Book Burning History

Book-burning, or Koran-burning, seems a topic of interest today, so it is worthwhile to revisit the most important episode of literary intolerance in American history. And it has nothing to do with the Koran, Bible or Darwin either. And it wasn’t connected with provocative Christian pastors or fist-shaking Muslims either.

I speak about the burning of Dr. Wilhelm Reich’s scientific books and research journals in the 1950s and 1960s, and Reich’s later imprisonment for daring to defend those same writings against a power-drunk US Food and Drug Administration — a "do-good", "for your health" socialist-oriented government agency, which is still a power-drunk, anti-freedom and Big Brother socialist organization today.

The following article has a short summary of book-burning episodes, which includes a sympathetic mention of the burning of Wilhelm Reich’s books. Very worthwhile.

The books have been burning

Of interest also is the mention of the burning of comic books in the USA, in the late 1940s, around the same time that the persecution of Reich began. This is related to the burning of Reich’s books, in that some of the same people agitated for both.

The comic-book burning was triggered predominantly by the social arsonist Dr. Frederik Wertham, a leftist psychiatrist who wrote books and articles on the supposed dangers to children from comics. Nobody burned his books, I note, which were in fact far more socially dangerous than any comic book! Wertham used the easy target of racy and violent comic books of that era as an effort towards stimulating government controls over the press. His message predictably fanned the fears of some parents, that the comics would turn their kids into jelly-brains, juvenile delinquents or criminals. I grew up on comic books and lived through that period, so can give first-hand testimony on the ridiculousness and ineffectual nature of Dr. Wertham’s scare-talk. I heard the same fear-talk about comic books from my teachers, and also about rock-n-roll music, which only made them sound more attractive. They were always mixed with fears about the very real aspects of the American sexual-revolution of that period. In spite of its frequently licentious and excessive components, the social change which came about in the post-1950s era in largest measure swept away the hypocrisy and double-standard prudery of the era, with a great liberation of women, including the spread of contraceptive knowledge and technology. Love within marriages was benefited by those changes, not eroded by them, as contraception and abortion legalization allowed fewer unwanted babies, and love-less marriages were more easy to dissolve. Sexual freedom in this regard strengthened the family love bonds in more rational ways, and so did not result in the social disintegration which was predicted by some.

We are always informed by the "intelligencia" that the people pushing censorial hysteria against those social changes were right-wing Christian conservatives, and there certainly were a few isolated religious extremists yapping away about the dangers of comics and rock music, and teenagers "necking" and such, wagging their fingers at everyone else. They made loud noises, but most of the nation ignored them. There also were a significant number of highly-placed left-wing atheist fanatics who barked out against such social change. They were against comic books and rock music as well, and they seemed to predominate among the academic types who would give "authoritative lectures" and write entire books on the subject. Like psychiatrist Frederic Wertheim.

Wertham was a significant character in the history of orgonomy also, as around the same time he was fanning the flames of comic-book hysteria, he also penned a terrible "book review" of Reich’s Mass Psychology of Fascism, making scare-talk which roused the socialist left against Reich’s work and ideas. Reich had openly identified Communism as a form of "Red Fascism", being quite similar to the "Black Fascism" of Nazism. That upset, and continues to upset, the various anti-freedom Reds, who probably burned more books than any other social group. Wertham was cut from that same Red fabric. His leftist-screed against Reich appeared in the New Republic magazine, then under the editorship of KGB-controlled agents such as Henry Wallace — former Vice President and communist whom President Roosevelt had fired for his open Soviet sympathies. The magazine’s publisher was Michael Straight, who late in life openly confessed being a KGB agent and American member of the Cambridge Five spy ring. Wertham’s article in New Republic was followed the next year by an even more aggressive smear against Reich, penned by Mildred Brady. She was also a recently-exposed Comintern agent with contacts and influence within the FDA. Both she and her professor husband had been fired from government posts a few year earlier for their pro-Soviet activities. Together these anti-Reich writings, penned by atheist left-wingers, triggered a small avalanche of copy-cat articles which ultimately led to the destruction of Reich’s books and his death in prison.

So it is both ironic and refreshing to see this new article on book-burning, which mentions both the comic-burnings and the burnings of Reich’s books. It reminds us that the same Communist writer who agitated against comic books for youth, also was against Wilhelm Reich’s social theories and writings. It is a lesson, to be wary of not just the right-wing extremists who would promote Holocaust denial and other trappings of the Nazi Party, but also of the equally-pathological left-wing fanatics who promote book-burning and censorship. Both embrace a similar genocidal ambition to totalitarian power, though in fact today the left-wing threat is greater, given how Nazism was basically obliterated during WW-II.

The details about Reich’s persecution and his persecutors was most ambitiously and accurately documented in Jim Martin’s Wilhelm Reich and the Cold War, published over ten years back. He started out intending to disprove Reich’s claim that the communists were behind the smears and plots against him. Instead, Martin found evidence which supported and affirmed Reich’s claims. It was the left-wing who were most active in the destruction of Reich. Martin documented multiple examples of Marxist left-wingers, cloaked fellow-travellers and open Communists, with KGB agents lurking the background, who plotted to destroy Reich. The book is as rare as hen’s teeth today. If you find a copy, grab it.

Meanwhile, as a reminder of how these issues continue to be important today, I wrote a summary article on the subject: "New Information on the Persecution and Death of Wilhelm Reich". Here:
Or, get it by PDF here:

James DeMeo

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