Is The First Amendment In Jeopardy?



Vaughn Hardacker here: I have been giving a lot of thought to the question every writer gets at some time: “Where do you get your ideas?” We always respond that there are many sources from the media to our life experiences. It has led me to consider what might happen if we lost our freedom to express our personal, religious, and political beliefs. Of late the news has been disturbing. I’m not alluding to the results of the upcoming election, but about the state of our institutes of higher education. When I was a college student the environment encouraged me to think and if someone disagreed with my point of view to at least listen and respect them. This doesn’t seem to be the case today. What disturbs me more is that this is not unique to modern times or to the United States. The first thing an autocratic dictator does is to stifle any opposition, both written and verbal. The most blatant example of this was in 1930s Germany. On the night of May 10, 1933, an event unseen in Europe since the Middle Ages occurred as German students from universities once regarded as among the finest in the world, gathered in Berlin to burn books with “unGerman” ideas. The students, along with brownshirted storm troopers, tossed heaps of books into a bonfire while giving the Hitler arm-salute and singing Nazi anthems. Among the 20,000 volumes hurled into the flames were the writings of Henri Barbusse, Franz Boas, John Dos Passos, Albert Einstein, Lion Feuchtwanger, Friedrich Förster, Sigmund Freud, John Galsworthy, André Gide, Ernst Glaeser, Maxim Gorki, Werner Hegemann, Ernest Hemingway, Erich Kästner, Helen Keller, Alfred Kerr, Jack London, Emil Ludwig, Heinrich Mann, Thomas Mann, Karl Marx, Hugo Preuss, Marcel Proust, Erich Maria Remarque, Walther Rathenau, Margaret Sanger, Arthur Schnitzler, Upton Sinclair, Kurt Tucholsky, Jakob Wassermann, H.G. Wells, Theodor Wolff, Emilé Zola, Arnold Zweig, and Stefan Zweig.

Josef Goebbels addressing crowds on Krystallnacht. “The era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is now at an end…”

Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels joined the students at the bonfire and declared: “The era of extreme Jewish intellectualism is now at an end… The future German man will not just be a man of books, but a man of character. It is to this end that we want to educate you. As a young person, to already have the courage to face the pitiless glare, to overcome the fear of death, and to regain respect for death – this is the task of this young generation. And thus you do well in this midnight hour to commit to the flames the evil spirit of the past. This is a strong, great and symbolic deed – a deed which should document the following for the world to know – Here the intellectual foundation of the November [Democratic] Republic is sinking to the ground, but from this wreckage the phoenix of a new spirit will triumphantly rise…”

Krystallnacht: The burning of the books.

Before Hitler, German university towns had been counted among the world’s great centers of scientific innovation and literary scholarship. Under Hitler, Germany’s intellectual vitality quickly began to diminish. Truth, rational thinking, and objective knowledge, the foundation stones of Western Civilization, were denounced by Nazified students and professors in favor of mysticism, speculation, and collective thinking toward a common goal – the pursuit of a glorious future for Germany. Germany was now led by a self-educated, high school drop-out named Adolf Hitler, who was by nature strongly anti-intellectual. For Hitler, the reawakening of the long-dormant Germanic spirit, with its racial and militaristic qualities, was far more important than any traditional notions of learning.

The youth-oriented Nazi movement had always attracted a sizable following among right-leaning university students. Even back in the 1920s they sensed Nazism might be the wave of the future. They joined the National Socialist German Students’ League, put on swastika armbands and harassed any anti-Nazi teachers. Now, many formerly reluctant professors were swept along by the outpouring of student enthusiasm that followed Hitler’s seizure of power. Most of the professors eagerly surrendered their intellectual honesty and took the required Nazi oath of allegiance. They also wanted to curry favor with Nazi Party officials in order to grab one of the academic vacancies resulting from the mass expulsion of Jewish professors and deans. The entire teaching profession throughout Germany, from elementary schools to university level, had been purged of Jewish instructors and anyone deemed politically suspect, regardless of their proven teaching abilities or achievements, including 20 past (and future) Nobel Prize winners. About ten percent of Germany’s university teaching force was sacked in 1933-34, with devastating results for disciplines such as quantum physics and mathematics where Jews had been prominent. The world’s premier physicist, Albert Einstein, settled in the United States along with many other intellectual refugees from Hitler’s Germany. Lovers of truth and freedom who remained behind in Germany only managed to escape through the phenomenon of inner-emigration. The Nazis could never actually know one’s inner-most thoughts as long as one maintained a kind of poker face and didn’t reveal those private thoughts. However, this could also be a dreadfully lonely existence.

