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Censorship: Just Another Pretty Face

Updated on July 9, 2013


Although censorship is manifested in various forms throughout public and private life,for the purpose of this study I will concern myself with incidents relating to Political Censorship in the United States.Political Censorship is most commonly manifested through censorship of the press. A government may censor the press for a variety of reasons,all of which bear the underlying theme of hiding something from the general public.Governments commonly justify such censorship on the basis of national security or public safety,especially during wartime.

Those who argue in favor of censorship usually come in two classes:

•those who have something to gain

•those who are ignorant and believe that government always looks out for their best interests

I have heard arguments that censorship can be justified when used to save lives.This is a good excuse, but in practice this is rarely the case.Even when framed with good intentions censorship is at best only a temporary solution,and can actually do more harm than good by eroding the public trust in government.Although I am not a fan of any form of government,the issue of public trust might concern anyone who believes in the Tooth Fairy or Mother Goose.Another argument that I have often heard is that censorship of the press may prevent assassinations and attacks on public figures. Although I agree that a particular news story may trigger a violent reaction in some crazed individuals,it is highly doubtful that the execution of a well planned and generously funded conspiracy could be thwarted by a lack of press coverage. Furthermore,there is no practical way in which we can predict the reaction of a psychotic individual to a particular news story. What kind of prison must we live in to protect ourselves from such an elusive threat?Censorship has also been commonly used by the United States government during time of war which I will examine in the following section.The fact is,that the primary beneficiaries of political censorship are politicians, large corporations,and other government entities.

I have pondered the notion that had Christianity been banned in the 4th century,many horrible historical events may have been averted. The Spanish Inquisition comes to mind and also the West African slave trade,which was sanctioned and promoted by the Catholic Church , and which ultimately led to 400 years of African bondage as well as the Genocide of over 100 million indigenous people on the American continent.Having the benefit of hindsight we can imagine that there might have been less suffering in the world had Christianity been censored, especially since a majority of the atrocities committed in the New World were committed by those affiliated with the Christian faith.But this theory falls apart when we realize that long before Christianity came into vogue,men had been raping,pillaging,and murdering each other for thousands of years. The nature of man being as it is,we cannot be certain that a different evil with a similar face would not have arisen in the New World and delivered the same sickening result.

A Timeline of Censorship In The United States

Here is a sampling of unconstitutional, idiotic, and also tragic cases of censorship in the United States since the turn of the 20th century.

Emma Goldman

1907-1909: In 1907 police banned anarchist Emma Goldman from speaking in Columbus,Toledo,and Detroit.In 1908 she was repeatedly banned from speaking in Chicago.Also in 1908 she was arrested in Seattle and Bellingham Washington.In Jauary of 1909 she was arrested and spent 4 days in a San Francisco jail.

World War I

1918: After the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson signed into federal law the Sedition Act of 1918. The law made it illegal to speak out against the government or the war, or to discourage anyone from enlisting in the military. The postmaster general banned any publication considered unfavorable to the war effort from the mails.

Censorship of U.S. Soldiers

1918:The censorship of the military primarily began during World War I and has continued ever since.There is little evidence that such censorship was used during the Revolutionary War although it was used to a small extent during the Civil War.This was primarily limited to letters sent to and from military prisons and letters that crossed enemy lines.I would also argue against this kind of censorship since I do not believe in the necessity of war.Without war ,censorship of the military is a moot point.

Montana Holds Record For Censorship

1918 -1920: Because of the general gross disrespect for human rights that was commonly exhibited in th southern United States during and after the Antebellum,one might easily guess that politically motivated censorship had always been more prevalent and excessive in the south.However,I was quite surprised to learn that the state of Montana holds the record for the harshest and most ridiculous anti-speech laws of any state in the entire history of the United States.Between 1918 and 1920, 76 men and 3 women were convicted of sedition in the state of Montana.Some were sentenced up to 20 years in prison for alleged acts of sedition. Here is a short list of some of these unfortunate individuals and the seditious "crimes" they committed.

1.Albert Brooks: On May 24,1918, Brooks,age 30, received 7-15 years for distributing an I.W.W. pamphlet titled "War and the Workers," by Walker C. Smith.He was released 24 months later after his conviction was reversed by the state Supreme Court.

2.John Ruck : Convicted at the age of 57 of sedition on April 15, 1918.He was
sentenced 3-6 years for allegedly stating," I hope Germany sinks every damn ship
the Americans start across the ocean."He served 17 months and was then released.

