back to article FBI probed SciFi author Ray Bradbury for plot to glum-down America

Among the many things the FBI of the 1950s and 1960s thought was corrupting America's youth and harbouring communism was, apparently, the science fiction scene. Documents recently released under freedom of information laws, show the G-men took an interest in one of the era's leading authors, Ray Bradbury. Their interest was …

  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Of course to Hoover "“known liberal writer”. "

    Would have been bad enough. But then Capitalism and the status quo had been the source of his power and influence.

    The film Fahrenheit 451 was made in 1966.

    Is America a freere, less surveiled society now?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Headmaster

      Re: Of course to Hoover "“known liberal writer”. "

      "freere, less surveiled"

      FFS!

      To think I nearly upvoted that splaff! Oh the shame of it

    2. Fungus Bob

      Re: Of course to Hoover "“known liberal writer”. "

      "Is America a freere, less surveiled society now?"

      Don't be silly, things have never been better. Happiness and Joy abound in all corners of the Land Of The Free as well as Gratitude and Love toward our Benevolent Protectors. We all enjoy paying taxes to support our American Way Of Life.

      And I'm not just saying that because of the microphone planted in the lamp next to me by our capable Homeland Security agents.

  2. msknight Silver badge

    Corrupting America?

    I thought that job went to Faux News.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Corrupting America?

      Whoah. Fox News broadcast a terrible obituary of Kurt Vonnegut, so this report of the FBI's attitude towards Bradbury seems entirely plausible.

      What's worrying is that Fox were looking to trash Vonnegut and his humanist values in 2007 - that is far less remote than the paranoia of decades ago.

      Google: 'youtube fox news kurt vonnegut obituary'

      1. h4rm0ny

        Re: Corrupting America?

        To be fair, he does seem to have some success at "corrupting the youth". :D

        1. Richard Taylor 2
          Happy

          Re: Corrupting America?

          Very good pisstake of other videos (mentioning no US teen in school in particular)- and a Vonnegut putdown as well "-)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    Jesus

    Don't tell them about El Reg

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Jesus

      Good luck to anybody trying to pigeonhole El Reg!

      They've got something here for everyone to complain about.

    2. hplasm
      Coat

      Re: Jesus

      Jesus reads Slashdot.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Jesus

        "Jesus reads Slashdot."

        Jesus wept.

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: Jesus

        "Jesus reads Slashdot."

        And "The Baby Jesus" pees and craps himself & cries a little. Like all newborns.

        1. sabroni Silver badge

          Re: Jesus

          No, I think you'll find that while the cattle are lowing and baby jesus awakes, no crying he makes.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
            Devil

            Re: Jesus

            That particular carol is unspecific as to crapping and puking though...

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Devil

              Re: Jesus

              Quite. The little bastard may well have been preoccupied in executing an extremely long puke while the carol writer happened to be wandering past.

      3. Fungus Bob

        Re: Jesus

        "Jesus reads Slashdot."

        Jesus reads *everything*

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    America

    simply a Third World country. Yes, rich but oh, so definitely Third World

    1. ChrisInAStrangeLand
      Facepalm

      Re: America

      By Third World you mean to say that America is unaligned militarily with America or the Soviet Union?

      1. hplasm
        Happy

        Re: America

        By Third World you mean it should moved to Venus?

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

        2. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: America

          >By Third World you mean it should moved to Venus?

          Er, Venus is only the Third World from the sun if you still believe in the planet Vulcan... but the observations that hinted at it were later explained by adopting Einstein's theories over Newton's.

          1. hplasm
            Happy

            Re: America

            "if you still believe in the planet Vulcan..."

            True, but it was just a toss-up between Venus and Mars as to where to put the US.

            Venus seemed like a better fit, climate-wise.

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

              1. John G Imrie

                Surely Mars would be a better fit given the subject of this chronicle?

                Just avoid the silver locusts

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: America

        >ChrisInAStrangeLand

        Nice Heinlein-inspired tag!

        You saw QI last night then? (Context for other readers: 'Third World' was first used top refer to countries that were aligned with neither the USA or USSR, before later being used to refer to poor countries. We now use 'Developing Nations' for the latter, a loaded phrase itself since it suggests an 'inevitable' direction.)

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: America

        The only country not under threat of a CIA coup...

