1956 August 23

Stamp Out Orgasms! Government Suppresses the Work of Dr. Wilhelm Reich


In one of the most outrageous examples of censorship by the U.S. government, federal agents on this day seized and burned six tons of books and articles by Dr. Wilhelm Reich, an Austrian psychoanalyst who developed the controversial theory of “orgone energy.” Reich argued that orgone was a cosmic force related to the energy released in orgasms. He also developed an “orgone accumulator,” a device he believed collected orgone energy. He was convicted of selling the accumulator, in violation of an injunction against the interstate shipment of his materials, and sentenced to prison. He died in prison of heart failure just over a year later.

Whatever the merits of his theories about orgone energy, the federal government was utterly reprehensible for burning his scientific materials. And it is unbelievable that in 1956, with the example of Nazi book burning fresh in everyone’s mind, the U.S. government would burn someone’s books and papers because the ideas were offensive. Born in Austria, Reich was one of Sigmund Freud’s early disciples. He was also a Marxist. Before coming to the U.S., he was expelled by the Freudians because of his Marxist views. The Communists expelled him because of his preoccupation with sex.

There were a number of shocking incidents where U.S. officials burned books in the post-World War II years, with full knowledge of the example of Nazi Germany. On March 31, 1950 the federal government seized and burned 3,000 copies of Scientific American because it alleged published the “secret” of the atomic bomb. Officials in Newark, New Jersey, burned allegedly “lewd” books and magazines on March 7, 1953.  And on November 10, 1973, school officials in North Dakota burned copies of Kurt Vonnegut’s acclaimed novel Slaughterhouse Five.

Read: Jerome Greenfield, Wilhelm Reich vs. the U.S.A. (1974)

Watch a documentary on Reich and the government’s suppression of his work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNYmBDvSwOw

Learn more: Haig A Bosmajian, Burning Books (2006)

Learn more about Nazi book burning: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005852

Learn about book burning in history: http://mentalfloss.com/article/50038/11-book-burning-stories-will-break-your-heart

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