Knowledge is power…but what happens when you give knowledge to the world which those in power really don’t want you or I to have? It seems that the literary world is riddled with books they tried to ban, censor or boycott and that the more they have done it, the more the public have lapped it up. We the people love being told we cannot know something – it makes us the more determined to find out what we are not supposed to know and why and, whilst the world of military history is not alone in this (fiction titles have been castigated for centuries) yet it is the truth that some people fear the most. Let’s take a look at ten of the most important military history books they tried to ban and why:
1) All Quiet on the Western Front
Billed as “The greatest war novel of all time” war veteran Erich Maria Remarque’s account of the First World War from the German perspective is gritty, unforgiving and pulls no punches in portraying the true cost of war. Banned by the Nazis in 1933 for its portrayal of the German forces, the book was to remain so until after 1945. It has now been republished in many editions and in many languages and two feature films and remains one of the greatest wartime fiction novels to this day.
2) A Farewell to Arms
Ernest Hemingway’s 1929 semi-autobiographical and gripping tale of love and war during the First World War in Italy was banned in Boston USA for its ‘Vulgar content’ and especially in Italy where Hemingway’s depiction of the Italian rout after the battle of Caporetto was seen as derogatory to their forces – however accurate. Hemingway’s later book “For whom the Bell tolls” set in the Spanish Civil War was also banned – despite this, he seemingly did incredibly well out of them!
3) Mein Kampf
Adolf Hitler’s autobiography has remained one of the most controversial books of all time and yet one of the greatest insights into the man himself. The book sold millions of copied in Nazi Germany where it was treated with a semi-reverence until banned in 1945 “Out of a responsibility and respect for the victims of the Holocaust.” Finally released in 2015 when the copyright of the Bavarian State Government expired, Mein Kampf was available in limited quantities and with limited distribution but was banned in Poland until 1992. In 2016 all restrictions for import, printing, sale and distribution in the UK was lifted, whilst it is still banned from print, sale or import in Argentina to this day. The book has sold countless millions of copies since its full release in 2015.
4) Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
The tragic and heartfelt diary of a young Jewish teenager under Nazi occupation and her subsequent capture and removal to Bergen-Belsen death camp is a book which has left its mark upon generations of people since its posthumous publication in 1952. The book has seen censure from a number of organisations in the USA including the Alabama State Textbook Committee whilst it remains banned in Lebanon for depicting Jews favourably. Despite this, the book has gone on to sell over 30,000,000 copies worldwide in over 60 languages.
5) Schindler’s Ark
More famously known by its movie title Schindler’s List, by Thomas Keneally tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a Nazi party member and unlikely hero who saves 1,200 Jews from the Nazi concentration camps in world war two. Despite being one of the most popular books on wartime Germany and winning the Booker Prize, the book has been banned and heavily censored in the Middle East.
6) Bravo two Zero
The government tried to ban it, the SAS had a gagging order put on it, yet Andy McNab’s story of the Gulf War patrol, abandoned, lost and fighting its way to freedom has sold over 2,000,000 copies worldwide and sparked a feature film and innumerate first-person accounts from soldiers – particularly special forces soldiers, since its publication. Other members of the same patrol have published books such as “The one that got away” and “Soldier Five” – the government has moved to seize profits from the books (particularly the last one) with legal bills running into the millions of pounds and has, since 1996, made servicemen sign confidentiality contracts which effectively marks the end of military memoirs as a genre. But it all began with Bravo Two Zero.
7) Berlin: The Downfall
Veteran Military Historian Antony Beevor’s 2002 account of the fall of Berlin was quickly withdrawn from all teaching establishments in Russia for its depiction of brutal rape and murder in the final days of the war. Decried by the Russian Ambassador Grigori Karasin as “Lies, slander and blasphemy against the Red Army” Beevor’s book received a torrent of ironic congratulations from the Military History community and has gone on to self many thousands of copies.
8) Operation Dark Heart
U.S Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer’s depiction of the war in Afghanistan as part of the US defence Intelligence Agency has become legendary for the degrees to which the Department of Defense went to have the book banned. Released in 2010 the first print run of 10,000 books was immediately bought up by the Pentagon and destroyed to preserve what it deemed to be sensitive information. Finally, due to leaks of information on social media sites Twitter and Reddit, the Pentagon gave in to the inevitable and allowed the publication of the book. Their attempts to have it silenced only added to the clamour of people wanting to read it.
9) British Generals in Blair’s Wars
One of the most banned and censored books in British Military History; “British Generals in Blair’s Wars” contained no less than 26 chapters or essays written by senior British military personnel, of which the MOD successfully suppressed no less than six, including one by General Sir Richard Shirreff, banned from commenting upon the ‘Sinbad’ operations in Basra 2007-7 and one by the new Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Houghton – the loss of which almost scuppered the book entirely. Despite four-star Amazon reviews and a captive audience, the book has done surprisingly well, although the authors remain incensed that it was not all that it could have been. Tony Blair, of course, gets off scot free again…..
10) The First Casualty – The Untold Story of the Falklands War
The story of a battle which has been denied to this day by both the governments of the UK and Argentina, “The First Casualty” has come in for censorship of epic proportions even before it has hit the printing press – for which it is due in early 2017. In a tale almost a strange as that told by the book itself, the attempts to ban, stop and censor the book have seen death threats, Argentine spies, a campaign of cyber-attacks and threatening by Argentina in the UK against printers, publishers and editors and a growing campaign to boycott the book in Argentina – and all before publication. The true story of a battle which both governments say did not happen, told in graphic detail by the men of the Royal Marines, the Argentine Special Forces and the people of Stanley reveals the Rorke’s Drift of the South Atlantic, a battle denied for 35 years and secrets the UK intended to keep silent until 2072 – all of which are combining to make this the most eagerly anticipated and highly controversial book of 2017. If it ever makes it to print.
Remember…any book worth banning is a book worth reading…..