Comments on Censorship

The comments to my NPR essay Beyond Banned: Books That Survived the Censors ( came from readers of different generations and different countries.  In 500 words it was impossible to explore censorship in any depth, but even this short foray into the subject led to a few interesting discussions.

Even in this country, where freedom of speech is written into the Constitution, several correspondents expressed their concern about stealth censorship when “libraries and schools bow to small activist groups and second-guess themselves.”  This kind of censorship is often done under the guise of protection – from the offensive language, controversial ideas, or unsettling themes.  We’ve been repeatedly protected from the works of Mark Twain, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, and most recently, Mark Twain again.

One comment came from Russia.  “Probably it is the censors who should be blamed for the lack of moral scruples in Russia today,” the correspondent wrote.  “People were deprived of the words of truth, of the insights of artists, of the talent…  This is what censorship is about.”  What a fascinating and frightening thought: 70 years of totalitarian oppression – of censorship – has changed the people’s mindset and, as a result, the moral face of the entire nation.  It is true: the Russia of today is an immoral place.  Corruption and graft have sprouted through every level of the government, reaching down to each individual, like the tendrils of a poisonous plant.  As J.M. Coetzee observed, “People do not become better human beings by being degraded and oppressed.”  For 70 years, Soviet censors degraded and oppressed us, and this tragic legacy will forever stamp their guilt on the soul of our country.