Edwin Black's War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race

Edwin Black's War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race

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Edwin Black's War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race


To the average American it seems unfathomable that US based research into the "scientific" practice of eugenics could have been the foundation and impetus for Hitler's Nazi genocide and atrocities. In addition, notions of racial superiority and the scientific quest for the development of a pure Aryan nation, both by the United States and foreign countries, particularly Germany, were funded and fueled by monies from such prominent families as the Rockefellers, Carnegies and Harriman's. In his book, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race, author Edwin Black traces the history of the American eugenics movement, its influence on the rise to power of the Third Reich, and how it was the foundation for the development of scientific racism. Consequently, Black fears that though eugenics in the sense that we recall from the past is gone in name, the future still presents eugenic-like research under the guise of human genetic science, which once again is supported by corporate funding whose goals are more for monetary gain and globalization, rather than for the benefit of mankind.

The origins of eugenic ideology can be traced to the mid-nineteenth century when English philosopher, Herbert Spencer coined the term "survival of the fittest." Those strong and "fittest" would naturally rise to the top, for the benefit of society. Spencer, along with other leading scientists like Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel advocated the principles of the improvement of the human race based on this superiority logic; supporting their findings through the combined applications of science and mathematics. In 1865, statistician Francis J. Galton "postulated that heredity not only transmitted physical features, such as hair color and height, but mental, emotional and creative qualities as well," and so new theories were born. (Page: 15). These characteristics were more than coincidental and Galton set about classifying and categorizing thousands of people based upon his hypothesis that negative hereditary existed, and that bad traits would out weigh the good and as a result, people would spiral biologically downward. Thus the term "eugenics" was utilized as "the study of all agencies under social control which can improve or impair the racial quality of future generations." (Page: 18).

Using the principles expounded by Galton and through Mendel's research in laws of recessive and dominant traits discovered in plant breeding, American researchers entered this new scientific field.

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According to Black, their involvement was hardly altruistic. Fueled by fears of the insolubility of immigrants into American life, racial and ethnic hatred was born, and with it, the belief that these undesirables were polluting the gene pool. Bigotry was rampant at the turn of the century, and people believed that race mixing was bad and so an immediate reaction was deemed necessary to curtail the problem. In addition, leading American researchers could not bear the fact that the British were already conducting research and they were lagging behind.

America's eugenic movement was not only focused upon its disdain for immigrants. It also took into consideration criminality, feeble mindedness, epilepsy and other diseases as modes of hereditary deficiency and thereby needing immediate attention. It was felt those with these "problems" must be identified, separated from society and dealt with in such a manner that they would be unable to procreate and breed another generation of defectives. Eugenicists manipulated the interpretation of "science," rationalizing racism and social fears, into something legitimate and scientifically based. America found its eugenic leader in Charles Davenport, a zoologist, who believed in Mendelian principles that the superior should thrive and the unfit left to dissolve. Davenport believed that breeding would bring about an unparalleled race and advocated studying bloodlines to locate the best and the worst. In January 1904, Davenport's vision of eugenic research became a reality through the opening of The Carnegie Institution's Station for Experimental Evolution in Cold Spring Harbor, NY. The name alone gives indication of where funding would come from. Since Davenport could not support his research and field work with Carnegie grants alone, he found success soliciting A. W. Harriman's widow, Mary into being a major patron and donating the 80 acres of land where the "station" would be situated, along with a large monetary stipend.

American eugenics' initial goal was to scour mental institutions, prisons, and homes for the infirm, diseased and epileptic on the principle that these types of people were defective and should not be allowed to reproduce because the results would be the creation of more unfit people who would ultimately become a financial burden on the state. Since Davenport believed that poverty was inbred and hereditary, he advocated segregation during reproductive years, as well as the sterilization of both males and females as a method for defective bloodlines to be halted. With states like Pennsylvania and Indiana initiating sterilization of children deemed by the medical profession of unworthy for reproduction, and numerous other states following with similar proposed laws, the eugenics mentality gained a stronghold nationally. Within the next ten years according to Black, "eugenics was nothing less than an alliance between biological racism and mighty American power, position and wealth against the vulnerable, the most marginal and the least empowered in the nation. The eugenic crusaders had successfully mobilized America's strong against America's weak." (Page: 57).

Davenport alone could not sustain the tremendous amount of research, field work, and fund raising alone. In Harry Hamilton Laughlin, he found a partner to perpetuate his visions and share his quest that the "best stock" would rule the world. The men's relationship was cemented in 1909 at an American Breeders Association meeting, and within the year he was working in Cold Spring Harbor. Laughlin's job would be to run the Eugenics Record Office, analyzing family data collected by trained eugenic field workers. Together, Davenport and Laughlin found many supporters in academia. Buoyed by endorsements from Harvard, Princeton and UC Berkley, they were even able to weave eugenics into college's science curriculum, thus propagating their beliefs to future generations.