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Re: The only country not under threat of a CIA coup

          I'm sure JFK would agree with that, right ?

        2. BoldMan

          Re: America

          > Re: America

          > The only country not under threat of a CIA coup...

          Because the coup has already happened!!!

  5. Term

    Free country?

    I've always found the McCarthy era to be at odds with America's insistance that it's a free country.It just seem s that the majority of people (in power?) went insane.

    1. mark 177
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Free country?

      Yes, they seem to go through such phases, but surely Dubya's reign was even worse and its legacy lives on in the NSA.

      1. Irongut Silver badge

        Re: Free country?

        Phases? Only if the current phase has lasted at least 70 years.

      2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: Free country?

        "Dubya's reign was even worse and its legacy lives on in the NSA."

        Oh please, read your history books - the NSA has been in the surveillance business for years before Dubya ascended to power. And the UK has been an enthusiastic partner while all the time wringing its hands about the whole business.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Free country?

          Oh please, read your history books - the NSA has been in the surveillance business for years before Dubya ascended to power

          Indeed. I'm no fan of George II, but the Clinton and Obama regimes quite happily stomped on civil rights, including privacy, in many areas. Putting multiple domestic spying agencies under the umbrella of Homeland Security was a completely unnecessary bureaucratic boondoggle, but it doesn't mark W's administration as especially reprehensible in bulking up the US police state. He was pretty much par for the course.

          And as bad as things are now, I'm very dubious of claims that they're worse than in the days of HUAC and COINTELPRO. That doesn't mean we should be content with the status quo, of course, but arguments that show some historical perspective are more persuasive.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Free country?

      There is a certain frame of mind that is always with us in society. It proliferates in organisations who have, or think they should have, the power to dictate what everyone else should think.

      Most people go through that phase when they are young and see things in a simplistic fixed way. Some people never move past that phase. Unfortunately that apparent "certainty" can promote them into positions of institutional power.

      Nothing encourages such behaviour in a wider population than the apparent promise of certainty and Infallibility.

    3. BoldMan

      Re: Free country?

      America, land of the Free*

      * for only certain values of "free"

      1. John G Imrie

        America, land of the Free*

        Everything free in America,

        For a small fee in America.

      2. Graham Marsden
        Black Helicopters

        Re: Free country?

        Yes, Free to agree with what *we* say is acceptable...

    4. Cynic_999 Silver badge

      Re: Free country?

      I've always assumed that the "Land of the Free" was meant to be understood in the same way as the "Ministry of Truth," "Ministry of Peace" and "Ministry of Love" was meant to be understood in George Orwell's "1984"

  6. frank ly

    Multiple think

    “Bradbury would be a type of person who might be invited to attend the Cultural Congress of Havana because of his liberal view but that he had no definite information concerning this matter”.

    Oh yes, high quality, hard and definite intelligence. That's what we need.

    1. GrumpyOldBloke

      Re: Multiple think

      Sadly they haven't got any better

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberty_City_Seven

      or the big one

      http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=91651

  7. Michael H.F. Wilkinson

    Interesting, and probably accurate way of putting it

    From the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) report

    “He noted that some of Bradbury's stories have definitely slated against the United States and its capitalistic form of government”

    (my emphasis)

    Interesting use of the word "capitalistic." Given the influence (then and now) of big money, it is perhaps a more important distinction than democratic.

    I am also perennially amused by a certain group of Americans who shout at the top of their voices that America is the land of the free, and yet don't like liberals. Maybe they should look up the etymology of the word liberal. Just a thought

    Many other Americans despair rather than smile at the attitude of these fellow countrymen

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Interesting, and probably accurate way of putting it

      Then try to match the etymology to those who self-describe themselves as "liberal." Which is why those of us that are use "classical liberal" for the most part.

      1. Steven Roper

        Re: Interesting, and probably accurate way of putting it

        Then try to match the etymology to those who self-describe themselves as "liberal."

        The 5 downvotes to 1 upvote you had for that comment also illustrates the judgmental mindset of the modern "liberal", a species that seems to be infesting El Reg's comment boards rather a lot of late. I've given you another upvote for it, but I fear the hivemind will gang up on me as well as you. At least we can take pleasure in knowing we're pissing the sanctimonious bastards off!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Time on their hands

    It seems that the FBI were simply desperate to keep their well paid jobs and their expense accounts. As they weren't able to find the real communist conspirators, they had to invent them. And a target for communist conspirator is basically "anybody more famous/richer/getting laid more often than I am", because this kind of spying is likely to be envy-driven.

