah, and any dissenting scholars still dumb enough to be around were buried alive.
  • Comic books were an incendiary topic in the late 1940s and early 1950s, as Americans were convinced, with help from German-born psychiatrist Fredric Wertham, that pulp art was corrupting the country's youth. A famous bonfire comic burning in Spencer, W.V., in 1948 began the assault on the medium, and as laws restricting the colorful material were passed, so came more torchings.
  • Spanish conquistadors and priests in the 16th century kept busy between searching for gold and silver by destroying Mayan codices, irreplaceable hieroglyphic records of Mayan civilization.
  • On May 10, 1933, the German Students Association burned more than 25,000 "un-German" books, including volumes by authors Karl Marx, H.G. Wells and Sigmund Freud. In Berlin, 40,000 people gathered to hear Adolph Hitler's Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels declare, "Yes to decency and morality in family and state. I consign to the flames the writings of Heinrich Mann, Ernst Glaser, Erich Kastner." Welcome to the Third Reich.
  • Hogwarts' famed boy wizard was not welcome in Alamogordo, N.M., back in 2002. Pastor Jack D. Brock and members of his Christ Community Church burned Harry Potter books after the pastor said in a sermon, "Harry Potter is the devil, and he is destroying people." It was reported he had never read any of the novels but had researched the contents.
  • Helping to fuel the Sri Lankan civil war in 1981, government police officers and militia set fire to the legendary Jaffna Library. Losses to the 97,000-piece collection included one-of-a-kind Tamil religious books, irreplaceable newspapers and periodicals, medical texts written on palm leaves and volumes from Tamil philosophers.

Sources: New Yorker, Associated Press, numerous newspaper reports, World Book and Facts on File.

 

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