Some of the greatest books of our time have had a history of being forbidden, Catcher in the Rye, Alice in Wonderland, and Catch-22 among others. They were considered explicit in nature, as they embraced sin: smoking and taking drugs, or even worse, challenging government authority. But in the long run, once these books were published, they were revolutionizing. Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield has become an emblem for teenage angst and rebellion, and he made us realize just how fragile and precious childhood innocence really is. And Captain John Yossarian of Catch-22 showed us just how utterly ridiculous and destructive war is by satirizing it.
Recently, the German state of Bavaria decided to put a book that people, Germans in particular, have tried their hardest to efface from the collective consciousness. Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf may be back in print, folks. If it does, it will be the first time since World War II that the book is being published; copyright laws have kept it away from German readers until now. It is widely available in the United States and the U.K. but the state of Bavaria has full control of the book until 2015, when the copyright will expire. Right now however, a Munich historian by the name of Horst Möller, has asked that an annoted version of Mein Kampf be released in order to give a better understanding of the book. You know, because it didn’t have a bad enough rep, so now it might be nice to ‘explain’ Hitler’s motives? On the other hand though, an academic version would stand out among the many sensationalist adaptations of Mein Kampf which are very likely to surface once copyright protection has been lifted.
There is, and has been, much debate about whether the book should be banned or not. Interestingly enough, Mein Kampf has never been banned in Germany. But since the state of Bavaria owns the copyright, it has simply refused to publish it, and it has even legally pursued countries that have tried to, like Poland in 2005, and Sweden in 1992. It isn’t just about the book’s message, but ultimately a question of protecting Germany’s image.
But keeping Mein Kampf away from readers does not efface World War II, or Neo-Nazism. Jewish groups and the German population alike are outraged at the possibility of it ever re-surfacing, but when you think about it, why? How much more harm can it do? Does banning a book really justify its evil means? Any human being endowed with heart and intellect already knows that Hitler was very, very wrong, and perhaps we should try accepting the fact that this book exists instead of living in perpetual ignorance of it. It is part of German history, and the world’s history. Publishing Mein Kampf is by no means raising a monument of Hitler, but rather bringing back awareness of just how much hatred can one being hold for humanity, and how hard we should work to prevent it. The fact that the book is unreadable is a whole other issue, and any sensible human being knows how wrong Hitler was. The issue at stake is whether the government has the right to judge readers as incapable of handling it, and to decide that a book like this is ultimately better off being in the vaults.There is the concern that a lot of Holocaust survivors are still alive, and that their feelings would be hurt. But honestly, treating people as if they were children is not helping future generations learn what the Holocaust really was. Decades from now, just how fresh would the memory be, when there are no grandparents to tell their stories of courage and survival? Would a paragraph about what Mein Kampf was in some history book suffice?
Banning a book is always wrong, in my opinion. It means someone somewhere decided for me whether I should read this or not. Sometimes it’s something as trivial as Alice in Wonderland which is now considered a children’s book, and other times it’s something truly monstrous like Mein Kampf. But I believe I have the capacity to make that judgment.