Rewriting History: The Power of Censorship
The history of the world has undoubtedly been dominated by an endless struggle for power. However, after a brief glimpse into the pages of history it should not take long to realize that the trick to maintaining power lies in the control of information. Even the most fearsome military generals of the past acknowledge the power of the mind and ideas over lethal force. Former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin once said “… [Ideas] are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, then why should we let them have ideas.” Stalin’s quote personifies the main concept of this literature review which will be discussing the history of government censorship and its effects that are prudent today. Several tactics will be examined that relate to the commanding regime’s attempts at influencing the public with an array of propaganda. The main topic will cover the struggle of historians’ to accurately depict epic battles in Europe and Asia, to the conflicts in the deserts of the Middle East.
Some of the most interesting questions about censorship’s role in the power of the government are ironically, what questions the government allows to be asked. In fact, Michael Scammell quickly points out that “one of the first words to be censored by the censors is the word censorship”. This literature review will be focusing on the ability of historians to establish and efficiently report an accurate message to the masses. Herein lays the philosophical debate of where to draw the line between the dangerous reality of the world and the public’s right to the truth. Moreover, the goal of this study is to answer questions that pertain to just that, to seek out information qualitatively and determine; how censorship can be justified? What is the relationship between propaganda and censorship? Which methods do censors use? What are the intended and unintended effects of censorship?
The right to wield the sword of censorship and rewrite the history books is a right that can be attained far too easily. It is the duty of the historian to cast light on events even when facing the treat of persecution. Those who have ascertained that privilege of power must tread softly and be prepared to justify their actions. “Censorship of history must be taken as the systematic control of the content or exchange of information and ideas concerning the past imposed by, or with the connivance of, the authorities” (De Baets, 2002 p.5). The question remains of what is the past, where does it begin or end, and who is in charge of it? The answer is far too often overlooked, the role of the historian is essential in how events are remembered and memories are weighed. This study will trace the footsteps of past historians and observe history from their vantage point.
The first topic that must be addressed is the question of how censorship is justified. From the earliest times rulers have restricted the ability to freely express information. The urge to stay in a position of power inclines leaders to,”…falsify the past to root their power, the present to glorify it, the future to immortalize it. None of the stages of historical scholarship is safe from propaganda and censorship.” (De Baets, p. 17) Moreover, “When those in power find free speech uncomfortable, they’re tempted to squash it” (Schools fail). However, do not prematurely condemn the motives or jump to any conclusions about who is to blame. The fact is that every government imposes some sort of constraints on information. It could have intentions to protect its citizen’s privacy or an issue of national security. At that moment the power at be is identifying with the interests of the state and are then perceived as mere caretakers. (De Baets, p.7) This reveals an extremely complex, and fine line between offender and victim. The motives of the governing body must be carefully considered to determine their position and must rely on...
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