    Because the TLAs are opaque it is impossible to find out whether they are really successful at all.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Time on their hands

      No need to be desperate. If you are even close to being part of the intelligence community, everything you do can be wrapped in secrecy (so you can get away with anything, or nothing) and if someone *does* call you out for being an oxygen thief then you can resort to plan B which is to accuse them of being un-patriotic, or working for the enemy, or soft on crime, or ... well, it hardly matters because everything you might use to judge the accuracy of the accusation turns out to be secret. ("Trust us, our anti-terrorism squads have saved thousands. No, we can't tell you any more than that, just thousands.")

      Keeping secrets has two costs. There's the explicit cost of whatever infrastructure you use to guard your secrets, and then there's the hidden cost of all the incompetence and waste that is never addressed. I suspect that the latter usually outweighs the former, which is why secrecy is something that a state should minimise.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Time on their hands

        "which is to accuse them of being un-patriotic, or working for the enemy, or soft on crime"

        Now we know who the Daily Mail is really working for.

  9. Ru'

    At least these days they have a much easier job of identifying the bad guys, seeing as everyone is considered either a terrist or pee-doh.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Big Brother

      "seeing as everyone is considered either a terrist or pee-doh"

      Not so. Some are presumably presumed to be both.

      1. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        "

        "seeing as everyone is considered either a terrist or pee-doh"

        Not so. Some are presumably presumed to be both.

        "

        It wasn't that long ago that it was widely reported that terrorists were cunningly concealing their dastardly plans inside child pornography. It was never explained just what advantage it was to use such material as a hiding place. It sounded to me about as sensible as trying to smuggle a deadly nerve toxin through airport security by putting it inside an illegal firearm.

  10. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    I enjoyed his stories, and most are food for thought, most especially Fahrenheit 451.

    I found it odd that Equilibrium (movie) shared the same storyline as F451 to a degree, but with the addition of 1984 (Big Brother = "Father"), The Matrix (Grammaton Clerics) amongst others.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      And GunKata is just awesome

  11. Elmer Phud

    FBI sponsored?

    On the other hand we had people like Niven and Pournelle busy stoking the McCarthyism fire with book after book about invading aliens and 'ordinary Americans' taking up the struggle and winning.

    Thankfully we also had Kurt Vonnegut.

    (Meanwhile Phil Farmer just wanted big tits in everything and Ron Hubbard had even huger tits in his books.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: FBI sponsored?

      "[...] Niven and Pournelle busy stoking the McCarthyism fire with book after book about invading aliens and 'ordinary Americans' taking up the struggle and winning.[..]

      Any culture's storytelling has always used themes from their history of invasion and brave defenders. Such stories are rarely particularly nuanced in differentiating the opposing sides. In some cases the aggressors are even portrayed as the victims

      Possibly the three major influences for USA authors were: The War of Independence; their Indian wars; Pearl Harbour.

      In Britain it was; various invasions by the Danes; William the Conqueror; Spanish Armada; Napoleon; WWII.

      1. Putters

        Re: FBI sponsored?

        I've always found it amusing how, when discussing British History (and in particular, invasion of the mainland) that the last time a large army - 11,000 foot and 4,000 mounted troops - landed and deposed the rightful-by-the-rules-of-succession, albeit unpopular, king ...

        1688 and all that.

        1. Rich 11 Silver badge

          Re: FBI sponsored?

          landed and deposed the rightful-by-the-rules-of-succession, albeit unpopular, king

          So unpopular that hardly anyone was motivated to fight for him, with barely a hundred lives being lost in the process.

        2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: FBI sponsored?

          But William had an invitation. He was coming to build a mobile phone network...

          I think that's also why no-one ever seems to mention the French invasion after John reneged on Magna Carta, which only stopped after he'd randomly snuffed it, and the barons got together under William the Marshal and told the French to bugger off - oh and by the way thanks for the help.

          I guess it comes under the general heading of foreign help in civil war, rather than invasion.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: FBI sponsored?

