ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Weston Ochse is a former intelligence officer and special operations soldier who has engaged enemy combatants, terrorists, narco smugglers, and human traffickers. His personal war stories include performing humanitarian operations over Bangladesh, being deployed to Afghanistan, and a near miss being cannibalized in Papua New Guinea. His fiction and non-fiction has been praised by USA Today, The Atlantic, The New York Post, The Financial Times of London, and Publishers Weekly. The American Library Association labeled him one of the Major Horror Authors of the 21st Century. His work has also won the Bram Stoker Award, been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and won multiple New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. A writer of more than 26 books in multiple genres, his military supernatural series SEAL Team 666 has been optioned to be a movie starring Dwayne Johnson. His military sci fi series, which starts with Grunt Life, has been praised for its PTSD-positive depiction of soldiers at peace and at war. Weston likes to be called a chaotic good paladin and challenges anyone to disagree. After all, no one can really stand a goody two-shoes lawful good character. They can be so annoying. It's so much more fun to be chaotic, even when you're striving to save the world. You can argue with him about this and other things online at Living Dangerously or on Facebook at Badasswriter. All content of this blog is copywrited by Weston Ochse.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

OPEN LETTER To Campbell H.S., Litchfield N.H. – Free Yourself

Ernest Hemingway

Dear students, faculty, administration, teachers and members of the school board,

Looking over the American Library Association’s list of Banned Books for 2010, I was shocked that there are so many communities willing to be oppressed. Books such as Fahrenheit 451, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Color Purple, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and To Kill a Mockingbird have been banned by your fellow Americans. To think that there are those who believe that issues such as censorship, slavery, racisim, and the loss of a parent shouldn’t be dealt with reminds me that we live in a country where people would rather not know, than know, and where Sarah Palin can ask her local library what the process is to ban a book.

Regarding your community and your high school, it has come to my attention that you have been oppressed. It seems that a group of parents has banded together and removed Ernest Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants from the curriculum. First let me offer my condolences. Hills stands as the seminal model for dealing with abortion in the entire cannon of modern American literature. Hemingway creates such a realistic engagement between the two main characters that every reader is capable of taking away strategies to deal with this polemic and decisive issue, that whether we like it or not, is a societal reality. I can’t comprehend how young adults and parents are capable of dealing with this issue in a conversational and informational vacuum. It’s through literature that we obtain examples of how others deal with things. It is through great literature that we are able to take examples to influence our daily lives. In Hills, Hemingway never used the word abortion. He alludes to it through allegory and metaphor only. This story is rife with heartbreak, loss, misunderstanding, and the wonderment and fear of what the future might hold, much like one might experience if the plot became a reality. It doesn’t honor abortion, but rather deals with the emotions involved in the decision.
The Real Ann Frank

When a Culpeper, Virginia public school was asked by a parent to stop teaching The Diary of Anne Frank, they acquiesced. According to the American Library Association “it was reported that officials decided to stop assigning a version of Anne Frank’s diary, one of the most enduring symbols of the atrocities of the Nazi regime, due to the complaint that the book includes sexual material and homosexual themes. The director of instruction announced (that)  the edition, published on the Fiftieth Anniversary of Frank’s death in a concentration camp, will not be used in the future despite the fact the school system did not follow its own policy for handling complaints. The remarks set off a hailstorm of criticism online and brought international attention to the 7,600-student school system in rural Virginia. The superintendent said, however, that the book will remain a part of the English classes, although it may be taught at a different grade level.”

Hats off to the principal and the community for coming to the aid of common sense. Cheers to them for not allowing one person’s fear of their child being confronted with the reality of our world affect an entire student body. The Diary of Anne Frank has become a perennial favorite in elementary and middle schools because it is so accessible to the students. Anne was a young child just like the students, and the similarity helps accentuate the gravitas of the vile evil perpetrated by the Nazis and all of their colludors. You can teach about evil from the front of the classroom for days and not have the same effect as when a student puts him or herself in the place of Anne Frank, hiding in fear for her life, knowing that she might be found and sent to a concentration camp to be killed.

Although the teachers of Campbell H.S. can teach about the emotional and psychological effects of abortion and the decision-making process from the front of a classroom, when these issues are lived through the souls of Hemingway’s characters, they create a new and increased level of awareness of the depth of the issue.

There are dozens of stories in the cannon that deal with this issue that are not banned. Would you believe that Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, written in 1817, also deals with abortion, asking the question that if the creation is too ugly should it even be born? Not only is this an issue that has transmigrated across the centuries, but it poses the unspoken question whether those children with disabilities or malformities should even be born. Explosions from Chinese author Mo Yan deals with the idea of a government-forced abortion in response to China’s One Child Policy. The poem The Abortion from Ann Sexton reverberates not about the act, but about the consequences and the feeling. Are these to be banned as well?

Whether I am in favor of abortion or not is not the issue. I am in favor of freedom of speech. I am in favor of the constitution. I am in favor of exercising the mind and making it work through tough social, philosophical and political issues.

Too many of us are told what to think and we react accordingly. We’ve gone to war with countries that have done the same in an attempt to free their populace from the iron grip of censorship, misinformation, and dictatorial direction. If we hold our freedoms so dear, then why do we continue to allow ourselves to be oppressed?

So I ask you this, students, faculty, administration, teachers and members of the school board of Campbell H.S.:

  • Do not do to yourselves what we free other countries from.
  • Do not create your own literary gulag where the rule of the loudest few subverts the rights of the many.
  • Do give your children the ability to learn from our literary masters.
  • Do talk to your children about these issues so that they are informed of all sides.
  • Do fight against oppression – YES! What this group of parents has done to you is oppression. How does it feel to be oppressed? What are you thinking?
The amazing thing about fiction is that it can teach and inform us of things in a much more accessible way than classic “teach-question-answer-test” methodology.

So for the last time, I am pleading to your sense of Americanism. Don’t ban books. Don’t abrogate your rights. Don’t be oppressed.

Thank You,
Weston Ochse
Author, Soldier, Father

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