“Make a list of ten things you hate and tear them down in a short story or poem. Make a list of ten things you love and celebrate them. When I wrote Fahrenheit 451 I hated book burners and I loved libraries. So there you are”
– Ray Badbruy, whose name was on the FBI’s list of suspected undesirables
Ray Bradbury never was a Communist. He was not a man bent on fomenting war and destruction. But the FBI found his existence troubling. The Bureau noted: “The general aim of these science fiction writers is to frighten the people into a state of paralysis or psychological incompetence bordering on hysteria.” Bradbury wrote to show people what’s really going on. For him, literature is a pressure valve through which humanity can release tensions brought on by our acute awareness of ageing, love, growing up and growing old, the knowledge that people do vanish and death. We know, says Bradbruy, too much about these things. We do not die of reality, he offers, because reality is too much with us. We whither when there is no outlet for these tensions within all of us. He gives the example of murder. The vast majority of us are peace loving. But murder exists. So you can read a book and play the role of murderer for an hour or so and not be one. To see is not to do. To see is to escape and release the pressure.
Through his typewriter, Bradbruy sought to find what his tensions were. He found some of them. “I am not afraid of robots,” he wrote in a letter to Disney in 1974. “I am afraid of people, people, people. I want them to remain human. I can help keep them human with the wise and lovely use of books, films, robots, and my own mind, hands, and heart.”
But the FBI were worried. Thought and art were exhibits in cases pending. And everyone was a suspect. Bradbury was not apolitical. His novella The Fireman (which became Fahrenheit 451) was written in response to the McCarthy HUAC hearings. So FBI informant Martin Berkeley – known as the House Un-American Activities Committee’s “number one friendly witness” – appraised Bradbury and found him wanting. As the documents below state, science fiction “may be a lucrative field for the introduction of Communist ideology”.
The FBI’s file on a man of imagination, foresight and wit is a treasure trove of besuited panic. It’s made by the kind of people who read only one book and find they like it. Was Bradbury attending the Cultural Congress of Havana? Did Bradbury plan to overthrow the US Government? Such was the FBI’s lack of understanding of a man who said off his work, “Everything I’ve done is a surprise, a wonderful surprise” and kickstarted the writing process by making lists of nouns that recalled moments in his life, his reactions to them and what he learned from everyone else before seeing where the typewriter took him. Was Bradbury part of the Soviets’ master plan? Was Ray Bradbury the enemy?