3.Louis Marius Christensen: On Oct. 17, 1918 the 33 year old ranch hand was
convicted of sedition.He was sentenced 2-5 years and served 13 months.He is
alleged to have made the following statements while working on the ranch:

"The Government of the United States is the worst Government on earth"

"The soldiers have no right to be in France and there ought not to be any RedCross organization"

"The war was to protect the money loaned to the Allied governments by the rich"

"The Liberty loan is a graft and the soldiers do not get any benefit from it"

" I will not be drafted and will not serve in the Army and I will go to the penitentiary first"

"The soldiers have no right to be in France,and if they were fools enough to go across and get shot they should be left to suffer"

"I will not buy liberty bonds."

4.Earnest V. Starr : The 48 year old Starr was convicted Sept. 27, 1918 of sedition.He was sentenced 10-20 years and was released after 35 months.Here is the account of the incident that got him sent to prison:

On the evening of March 24, 1918, Starr was confronted by about 15 men from a local committee at the general store in Big Horn township, and asked about his failure to make Liberty Bond contributions.They then later attempted to force Starr to kiss the U.S. flag,after which he remarked. "What is this thing anyway? Nothing but a piece of cotton with a little paint on it, and some other marks in the corner there. I will not kiss that thing. It might be covered with microbes."

I haven't reviewed all 79 of the Montana sedition cases, but I suspect that the remainder of the accusations and charges are as bogus and unwarranted as the ones listed here.For more information on this sordid chapter of Montana history follow this link :

Public Domain/ Courtesy of Wikipedia
Public Domain/ Courtesy of Wikipedia | Source

Upton Sinclair

1923 Famous novelist and political activist Upton Sinclair was arrested May 15th in San Pedro California while speaking at a rally in support of 3,000 striking longshoremen belonging to a group known as "The Industrial Workers of the World".During his speech he began reading from the Bill of Rights and was immediately arrested by LAPD.The arresting officer is quoted as saying "we'll have none of that Constitution stuff".Sinclair spent 4 days in jail at which point he was released and all charges were dropped.

The Smith Act

1940: The Alien Registration Act or Smith Act of 1940 is a United States federal statute that made it a criminal offense for anyone to "knowingly or willfully advocate the overthrow of the U.S. government. This law was primarily used against political organizations and individuals sympathetic to leftist ideologies such as Communism,Socialism.and Anarchism.Hundreds of socialists were prosecuted under the Smith Act between 1941 and 1957.

The Hollywood Hearings

1947: On October 20, 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee opened public hearings on alleged communist infiltration of Hollywood. These hearings were an attempt to prove that the Screen Writer's Guild had communist members; that these writers had inserted subversive propaganda into Hollywood films; and that President Roosevelt had encouraged pro-Soviet films during WWII.Although the hearings proved nothing,many lives and careers were ruined as a result.

Bob Dylan Banned In Texas

1968: An El Paso Texas radio station refused to play Bob Dylan songs because they said the lyrics are indecipherable and fear that they contain messages of rebellion.In other words,station officials like many of their contemporaries, did not have a firm grasp of the English language.


The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour

1969: This delightful variety show was taken off the air by CBS as a result of political pressure.Tommy and Dick Smothers whose fresh brand of political humor had quickly elevated the show to cult like status were constantly being threatened by television executives to tone down their political rhetoric. The show aired for 3 seasons from 1967 to 1969,and much of the humor was critical or unflattering of U.S. policies at home and abroad. Their outspoken opposition to the Vietnam War was especially troubling to the government.. In spite of mounting pressure from CBS executives, the brothers refused to compromise their artistic integrity, and after repeated warnings, the show was finally canceled at the end of the 3rd season.

Kent State Massacre

1970: On Monday May 4,1970 the following students were killed by Ohio National Guard during an ongoing protest which followed Richard Nixon's announcement of sending troops to Cambodia.All of the students were unarmed.None of the National Guardsmen involved were ever held accountable for the murder of 4 innocent students.Neither were their superiors or any other government official.It was simply filed away as an "unfortunate incident". These students were simply victims of the most extreme form of government censorship."Shut Up Or We Will Kill You".A Gallup Poll taken immediately after the shootings indicated that 58 percent of those polled blamed the students,11 percent blamed the National Guard and 31 percent expressed no opinion.This illustrates the general stupidity and sheepishness of Americans which continues to this day.

Jeffrey Glenn Miller; age 20
Allison B. Krause; age 19
William Knox Schroeder: age 19
Sandra Lee Scheuer; age 20

Sandra Scheuer and William Knox Schroeder, had been walking from one class to the next at the time of their deaths and were not participating in the protest.


