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Eisenhower: ‘Don’t Join the Book Burners’

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President Dwight D. Eisenhower said: "Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book ..."

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On February 6 2022, two Imgur users shared a quote meme attributed to former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, beginning with “don’t join the book burners …”

Both posts were popular, receiving around 100,000 views apiece less than 24 hours after they were shared. Neither post included any information aside from the content of the meme, which included a photograph of Eisenhower and read:

Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book …

— Dwight D. Eisenhower

Quotes and memes about Eisenhower and his purported positions were not uncommon on social media. In early 2022, discourse about banned books arose from a Tennessee district’s decision to ban a Holocaust book (Maus), and a quote attributed to Stephen King about banned books circulated as part of that discussion.

A search for “Eisenhower” and “don’t join the book burners” returned several credible results, one being a Library of Congress entry titled “Don’t join the book burners … Dwight David Eisenhower. Hanover, N. H. Dartmouth College. 1953.” Another top result was a July-August 2016 article on dartmouthalumnimagazine.com, titled ““Don’t Join the Book Burners.”

The piece was authored by a 1953 graduate of Dartmouth, and it began with a firsthand account of Eisenhower’s remarks. Its author recalled the “don’t join the book burners” portion, in a slightly longer excerpt:

On June 14, 1953, as our Commencement exercises were about to begin, we graduating seniors formed two lines and President Eisenhower, accompanied by Dartmouth President John Sloan Dickey ’29, walked between them, flashing his famous grin as he passed within inches of me. I cannot remember that day without reliving the excitement we all experienced.

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[…]

For three years Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, the Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations, had been relentlessly attacking the U.S. State Department, the Voice of America and a host of prominent political figures by making lurid and ultimately unproven claims, the most infamous of them being that he had a list of officials in the State Department who were “known Communists.” Those accused were intimidated, virtually paralyzed in their inability to effectively defend themselves and their reputations. While McCarthy was touring the country delivering his poisonous speeches, his two Senate aides, Roy Cohn and G. David Schine, were touring U.S. government libraries around the world, demanding that books by “subversive” authors be purged from the shelves.

McCarthy’s tactics outraged all decent people, and I wondered if the Republican Party, which I strongly supported, would disassociate itself from him even as his power remained largely unchecked.

I was not thinking of Sen. McCarthy as I watched Eisenhower rise to deliver what were expected to be his brief remarks. But Eisenhower decided to add something more substantive.

“Don’t join the book burners,” he said. “Don’t think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as any document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.”

Another was a page on the website of the University of California, Santa Barbara’s American Presidency Project (APP), with the following header:

Remarks at the Dartmouth College Commencement Exercises, Hanover, New Hampshire.

June 14, 1953

The APP documented Eisenhower’s remarks at Dartmouth in June 1953. That speech included the quote in the meme, emphasized below:

Look at your country. Here is a country of which we are proud, as you are proud of Dartmouth and all about you, and the families to which you belong. But this country is a long way from perfection–a long way. We have the disgrace of racial discrimination, or we have prejudice against people because of their religion. We have crime on the docks. We have not had the courage to uproot these things, although we know they are wrong. And we with our standards, the standards given us at places like Dartmouth, we know they are wrong.

Now, that courage is not going to be satisfied — your sense of satisfaction is not going to be satisfied, if you haven’t the courage to look at these things and do your best to help correct them, because that is the contribution you shall make to this beloved country in your time. Each of us, as he passes along, should strive to add something.

It is not enough merely to say I love America, and to salute the flag and take off your hat as it goes by, and to help sing the Star Spangled Banner. Wonderful! We love to do them, and our hearts swell with pride, because those who went before you worked to give to us today, standing here, this pride.

And this is a pride in an institution that we think has brought great happiness, and we know has brought great contentment and freedom of soul to many people. But it is not yet done. You must add to it.

Don’t join the book burners. Don’t think you are going to conceal faults by concealing evidence that they ever existed. Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book, as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.

How will we defeat communism unless we know what it is, and what it teaches, and why does it have such an appeal for men, why are so many people swearing allegiance to it? It is almost a religion, albeit one of the nether regions.

Two February 6 2022 Imgur posts attributed a quote to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, “don’t join the book burners …” That quote was properly attributed, part of a commencement speech delivered by Eisenhower at Dartmouth in June 1953. The quote was truncated, the second part absent: “… as long as that document does not offend our own ideas of decency. That should be the only censorship.”