Eventually, small groups of like-minded students and professors still opposed to Nazism found each other. They sometimes held clandestine off-campus discussions featuring a free exchange of ideas. One such group based at the University of Munich became known as the White Rose and boldly distributed leaflets demanding that Hitler “return to us the personal freedom which is the most valuable possession of each German, and of which he has cheated us in the lowest possible manner.” Two members of the group, Hans and Sophie Scholl, were arrested by the Gestapo for this and executed. Grammar schools and high schools throughout Germany now had National Socialist teachers of questionable ability forming young minds in strict adherence to the Party motto: “The supreme task of the schools is the education of youth for the service of Volk and State in the National Socialist spirit.” They taught Nazi propaganda as truth and had their young students recite it back from memory. In the college classroom, professors gave lectures amid the nagging fear they might be denounced by one of their students for any reason and possibly wind up in a concentration camp. Politically ambitious teachers sometimes kept secret dossiers on the utterances and activities of their fellow educators which could be turned over to the Gestapo to further their own careers. The widespread insecurity that resulted caused academic timidity which further lowered educational standards. In this New Order, anyone refusing to conform was simply removed from society and sent away for a special kind of re-education within the confines of a concentration camp. There they would be broken physically, mentally and spiritually until they either submitted completely or died. The first such camp was Dachau located near Munich. It was so successful that it became the model for all subsequent concentration camps, and there would be hundreds of them.

We Americans have a tendency to ignore impending threats by burying our heads in the sand like an ostrich. Let’s take a few minutes to think about the atmosphere of intolerance that seems to pervade our colleges and universities today. Professors encourage students to attend protests (many of which have turned into violent riots) rather than class and in many cases join them in those protests which have a single purpose, to suppress the communication of ideas that disagree with their personal beliefs. There have been reports of faculty members telling students that if they vote a certain way they will be given an F. I am very concerned when I see speakers disrupted by protesters and hecklers when they hold a talk or town hall. If you don’t agree with a speaker, do the people who came to hear what he or she has to say a favor: STAY AWAY! At the very least challenge the speaker during the question and answer period of the talk by asking an intelligent and well thought out question. As a veteran who spent eight years of his life defending the rights given us by our U. S. Constitution this disturbs me greatly. I have seen what happens to a country when a given philosophy becomes THE philosophy. So all that said, here’s my question. Do we as freedom-loving Americans want to spend thousands of dollars in tuition (not to mention the huge amounts of student loan debt) to have our youth, the leaders of tomorrow, indoctrinated and told what to think rather than how to think? Is there a chance that the freedoms given us in the 1st Amendment will be taken away or restricted? Is there a burning of the books in our future?

About Vaughn C. Hardacker

Vaughn C. Hardacker has published seven novels and numerous short stories. He is a member of the New England Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, and the International Thriller writers. Three times he has been a finalist in the Maine Literary Awards Crime Fiction category, SNIPER in 2015, THE FISHERMAN in 2016, and WENDIGO for the 2018 award. The second installment of his Ed Traynor series, MY BROTHER'S KEEPER, was released in July 2019 and is available through all major booksellers. A signed copy can be ordered directly from Vaughn ( RIPPED OFF is his most recently published crime/thriller, it was released on January 25, 2023 by Encircle Publications. He is a veteran of the U. S. Marines and served in Vietnam. He holds degrees from Northern Maine Technical College, the University of Maine and Southern New Hampshire University. He lives in Stockholm, Maine.
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14 Responses to Is The First Amendment In Jeopardy?