By 1916 eugenic propaganda had been spread internationally through the publication; Eugenic News. American based, it was nan active vehicle for eugenic research to be published. Articles were printed on such topics as: legislative laws on sterilization, studies and findings which expounded theories about the poor and uneducated, and stories which advocated Laughlin and Davenport's belief that only through sterilization, sweeping isolation and incarceration could the unfit disappear from American society. In addition, the periodical frequently published German generated articles claiming scientific findings of the racial inferiority of Jews. With the institutes millions supplied by the leading philanthropic families in the country, the two set their sights on a worldwide purification program of global eugenics, and thus their connection with Germany evolved. Eugenics had changed from a loosely based scientific and biological based research theory, to a racist and ruthless crusade to exterminate and affect the cessation of those they deemed unfit to reproduce.

German eugenic research had begun in the 1890's under the phraseology of "race hygiene." Firm believers in what they termed the "killing of the unfit and useless" (page: 262), according to Black, German thinkers held U.S. eugenics up as their model. It was during Adolph Hitler's incarceration in 1923 when he read American eugenic principles voraciously, that he devised his vision of building a master race. Hitler believed that all Jews should be exterminated; Poles and Russians could nexist, but only to serve Germans. Furthermore, Hitler supported America's thoughts on hybridization, where no racial mix was acceptable.

German race hygiene research was initially conducted within the auspices of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, which was started in 1922 and supplemented financially by the Rockefeller Foundation. By 1926, the Foundation had donated four million dollars for German eugenic research. During the 1920's, Davenport and other leading American eugenicist supported and even collaborated with Germany on numerous joint projects. Germany's plan was to: "identify and subject to eugenic measures every individual of mixed race everywhere." (Page: 288). In order to do so, they needed a system of collecting, filing and categorizing all collected data. The Third Reich turned to American based IBM. By January of 1934, the company had opened a one million dollar facility for the sole purpose of the data processing of eugenic information. In addition, IBM assisted the Nazi's in developing medical questionnaires; and so statistical raceology was formed. So sophisticated was their system that they were able to identify those who were even 1/16th Jewish! As the Third Reich continued to rise in power, millions of Jews, Gypsies, Poles, and Slavs were imprisoned in concentration camps and subjected to experimentation under the guise of eugenic research. Members of American eugenic societies continued to support German research, visiting their facilities as late as 1937. Even more dishearteningly is the fact that Carnegie and Rockefeller dollars continued to support their research. German leaders siphoned monies that these Americans foundations had intended for "scientific research" and instead used it at their discretion for their own form of "sick" experimentation.

According to Black, popular myth says the Holocaust was the result of a mad man - but in reality it was based on the country's obsession with a eugenic vision, all the time fueled by American thought, ingenuity, research and money! (Page: 318). Throughout the thirties and the rise of Nazi Germany, American eugenics thrived. Not until 1938 when the world realized the full scope and impact of what was occurring in Germany, did the Carnegie Institute finally disengage itself. Black believes that many scientists towards the late 1930's rejected eugenics not for scientific or racist reasons, but because of the political implications of the research and its principles. Though the Eugenics Research Office stopped functioning, U.S. eugenic laws did not cease. Ironically, with all the United States had learned and seen as a result of the holocaust or what would become known as genocide, they still continued to practice eugenic behavior. Between 1900 and 1970, over 70,000 people would be sterilized, including the mentally ill, sexual deviants, criminals, and thousands of those on Indian Reservations and in U.S. territories in Puerto Rico. Racial practices and segmentation continued to be conducted in the name of science.

Eugenics according to Black easily transitioned into what today is known as genetics. His belief is that although the name may have been changed, the power that genetics exudes under the guise of DNA police data bases, medical information boards and cloning, have the potential for considerable damage to mankind. The author warns that "humanity should also be weary of a world where people are once again defined by their genetic identities. If that happens, science-based discrimination and the desire for a master race may resurrect." (Page: 428).

Though Black has a tendency towards sensationalism in his presentation, he brings to realization the significant role the American eugenics movement had in the development of race based science. Fueled by zealous men driven in the name of science based research, academically supported by scholars and most importantly financed by some of the leading philanthropists of the twentieth century, American eugenics was an idea gone out of control. Not only here in the United States, but its findings laid the groundwork for the atrocities committed by the Nazis. Frightfully he points out that practices of sterilization are still conducted in parts of the world today, and the dawn of what he calls "newgenics," could easily bring about a new kind of genetic divide, ultimately leading to the creation of a superior race or species. Furthermore, newgenics theory presents new avenues of manipulation of data for insurance companies, employers and the government to stratify and segment people based on race, class, ethnicity and economics. Black strongly advocates the need for curbing genetic social engineering, the methodology of research and its practices, and global unification to regulate the industry, in order to prevent genetic abuse.
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