Hiding minds from the past is the route to tyranny and madness

The American Library Association has renamed its literary prize

This week the American Library Association renamed its literary award which for years has been named after Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the classic tale of American settlers The Little House on the Prairie.

It would seem that someone objected to the expression therein that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian!” Well, there goes my childhood then, no more cowboys and Indians, sorry “native Americans”.

No matter that when the expression is used it is challenged by another character who suggests that if the Indians were just left alone they’d be as peaceable as anyone else. Nope, that’s irrelevant.

What matters is that one sentence, taken out of context, might cause offence. 

Thus, a campaign was launched enabling a number of people to feel morally superior to us lesser humans who were not appalled at reading the phrase and eventually forcing the American Library Association to kneel before the altar of political correctness.

Personally, I see it as a splendid teaching opportunity, an opportunity to look at social attitudes at the time the book was set – the 19th century – and the time it was written, 1935.

But the American Library Association thought otherwise and hastily renamed its award the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

Nowadays we seem so afraid of causing offence that we self impose sanctions if books are deemed not sufficiently PC, not sufficiently anodyne to ensure that they do not offend anybody, bland in other words and certainly not challenging, we wouldn’t want people to be intellectually challenged, better to ensure just an “authorised” version of the world is reported.

Only totalitarian states seek to suppress books that do not conform: the Communists imprisoned authors, the Nazis burnt their books. Is this kind of moral censorship really so different?

Do we really want to commit books like The Little House on the Prairie to the flames because a few people might be offended? That way surely lies totalitarianism and madness.


  1. Yup, Big Brother is alive and well and currently residing in, well, everywhere really. Not of course, that any of his activities are new, or indeed the exclusive domain of what some currently refer to as the “PC Brigade.” After all, it’s the devil who has all the best tunes but it is rather amusing (or pathetic, depending on your point of view) to see how his musical notations are tweaked to suit modern tastes, social mores, or snowflake consciences.
    Cases in point. Apply your own judgment/prejudice and pick the bones out of these.

    Last week, Exeter University had to make a hand-wringing apology after an academic wrote “one should not let unique opportunities pass for the sake of a trifle” Motivational stuff and correctly attributed to one E. Rommel, of whom the academic had not heard. Shriek, horror and wobbles from the easily offended, as yer man turned out to be Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was arguably the best chap on the wrong side in WW2. My dad (an 8th Army veteran) would not have a word spoken against Rommel: a soldier whose fine reputation is based on being very good at his job, not slaughtering innocent civilians and whose enforced suicide was due to his anti-Hitler views.
    A pity then, that our Devonian academic didn’t trot out “an army marches on its stomach”, or “religion is what stops the poor from murdering the wealthy” or (outrageous, surely?) “a happy woman is a conquered woman.” All these and more from one N. Bonaparte who, for some reason, is never vilified, or shunned, by the PC Brigade, despite being a total despot and general bad guy.

    As Thomas Bowdler expurgated the works of Shakepeare, to align them to his view of Victorian values, so delicate 21st century eyes and (to a lesser extent ears) are being “protected” from part of our history by those who would censor it. Surely, if we don’t learn from history, are we not doomed to repeat it? So posited George Santayana and who’s to say that he was wrong?

    Personally, I like history and accept that if society wants to understand the subject, then it must be available to us on a Cromwellian “warts and all basis.” Some of our forebears’ words and deeds (eg. O Cromwell) are truly shocking to our 21st century sensitivities but I’d argue that this doesn’t give anyone the right to Bowdlerise the past. So to do cocoons us from the reality of the past and that is never a good idea.
    History tells us this.

  2. My recollection is that the “Dead Indian” comment was made by General Sherman, who was not given to being PC but as Rory Kehoe reminds us if you ignore history you are doomed to repeat it, I would also suggest that if you only have part of the story – Cromwell sans warts, if you like then learning from it becomes that much harder.


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