Letter to the Editor: Burning books causes wrong kind of attention

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    Dear Editor,

    On June 28, a group of BYU students met to express their opposition to Provo City’s dance ordinances by staging a neighborhood book burning.

    Students of history can’t help but associate this barbarous act with one of the most disturbing images of Nazi Germany, the 1933 burning of library books by university students in Berlin (a scene recreated by Steven Spielberg in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade).

    The Nazi book burning ultimately fulfilled the prophecy of German poet Heinrich Heine (written 100 years before Hitler): “When one burns books, one will soon burn people.” The Provo book burning is a shame to the university and to the entire community.

    How ironic that Provo opens a new library around the same time that university students are torching books just up the street.

    I want to be generous to these students, however. They are no Nazis. In fact, through some kind of bizarre logic, they see this ignoble dead as an attack on “fascism” and a defense of the First Amendment. But they have demonstrated themselves to be immature, ignorant, emotionally overwrought, lacking in perspective, and possessed with a misguided sense of justice.

    They argued that the book burning was just a way to bring attention to their cause. Unfortunately, it brought the wrong kind of attention.

    When Provo voters go to the polls in the nest city election, will they sympathize with students who want to have neighborhood dances and parties, or will they remember BYU students tossing books on the pyre?

    What comes next? Burning the American flag? Spray painting swastikas around the neighborhood? Having an even larger book burning?

    Some nameless students uninvolved with the protest tried to rescue books from the flames. They deserve our praise. Standing up for what is right is a truly heroic act.

    The book burners deserve our condemnations for desecrating what the university stands for.

    John Milton wrote, “he who destroys a good book, kills Reson itself, kills the Image of God.” Regardless of how citizens fell about the Provo City dance ordinance, we should unite our voices in denouncing such means of protesting it and demand an apology.

    But what is even more disturbing than the image of burning books are the reasons these students gave to justify themselves. Neil Walton, one of the sponsors of the event, stated that “there are a lot of books just floating around,” books that “people can’t sell back to the bookstore.”

    Apparently, if a book can’t bring in a few dollars, it’s worthless. Rachel Kirkland said that she burned a book on political theory because she personally disagreed with the views of the authors.

    Ironically enough, Kirkland is a major in political science, someone who should certainly know better. This callous disregard for books by university students is chilling.

    These comments recall Neil Postman’s comment that we are entering a time when “there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.”

    What should these students have done? First of all, they should have exhausted all legal and political means of answering Provo City’s ordinance.

    If this failed and they still wanted to protest, they could follow the example of Martin Luther King, Ghandi, or Henry David Thoreau: civil disobedience.

    Hold a dance – a big one. And then dare Provo City to do anything about it.

    This act may have brought the right kind of attention to their cause. I would also recommend that these students read books instead of burning them. They might begin with Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.

    Gary Hatch

    American Fork, Utah

    Associate Professor of English

    Brigham Young University

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