      Niven and Pournelle busy stoking the McCarthyism fire with book after book about invading aliens and 'ordinary Americans' taking up the struggle and winning

      In Footfall the "ordinary Americans" fail miserably. It's the military that actually defeats the invaders, and even that's at high risk and cost.

      I'm not saying the book isn't a chest-thumper, but it's hardly the sort of paean to organic exceptionalism you're claiming. Contrast something like Battlefield Earth (if you dare).

      In terms of this particular thematic arc, Footfall is closer to John Carpenter's classic Tripods trilogy: there, too, the protagonists end up working as part of a substantial organized resistance movement with a (para)military organizational structure.

      Meanwhile Phil Farmer just wanted big tits in everything

      Yes, but to be fair he wanted all of his characters to be substantially developed in the chest. Zelazny's introduction to World of Tiers described it as "muscular fiction", and I'm not sure that was a metaphor. (Hmm. Come to think of it, the love interest in Dark is the Sun is explicitly described as having small breasts. So Farmer had some range.)

  12. jake Silver badge

    Seems to me the FBI itself has been trying to "glum down" the USofA ...

    ... ever since Jayne Edger Hoover took the helm. Hasn't exactly worked, now has it?

    One definition of insanity is "doing the same thing, over and over, each time expecting a different result". By this definition, the FBI is clearly an insane organization, and has been for decades.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Seems to me the FBI itself has been trying to "glum down" the USofA ...

      They seem perfectly sane to me, just unethical. They've gotten precisely what they appear to want, which is a big pile of money and the occasional opportunity to stick the boot in.

  13. Arctic fox
    Headmaster

    The historical irony of two major obssesions and the law of unintended consequences.

    Obsession #1 The Demon Drink

    Prohibition was the greatest gift to organised crime ever. It provided the Mafia in the twenties with its start-up capital in the form of a multimillion dollar business.

    Obsession #2 Reds under beds

    Although the FBI were in fact having some success against the Mob by the time WW2 broke out the anticommunist hysteria from the middle 1940s to the end of the 1960s meant that the entire efforts of the bureau were directed against red phantoms with Hoover at one stage even trying to deny that the Mafia existed. At the same time the OSS (Office of Strategic Services - the forerunner of the CIA) sent crime boss Lucky Luciano back to Italy after the war with a case full of money to finance the Italian Mafia as a counterweight to the Italian communist party! That laid the foundations for the cooperation between the Syndicates Italian and American branches with regard to, amongst other things, the large scale importing of heroin into the US.

    Two different obsessions at different times synergising meant that the Syndicate in practice went unchallenged by US law enforcement until the 1970s.

    1. Tomato42
      Facepalm

      Re: The historical irony of two major obssesions and the law of unintended consequences.

      It's a common theme in CIA activities.

      See "where do cocaine drug lords get guns from?", "who put Saddam Hussein into power?" and "who trained Osama Bin'Laden"

      they really are insane, they keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results

      1. Arctic fox

        Re: "they keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results"

        Indeed. What's the old saw? "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it".

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "they keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results"

          ...and those who learn from history are doomed to make new mistakes.

          The problem with history is that there was usually a complex set of interacting factors and chance that are not necessarily going to be in force the next time round. It needs a good mind - and luck - to be able to use the lessons of history.

          Another appropriate saying is 'No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man.".

      2. Roj Blake

        Re: The historical irony of two major obssesions and the law of unintended consequences.

        "they really are insane, they keep doing the same thing over and over and expect different results"

        Or maybe they expect, and intend, the same results as before.

        Without enemies, there is no need for them to exist.

  14. disgruntled yank Silver badge

    testator

    What did Mr. Berkeley leave to the HUAC, and was it still around to inherit when they died?

  15. Chazmon
    Mushroom

    To be honest I slightly see their point. I went on something of a dystopian binge at one point culminating in Stand on Zanzibar by Brunner and I was cross for months! My girlfriend at the time asked what was wrong and I muttered something about being angry about the future people.

    In the end I had to find something more cheerful to read (I went for C.S. Lewis' sci fi).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "In the end I had to find something more cheerful to read [...]"

      A psychiatrist once said that optimists are people who should be certified as clinically insane. Whereas those defined as clinically depressed actually have a fairly good grip on reality.

