Archive for the ‘Whitney’s Post’ Category

You’ve Got to Fight for Your Right to Read

In Whitney's Post on September 20, 2010 at 11:25 pm

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.”

–          Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.

As long as there have been books, there have been those who oppose them. Fortunately, along with this opposition comes an equally strong, if not stronger, defense. This defense for intellectual freedom is not only strong, but proud. Librarians and readers alike celebrate intellectual freedom every year in the form of Banned Books Week. As this year’s Banned Books Week approaches (September 25 – October 2), I’ve decided to delve into the history of the event and its importance.

Due to a large increase in the number of books challenged in 1982, Banned Books Week was launched by librarian and former director of ALA’s Office for Intellectual Freedom, Judith Krug.  Banned Books Week is a celebration of Intellectual Freedom, the First Amendment, and our rights as Americans to read what we want, no matter how controversial. All viewpoints are supported by BBW, even those that aren’t popular or “normal.” No matter how unorthodox an opinion is, we have a right to access, and form our own opinion, about it. Banned Books Week is not only a celebration of books, but of the human right to knowledge and information.

According to the ALA, the top three reasons cited by the Office of Intellectual Freedom for challenging books are: the material is considered “sexually explicit,” the material contained “offensive language,” or the material was thought to be “unsuited to any age group.” Books commonly challenged for these reasons include The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs. A more thorough list of recently challenged or banned books is available here. When a book is challenged, who comes to its rescue? Luckily, we have librarians, teachers, parents, and booksellers to fight for our right to read. These same librarians, teachers, parents, and booksellers use BBW to teach the “importance of our First Amendment rights and the power of literature.”

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association; American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression; the American Library Association; American Society of Journalists and Authors; Association of American Publishers; and the National Association of College Stores.  It is endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. Amnesty International also uses Banned Books Week to draw “attention to the plight of individuals who are persecuted because of the writings that they produce, circulate or read.” They focus on writers and journalists who have been killed or imprisoned for their work, including Rwandan journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage, who was killed in June and Iranian journalist Hengameh Shahidi, who is currently serving a six year prison sentence.


“About Banned & Challenged Books.” Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/aboutbannedbooks/index.cfm. September 20, 2010.

“Banned Books Week 2010.” Retrieved from http://www.amnestyusa.org/events/banned-books-week/page.do?id=1721019. September 20, 2010.

“Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read.” Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/ala/issuesadvocacy/banned/bannedbooksweek/index.cfm. September 20, 2010.

“Info: Banned Books Week.” Retrieved from http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/info.html. September 20, 2010.

Samuels, Dorothy. “Judith Krug.” Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/15/opinion/15wed4.html?_r=1. September 20, 2010.

Jean Leonard Rugambage, who was killed in June and Iranian journalist Hengameh Shahidi who is currently serving a six year sentence in prison.


Operation Dark Heart: The Pentagon’s Dirty Little Secrets

In Whitney's Post on September 16, 2010 at 2:57 am

Before its official release, Anthony Shaffer’s war memoir, Operation Dark Heart, had already sold 10,000 copies. But rather than being read by the people of America, the books have been destroyed by the Pentagon. Shaffer was an intelligence operative in Afghanistan during the U.S. Army’s pursuit of al-Qaida and the Taliban in 2003. His book describes the operations that took place in the Army at that time, including some of his own “unorthodox” behavior.

Shaffer was assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency while he was in Afghanistan and his book gives names of other U.S. intelligence officers he worked with, as well as descriptions of operations that the government would like to keep under wraps.

Pentagon officials claim that Shaffer did not abide by publishing guidelines set by the Defense Intelligence Agency, some of which may ask that a book be approved by more than one government agency.  However, Shaffer’s lawyer, Mark Zaid, says that it wasn’t until May of this year that the DIA requested to review the book.  Upon finishing their review, 10,000 copies of Operation Dark Heart had already been printed and the DIA had found some 200 passages deemed to reveal classified information. Knowing that the books had already been printed, the DIA contacted the publisher and offered to purchase the entire first printing of the book. A revised and Pentagon-friendly update of Shaffer’s book will be released September 24th, since the author has agreed to take out portions of the book that the Pentagon believed could affect national security.

Those who attempt to purchase the book on Amazon find the following message at the top of the book’s page:

Important Message for Customers
On Friday, August 13, 2010, just as St. Martin’s Press was readying its initial shipment of Operation Dark Heart, the Department of Defense expressed concern that its publication could cause damage to U.S. national security. The publication of the initial edition was canceled. However, after consulting with the author, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, St. Martin’s Press agreed to incorporate some of the government’s changes, which includes redacting classified text, into a revised edition, which is releasing on September 24.

According to the New York Times, this may be the first time that an agency attempted to dispose of material that was already printed. Although the Pentagon has already bought the first printing of the Operation Dark Heart, they did not act before “several dozen” copies of the original book had been given to reviewers. The New York Times itself has already purchased a copy. While most readers may not see an unedited version of the book themselves, it’s only a matter of time before the information reaches the public. As Mark Zaid said, “It probably would have made a lot more sense to never do anything, and nobody would have been the wiser. Fewer people would have read the book, and most of those people would have been inside the government, or people who already knew this stuff. Now, the government has highlighted that there’s something in this book that everyone wants to see.”


Amazon.com. Operation Dark Heart. http://www.amazon.com/Operation-Dark-Heart-Frontlines-Afghanistan/dp/0312612176/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1284605154&sr=8-1.

Gjelten, Tom. “Pentagon Seeks To Buy Up Copies Of Afghan War Book.” September 10, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129780876.

Shane, Scott. “Pentagon Plan: Buying Books to Keep Secrets.” September 9, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/10/us/10books.html.

Smith, Sandy. “Pentagon censorship attempt backfires.” September 11, 2010. Retrieved from http://www.huliq.com/8738/pentagon-censorship-attempt-backfires.