Monday, February 15, 2010

Purging the "socially unfit"

As I learn more about Progressives and the Progressive Era in American politics and culture I become increasingly doubtful about "progress" and idealists who are confident that they know what must be done in its name. The history textbook presentation of the era and of the major Progressive personalities didn't manage to cover anything about their complicity in racism, ethnic bigotry, and eugenics.

This morning Michael Gerson recommended a book, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, by Edwin Black. Gerson describes it as:
...one of the most disturbing books about America ever written. It recounts efforts by distinguished scientists, academics, industrialists, health officials and jurists through much of the 20th century to “direct human evolution” by waging war against people with developmental and physical disabilities.

Black points out that early last century, the American Breeders Association — supported by generous grants from Andrew Carnegie — created a committee to study “the best practical means for cutting off the defective germ-plasm of the American population.” The panel included doctors, economists and attorneys from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and the University of Chicago.

Black continues: “During a number of subsequent conferences, they carefully debated the ‘problem of cutting off the supply of defectives,’ and systemically plotted a bold campaign of ‘purging the blood of the American people of the handicapping and deteriorating influences of these anti-social classes.’ Ten groups were eventually identified as ‘socially unfit’ and targeted for ‘elimination.’” Among those groups, according to Black, were the “feebleminded,” epileptics, the “insane,” the “deformed” and the “deaf.”

Eugenic sterilizations did not end in the United States until the 1970s, endorsed by a decision of the Supreme Court. Citizens with Down syndrome and other genetic challenges are increasingly rare in America, because of prenatal testing and abortion. And as such genetic perfection is pursued, those who lack it are subjected to increased prejudice. .... [more]
In the first three decades of the 20th Century, American corporate philanthropy combined with prestigious academic fraud to create the pseudoscience eugenics that institutionalized race politics as national policy. The goal: create a superior, white, Nordic race and obliterate the viability of everyone else.

How? By identifying so-called "defective" family trees and subjecting them to legislated segregation and sterilization programs. The victims: poor people, brown-haired white people, African Americans, immigrants, Indians, Eastern European Jews, the infirm and really anyone classified outside the superior genetic lines drawn up by American raceologists. The main culprits were the Carnegie Institution, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Harriman railroad fortune, in league with America's most respected scientists hailing from such prestigious universities as Harvard, Yale and Princeton, operating out of a complex at Cold Spring Harbor on Long Island. The eugenic network worked in tandem with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the State Department and numerous state governmental bodies and legislatures throughout the country, and even the U.S. Supreme Court. They were all bent on breeding a eugenically superior race, just as agronomists would breed better strains of corn. The plan was to wipe away the reproductive capability of the weak and inferior.

Ultimately, 60,000 Americans were coercively sterilized — legally and extra-legally. Many never discovered the truth until decades later. Those who actively supported eugenics include America's most progressive figures: Woodrow Wilson, Margaret Sanger and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

American eugenic crusades proliferated into a worldwide campaign, and in the 1920s came to the attention of Adolf Hitler. Under the Nazis, American eugenic principles were applied without restraint, careening out of control into the Reich's infamous genocide. During the pre-War years, American eugenicists openly supported Germany's program. The Rockefeller Foundation financed the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute and the work of its central racial scientists. .... [more]