Ronald Reagan

1987: In March,”THE REPORTERS COMMITTEE FOR FREEDOM OF THE PRESS”, issued a report detailing how the Reagan administration and its supporters had restricted public and media access to government information while also infringing upon editorial freedom. The 50-page report, retroactive to March 1981, listed 135 specific actions, including:
1.threatening prosecution of the press for publishing classified information
2. expulsion of foreign journalists
3.proposed restrictive amendments to the Freedom of Information Act
4. proposed and actual use of lie detectors

Public Domain:Waco Massacre
Public Domain:Waco Massacre | Source

Janet Reno and The Waco Texas Massacre

•1993: One of the worst massacres of civillians on U.S. soil to take place in the 20th century, also provides us with a horrific snapshot of censorship at it's very extreme.On April 19,1993,after a 51 day seige,the lives of 76 men women and children were permanently censored,and completely wiped from the face of the earth.To this day,no government official has been held accountable for this despicable crime,and no reasonable explanation has been given as to why it was necessary for government forces to murder so many innocent people.

The victims of this outrageous atrocity were known as the Branch Davidians.The Branch Davidians were a religious group led by David Koresh.This group was based at Mt.Carmel ranch in the community of Elk Texas, which is approximately 9 miles east of Waco.The U.S. government claims that a search and arrest warrant for members of the group had been obtained as a result of suspected firearms violations.Of course,you do not need a Harvard degree to recognize that such suspicions do not warrant the use of deadly CS gas:especially on helpless children.Autopsy photographs show dead children locked in what appear to be spasmodic death poses,which are consistent with cyanide poisoning, one of the results produced by burning CS gas.

Although no one in or outside the compound had been threatend or was in emminent danger from the group,and even though the local sheriff had previously witnessed to Federal authorities that in his opinion the group posed no threat,Attorney General Janet Reno proceeded on Feb. to censor the groups right to bear arms,based solely on unfounded suspicions,the group resisted,and so began the 51 day standoff.Finally,unable to negotiate a surrender,or to proceed with her original plan of censorship,Janet Reno opted for the "final solution",and decided to censor the entire groups right to life.

The video I have linked here of the late Sonny Bono questioning Janet Reno at one of the Senate hearings held in the aftermath of the massacre is quite revealing,and illustrates the callousness and arrogance of subhumans like Reno who will even use censorship as an excuse for mass murder.

John Grant

1997:Florida legislator John Grant pushes through an initiative to withhold $104,000 in Florida Department of Education funding for public radio station WMNF. Grant's objection to the station noted that the station frequently aired programming he felt was inappropriate for a publicly supported station. Objectionable material included on-air praise for Kurt Cobain, and heavy air play of a social-protest song "Wasteland" by singer Iris DeMent (containing the lyric "We got CEOs makin' 200 times the workers' pay, but they'll fight like hell against raisin' the minimum wage").


George Bush Jr.

2001: in an attempt to create a more favorable public perception of the war,the Bush administration increased efforts to censor images and reports of Afghan civilian casualties. The “British Guardian” reported that the US Defense Department had spent millions of dollars to prevent western media from seeing highly accurate photographs that were taken by privately owned satellites: photographs which revealed the effects of the bombing,including graphic scenes of human carnage.

Pentagon press briefings played down the extent of the destruction and casualties caused by daily bombing raids; the actual number of civilians and enemy soldiers killed by U.S. Forces was not revealed to the public.

• 2001: the Bush administration attempted to censor al-Jazeera ,a well known and popular Arabic television station based in Qatar, which was one of a handful of news organizations reporting from Afghanistan. Secretary of State Colin Powell claimed that the station was encouraging anti-American sentiment,and it was suggested by some right-wing extremists that al-Jazeera be added to the list of U.S. military targets. However, ultimately the U.S. failed in its attempts to censor al-Jazeera.

Public Domain:Ian Anderson
Public Domain:Ian Anderson | Source

Jethro Tull Banned In New Jersey

2003: A New Jersey classic rock station removed all Jethro Tull songs from their playlist In November after Tull frontman Ian Anderson made some comments regarding the American flag in the Asbury Park Press. Anderson is quoted as saying, "I hate to see the American flag hanging out of every bloody station wagon, out of every SUV, every little Midwestern house in some residential area. It's easy to confuse patriotism with nationalism. Flag waving ain't gonna do it." The station's program director said that their listeners voted "99 percent in favour of the ban."

I'm sure most of their listeners also celebrate Columbus Day.I always liked Ian Andersons music.Now I have another reason to like him.Thank you Ian!

Books That Hitler & Jan Brewer Hate

Political Censorship: In Education

The recent racially motivated censorship of Mexican American Studies in Arizona demonstrates the unconstitutional reach of political censorship. On one hand,children in the United States are taught that they live in a democracy,a free society where all citizens have the right to express themselves according to their own beliefs.But in reality, they are shown through acts of censorship the hypocrisy of America, and the unshakable reality that they are only free to express what is acceptable to those who are in positions of power.This can have a debilitating effect on the mind of a child,and teaches them that instead of reaching for the stars, it is better and more practical to conform and be a follower. I can assure the reader that conformity has proven to be a far greater threat to mankind than political ideology,or some rebellious words that have been written in a book.The American Holocaust of the Indigenous and the Jewish Holocaust are both prime examples of this.