  1. Interesting and well thought out. I remember a quote from a professor at USM when I was in graduate school. He said that those comfortable in their beliefs had little need to argue in support of those beliefs. It stood me in good stead when I ran for the legislature in hostile territory.

  2. kaitcarson says:

    Very interesting. When I entered college in 1970 we were told in orientation that we were not in school to get an education in the traditional sense, but to learn how to think so we could apply what we learned.

  3. Julianne Spreng says:

    This indoctrination is beginning very early in public schools where teachers have to ‘teach to the test’ rather than educate students to think for themselves. Teach to the test of course refers to the tests that our legislators have decided are necessary to measure the knowledge of said students and as such grade the school itself. If a school body does not perform well on the tests the school receives a low grade. Low grades will reduce your funding contrary to any logic which would assume that the school needs MORE funding not less. Teachers can even lose their position if their students don’t do well. Any educator knows that scholars learn at different rates, pick up concepts at different times from others, and in general are not round pegs that fit into round holes at exact points on an educational timeline. Never mind considering home life and neighborhood in the equation.

    Consolidation of school systems and buildings has been going on for years with the result that we now have classes of students so huge that there is no way in hell they can learn anything. Some are simply trying to physically survive the school day. Some don’t. Saving money at the expense of education is a lose-lose for all. If the goal is to downgrade education and prevent students from being able to develop the ability to think for themselves, then the goal has been achieved.

    If only the upper classes get an education then that permits them to control the lower classes with ease, as is being done now. Thinking is not encouraged here at this time by many in power. If we think for ourselves we question what they are doing and why. If this sounds like a doomsday scenario from a grade B sci-fi flick, take another look around you. This is real and it is happening right now.

    • It’s a sad commentary . . . once again the so-called leaders of our country have discarded the lessons of history. I believe that the primary problem with our public education system is that we have allowed the bureaucrats to run the show. I have a friend who was a reading tutor in the No Child Left Behind Program. She told me that when the higher-ups came to visit they did not care that Johnny, a fifth grade student, entered with a first grade reading level and after six months is now at a fourth . . . all they cared about was whether or not she was following their curriculum. She was reprimanded for not strictly adhering to it. She also said that their curriculum alone was terrible.

  4. David Plimpton says:

    Great post, Vaughn.

    Though the law is apparently unsettled, public employees do not have unlimited rights of free speech when speaking in their public capacities, which might militate against some of the real dangers you raise:


    • Julianne Spreng says:

      That’s only true if the law is enforced. There have been many instances in this current administration where employees have broken the law or been required to break the law by their superiors. There have been no repercussions to date. Customs and laws are only so strong as the desire of the public or community to see them followed.

    • David: This is the first I’ve heard of this. Like everything else our lawmakers interpret all laws to suit their needs and wants. For instance, who was the idiot that allowed Congress to pass a bill that allows them to determine their own pay raises? Who decided that Congress would get full salary and medical for the rest of their lives? No wonder they used the money we paid into social security for our entire working lives as their petty cash fund; thereby destroying the program for future generations! Ever wonder why more of these crooks don’t get sent to prison–oh, yeah, they make the laws…

      • Vaughn, I agree.

        The injustices you recite bring to mind the views of Chris Hedges, who believes, with a lot of evidence to back him up, that we have a mafia state, a kleptocracy, in control of all three branches of government, all of them moving inexorably to the right: ,

        His views on legitimate protest by the people have moved to more activist and revolutionary as the years go by.

        Thank you again for the thought-provoking post.


  5. Judy says:

    What is being taught?

  6. Gavin Keenan says:

    Thank you for this compelling read. With the exception of my junior / senior years of a B.A. degree, most of my higher education was obtained in night school. These instructors were quite a different breed from the standard academe’s of day school. Although they had obtained similar education levels, those who taught at night tended to hold jobs in the real world during the day which shaped their views in a pragmatic way. They also did not reveal their own political beliefs nor did they care what mine were.They were concerned with presenting the material in a manner that people like me could grasp. Of course this was many years ago and who knows if this level of political detachment and practical teaching still exists.

  7. L.C. Rooney says:

    The lurch toward telling students what to think rather than how to think is distressing in the extreme.

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