Whilst books and other pieces of literature have been destroyed as an act of war throughout recorded history, one of the earliest acts of censorship for the 'supposed' common good of the people occurred in 339 BC, with the execution of Socrates. Socrates was a philosopher and teacher in ancient Greece, and was charged with corrupting the youth of Athens by teaching against the Greek religion. Plato, one of Socrates students, became an advocate against censorship, following his teacher's death.
In China, 213 BC, the emperor Qin Shi Haung ordered the burning of all books, except ones that dealt with agriculture, medicine or prophecy. In the ancient Roman Empire, censorship became an official duty, and is where the word 'censor' was first introduced. An official was given the title of censor, and existed from 443 to 22 BC.
Indoctrination of documents to 'make them more Christian' may have happened as early as AD 325. In 1559 the Roman Catholic Church published a list of books that were banned for their 'ideologically dangerous' content. In 1542 the Church issued a decree that no book could be published without it's permission. In 1563, Charles IX of Frances borrowed the idea and ordered that no book could be published without special permission from the King. Other rulers throughout Europe soon followed suit, banning all materials they deemed dangerous and threatening to the morals of society.
The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe, commonly known as the Age of Enlightenment, saw more freedom in the laws that governed censorship as people began to become more and more aware of human rights. Sweden was the first country to officially abolish censorship in 1766, and in 1790 amendments were made to the United States Constitution.
However censorship soon appeared again in the form of banning of “inappropriate” books by public librarians and teachers, in order to supposedly protect the innocence of children. In 1683 the University of Oxford's library was completely destroyed, under the orders of the King of England. In the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany burning libraries became common practice. From 1917 to the end of the 1980s, Russia and the other socialist republics included within the Soviet Union were governed under a strict rule of censorship enforced by a central censorship office, commonly known as Glavlit.
Under the Nazi regime of 1933 to 1945, Germany also experienced a period of strict censorship where all media, public events, and even private communications were censored by the government, primarily by Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda. An example of this is the massive burning of over 20,000 offensive books in 1933, where Goebbels declared, “From these ashes will rise the phoenix of the new spirit”.
Prior to the beginning of World War II, tens of thousands of books written by Jewish authors, communists, or any other author unsympathetic to the Nazi regime were thrown into the flames as a means of destroying critical viewpoints. As World War II commenced and the German stronghold spread throughout the European continent, censorship was also implemented in the occupied nations. All national newspapers, radios, and publishers were taken over or shut down completely upon the Nazis' arrival, and listening to foreign radio or reading illegal newspapers could be punishable by death. Despite the strict censorship, however, the illegal press continued to flourish in many occupied nations, making a firm stand against the brainwashing that Nazi censorship desired.
Censorship was also a key weapon used by the Apartheid regime of South Africa, which governed the nation from 1950 to 1994.
Even nowadays, censorship still occurs in one form or another throughout every country in the world. In Iran, the Supreme National Security Council has explicitly banned discussion in the media of any topics that might allow citizens to discover failures and abuses of the government. Attacks against journalists also continue to occur in many other countries throughout the world, and nearly half of the world’s population still lacks an independent press.In China, since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the internet is still officially censored by the government.
I hope this has enlightened you to the fight against censorship through time, and made you appreciate the fact that you can read this blog post, not because an official in the government decided you could, but because you want to!