      As an adult C.S.Lewis was always searching for a $deity to give a meaning to his life - eventually settling on orthodox Anglican Christianity. He is quoted as saying that as a teenage aetheist he was "angry with God for not existing".

      1. nijam Silver badge

        > A psychiatrist once said that optimists are people who should be certified as clinically insane.

        The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true.

        -- James Branch Cabell (1879-1958), in "The Silver Stallion" (1926)

      2. h4rm0ny

        >>"A psychiatrist once said that optimists are people who should be certified as clinically insane. Whereas those defined as clinically depressed actually have a fairly good grip on reality"

        And a non-psychiatrist once described psychiatry as "the study of people who don't need help by those who do".

        I'll leave it up to El Reg readers to decide which view they trust.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    For all those apologists for surveillance who say, "if you've done nothing wrong you've got nothing to hide", see "I have no definite information but this person seems like the type to... "

  17. Bota

    Common core

    Mass surveillance, no real democratic process, the changing of history, just a few communist successes of the west. The other is the formation of a north American union (signed into law by Bush). The cultural Marxist cesspool which is the U.S. should leave few in doubt who won the ideological pissing contest.

  18. Joe Harrison

    What does liberal mean

    It wasn't until 1968 that the FBI gave up trying to tag Bradbury as more than a “known liberal writer”

    What does "liberal" actually mean when used by Americans?

    I read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_liberalism_in_the_United_States but it doesn't really explain the way that a lot of them routinely use the word.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What does liberal mean

      What does "liberal" actually mean when used by Americans?

      Judging by the context in which it is normally used by American politicians (especially from the bible-belt) it means "Communist hippy pervert terrorist who will undermine the American way and corrupt our children"....

      1. hplasm
        Big Brother

        Re: What does liberal mean

        "What does "liberal" actually mean when used by Americans?"

        Someone who isn't shackled by my hangups- the bastards!

      2. John G Imrie

        Re: What does liberal mean

        I bet they don't like Mum's Apple Pie™ either

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What does liberal mean

          "I bet they don't like Mum's Apple Pie™ either"

          Even if it is comfortably warm?

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: What does liberal mean

      What does "liberal" actually mean when used by Americans?

      Depends on the American, and on the era. What it meant to some FBI pencil-pusher in 1968 is only distantly related to what it might mean to any random US citizen today.

      Broadly it's meant to indicate that someone advocates at least one of a wide range of positions that are seen as being vaguely on what passes for the left in the US. But other people may advocate the same position and be branded differently. For example, reducing mandatory prison sentences is favored by some "liberals" and some "fiscal conservatives".

      The US is a big place with a huge range of subcultures. In politics, much of that difference is concealed by the de facto two-party system, which creates all sorts of strange and uneasy bedfellows.

      What "liberal" generally does not mean, in the US, is what it means as a term of art in political science - i.e., a broad belief in individual civil rights, freedom, self-determination, and limited interference by government. In terms of the total political spectrum of global modernity, both the US parties are firmly in the liberal camp in this sense. Both also have large contingents in favor of limiting some or other rights, but on the whole they're distinctly liberal. They differ only in the exceptions they favor. But, of course, saying "everyone in the US political mainstream is a liberal" doesn't help when you're trying to stir up antagonism.

  19. keithpeter Silver badge
    Windows

    Brian Aldiss

    Wonder what they made of Brian Aldiss?

    (Report on Probability A and Barefoot in the Head era).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Brian Aldiss

      > Wonder what they made of Brian Aldiss?

      Or J.G. Ballard....

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Brian Aldiss

        Probably they were conflicted, after Isaac Asimov declared that the New Wave would destroy Science Fiction. Couldn't decide if the cure was worse than the disease. (As it happened, of course, Asimov got over his worries and US SF proceeded along quite happily, even getting into the New Wave game a bit.)

  20. The Dude

    Vote Libertarian

    Then they won't know what to think.

  21. Adam T

    Philip K Dick

    just wants to say "told you so"

  22. John Geek

    how about Harlan Ellison ? :)

  23. Stevie

    Bah!

    I guess a few people didn't enjoy Fahrenheit 451.

    I'm not finding Shameless as riveting as it used to be. Why do those pinko writers hate America, and who do I call to denounce them now Uncle Joe and that nice Mr Hoover aren't here to act as the Bureau of Moral Climates?

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