Would you be Sterilized?

Imagine today if Donald Trump made a decree that all morons and imbeciles must be sterilized to prevent further contamination of the American gene pool. Could you imagine the uproar? Even Fox News couldn’t spin that Twitter rant, but sadly, forced sterilization is still constitutional in the United States. Ninety years ago, in the infamous case of Buck vs. Bell, Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr., declared by many as the wisest man in the United States, wrote the majority opinion summarized by this one sentence:”Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The history of Buck vs. Bell and America’s dark marriage to eugenics is detailed in the fascinating book Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen.

Eugenics is defined as the purposeful cleansing of defects in the gene pool to improve a particular species. For example, eugenics is commonly used today when dogs are cross bred to remove negative health traits: English Bulldog + Labrador = Bullador. Human eugenics started in 19th century Europe with the advent of Social Darwinism. Essentially, people thought that “survival of the fittest” not only applied to animals but also to racist white guys. The whitest of the white, Nordic Europeans, viewed themselves as the beez neez and thought all other races should bow to their paleness. Many geneticists believed that every trait, belief, attribute, and characteristic of a person was passed on from their parents. There was very little understanding of the environmental impact on behavior and subsequently all vices were blamed on bad genes. Drunkenness in the Irish. Criminality in the Italians. Promiscuity in the Poles.  Usury in the Jews. Imbecility in the poor. Basically, anyone who was not a white-Northern-European-rich-pious-fricker was deemed to have poor progeny.

At the turn of the 20th century, America was becoming inundated with all sorts of new immigrants: tides of Irish, Jews, Eastern Europeans, South Americans, and Chinese. These new immigrants oftentimes lived in squalor and were more likely to commit crimes, have large families, and be less educated compared to their Anglo-Saxon counterparts. Hence, “real “Americans decided to clean up the gene pool and the States began to pass laws that allowed the sterilization of anyone who had unappealing traits. Intelligence tests were given out to see whether people were imbeciles or morons. These tests were completely erroneous and in many cases found that half of test takers were mentally unfit.

The Immigration Act of 1924 was passed in direct connection to eugenic beliefs on racial inferiority. It drastically decreased the number of immigrants from countries that were not Anglo-Saxon in origin. The climax of the eugenics movement occurred in 1927 when Buck vs. Bell went to the supreme court to determine whether Virginia had the right to sterilize Carrie Buck –  a poor-white-southerner. The case was a complete sham. Carrie was not an imbecile but rather an intelligent girl who had the bad luck of being raped and blamed for promiscuity. Carrie’s lawyer was actually on the prosecutions payroll and she was not informed about any details of the case. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was a firm believer in the “survival of the fittest” and wrote that sterilization did not impede upon Miss. Buck’s constitutional rights.

The eugenics movement in America helped Hitler cement many of his policies during WWII. The Immigration Act of 1924 assisted the Holocaust by  barring Jews from entering America. Nazi Lawyers, during the Nuremberg Trials, actually used the case of Buck vs. Bell as a justification for 1000’s of sterilizations. In total, the US sterilized over 70,000 people throughout the 20th century – the last forced sterilization was in 1981. Today, Buck vs. Bell has still not been overturned and there are cases of coerced sterilizations in prison and mental health systems. Eugenics is still a major concern with advancements in technology that can screen babies for “undesirable” traits. Is it right for a couple to abort a child who has Down Syndrome? What if we get to the point that prenatal screenings tell us the risk of stunted height or ADHD? Who gets to define what traits are good or bad? America’s history with eugenics is scary but its future is even more precarious. Let’s not repeat the mistakes of Social Darwinism and nonsensical-immigration restrictions. I think Charles Darwin said it best:

“The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man.”

The Nazi Bible

Did Hitler one day just wake up with the revelation, “I don’t like Jews and I like blond-haired-blue-eyed people!” Of course this is not how Hitler came to some of his beliefs but what did shape his beliefs and those of the Nazi party? This question was answered in A Most Dangerous Book: Tacitus’s Germania from the Roman Empire to the Third Reich by Christopher B. Krebs. Enter Cornelius Tacitus. Tacitus was a Roman senator and historian who lived between 56 to 117 AD. He was quite a famous writer during his time and is most known for writing the Annals and the Histories which cover the reigns of certain Roman Emperors. Tacitus also wrote the Germania in 98 AD which described the Germanen people who lived in the northern unconquered areas of present day Germany, Poland, Denmark, Czech Republic, and a few Scandinavian countries. The people that lived in these areas during the days of Tacitus were a hodgepodge of barbaric tribes which were not united and fought each other regularly. In the Germania, the land and the customs of the various tribes are described: a people that were unmixed with other races who had fierce blue eyes, tawny red hair, large frames, athletic builds, strong work ethics, habitual drunkenness, and harsh punishments for breaking societal rules. Tacitus never went to visit these lands or tribes and received his information from literary sources and third-person accounts. By no means was the Germania meant to be an accurate historical account but rather a mosaic of political and moral underpinnings meant to send a message to the Roman people. The message was that the barbarians had certain traits which were lacking in Roman society (simplicity, bravery, and hospitality) and that the Germanen tribes were a discernible threat to the empire.

The Germania went into obscurity and was not rediscovered until 1421. The accidental unearthing of this document by post-medieval humanists couldn’t have come at a better time. In the 1500’s, Germany was not a country and the people living in the area did not have a strong understanding of their history, language, or culture. Scholars clung to the Germania as true “German” history and took it as proof that they descended from a  pure, hardy, and moral stock. For the next two centuries, the Germania was sorely misinterpreted to show that Germany actually was the birth of republic government, culture, and the human race. In the 1800’s, with increases in scientific understanding, the Germania was interpreted to show the Germans to be biologically superior through racial purity-further uplifting the Nordic/Aryan image. During this time, students and the middle-class were able to read publications that used excerpts from the Germania to push for German nationalism and moral rectitude (Germany became an independent country in 1871).  Picking up steam in the 1900’s, the Völkisch movement (similar to the Populist movement in America) was a set of beliefs that used the Germania to argue that Germany had to return to its past when there were no demoralized cities and the virtues of the farmer were held to the highest regard; the profession of farming represented purity and this further stemmed the belief that Aryans were the pure race. Antisemitism has roots in this movement because the Jews were foreigners tainting the German race and they many times had communities in cities where they worked in business.

The Germania directly influenced philosophical ideals in Hitler’s autobiography Mein Kampf. Furthermore, Hitler’s top SS commander, Heinrich Himmler, was obsessed with the Germania and pushed the idea of racial purity much more then any other Nazi member. Himmler was extremely influential in the implementation of the Holocaust and made sure the Hitler Youth received twisted education on the Germania. If the Nazi party had a bible I would say the Germania would be the number one candidate. It is now clear to see how just one book can influence people in a very dangerous way. The Germania was misinterpreted throughout the ages to suit the desires of the readers. When not critically analyzed and put into historical context, all books lose their original meanings. Education is powerful and if this one book was never written would World War II have ever occurred? Interesting to think about and it makes me wonder if there is a book out there that could repeat this warped ideology in the future.