Furthermore,followers don't discover cures for deadly diseases,create magnificent works of art,or mastermind new inventions.This section concludes with a list of books that have been banned in the United States during since 1940,including some of those that were recently banned: along with the Mexican American Studies program in Tuscon Arizona.

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway, 1940

In 1940,one of the responsibilities of U.S. Post Office, was in to monitor and censor distribution of media and texts.This particular book was deemed,”unmailable.” Hemingway’s , A Farewell to Arms and Across the River and Into the Trees were also censored domestically and abroad in Ireland, South Africa, Germany and Italy.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Haley, 1965 (Grove Press) Censors claim this work is a “how-to-manual” for crime and that it promotes resentment of European Americans because of “anti-white statements” present in the book.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown, 1970

This book tells the history of United States from the point of view of Native Americans. This book was banned by a school district official in Wisconsin in 1974 .The official is quoted as saying, “If there’s a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it.”

Books Recently Banned In Arizona Schools

The Tempest: William Shakespeare
Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (1998) by B. Bigelow and B. Peterson
The Latino Condition: A Critical Reader (1998) by R. Delgado and J. Stefancic
Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (2001) by R. Delgado and J. Stefancic
Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2000) by P. Freire
United States Government: Democracy in Action (2007) by R. C. Remy
Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History (2006) by F. A. Rosales
Declarations of Independence (1990) by H. Zinn
Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (2004) by R. Acuña


Although numerous acts of political censorship have occured throughout the history of the United States ,this short timeline should at least give the reader an understanding that, overall, the Bill of Rights and Freedom of Speech are at best fair weather friends.Politicians,and their lackeys in law enforcement observe and enforce the Bill of Rights when it is convenient for them to do so.It is not easy living among so many liars,hypocrites,and cowards.Censorship cannot coexist with freedom of speech; no more than war and capital punishment can coexist with the biblical commandment:"Thou Shall Not Kill".According to the Bible murder is murder.The commandment makes no distinction between killing an innocent man,a guilty man,or your enemy on the battlefield .And so it goes with Freedom of Speech.Freedom of Speech does not imply a partial freedom ,a temporary or an arbitrary freedom.You either have it or you don't.

Since the very beginning,U.S. presidents and politicians have freely violated the United States Constitution.Through censorship they have unjustly detained and imprisoned citizens for simply having a difference of political opinion,for speaking out on various socio-political issues in public,and for handing out literature that is contrary to the status quo.They have banned books and music,and have even shamelessly invaded the privacy of the same soldiers they have given lip service to as being the great defenders of democracy.Men and women who have sought to improve labor conditions have been censored and imprisoned.Women seeking equality and justice have been censored and imprisoned.Entertainers who have taken a particular stand on a social or political issue have been censored ,banned from the airwaves,fined and also imprisoned.In the case of Bob Dylan being banned by an El Paso radio station in 1968,he was censored not for what he "said" but for "what he might be saying."And recently we have seen in Arizona how the Mexican American Studies program has been censored and banned in public schools for how it "might" make students feel or what it "might" make them do.Most tragically we have learned from the murderous incidents at Kent State and Waco Texas that government censors will even resort to cold blooded murder when necessary.If we the people of the United States continue to allow a handful of rich and greedy politicians to freely violate our fundamental constitutional rights with impunity,then we the people are most deserving of these shackles and chains.

© 2013 Ronnie wrenchBiscuit


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    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      4 years ago from North Texas

      Ignorance is at the root of all these things you write about here. Willful ignorance could not be manipulated by those in power if it did not exist by the truckload. Yet most Americans are proud of their ignorance and those in power not only manipulate it, but encourage it, and of course it feeds on itself. It isn't only the government that censors, but individuals frequently diminish any person who disagrees with them in beliefs that are popular. After all, if everyone a person knows believes a particular thing, then it must be true, yes?

      An excellent article and everyone should read it and have their eyes opened if they are even capable of thinking beyond the next tattoo or piercing. Amazing, all the different ingredients available to make soma these days so that no one cares about anything so long as their own little world is humming along satisfactorily.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      4 years ago from Texas

      Ronnie, I will come back to comment on this after I have had the chance to read it, completely.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 

      5 years ago from San Diego California

      Beautiful work. I like the way you have pointed out that censorship is sometimes carried out by the government and sometimes by the public on a witch hunt. Did you remember to mention the Dixie Chicks here? They were the victims of censorship after they criticized President Bush. They had their music pulled off the radio, and in this case it was not by government decree. Freedom of Speech is not just for things the majority agrees with, right? It covers everybody. Keep fighting the good fight.


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