Forbidden Books in American Public Libraries, 1876-1939: A Study in Cultural Change

By Evelyn Geller | Go to book overview

9.
WAR AND PEACE: 1914-1922

"Once lead this people into war, and they'll forget there was ever such a thing as tolerance. To fight you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of ruthless brutality will enter into every fiber of our national life, infecting Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, the man in the street."

--Attributed to Woodrow Wilson.

In World War I, a deepening and ugly intolerance spread to attacks on library collections, rendering suspect pacifist and Socialist works and even scholarship that questioned the motives of the war. Many librarians acquiesced willingly, even eagerly, in this patriotic zeal. Putting the role of citizen above that of the professional, putting advocacy above their traditional neutrality, they happily censored their libraries and helped prepare lists of prohibited books. Others, however, to protect their collections, began to develop an ideology of freedom, resorting, for the first time, to First Amendment principles. Ironically, the defense of freedom itself cast into relief the rules of censorship that governed library service, norms that were not yet questioned.


ADVOCACY

By 1914, librarians saw themselves as part of an international community engaged, along with scholars, in the cooperative pursuit of knowledge and the "free trade" of ideas. Their internationalism was underscored at professional meetings and was supported by the surrounding culture--by Woodrow Wilson's vision of international harmony, reflected in his "conciliation" treaties with thirty countries; by Carnegie's Endowment for International Peace; by the peace movement, whose literature Nicholas Murray Butler and other intellectuals discussed with librarians in November 1912. That heyday of tolerance was short lived.1

As the European war erupted, the first response was fear and dismay at projects interrupted abroad, then concern with continuity in the

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