August 31, 2003


Blind to a nightmare (SCOTT FORNEK, August 31, 2003, Chicago Sun-Times)
He built a court system that became a model for the nation. He wrestled with ways to prevent crime, not just punish the criminal. He was a pioneer in the field of criminal psychology.

When he died in 1935, a Chicago Daily News editorial writer predicted that "the interesting thing about Judge [Harry] Olson's life and works is that no one can now write their epilogue, because the full fruit of the man's life may be borne in the future."

Nearly 70 years later, the epilogue has been written. And unfortunately for the judge's memory, some of that fruit is clearly rotten.

A new book paints a dark view of Olson, suggesting that he and other American proponents of the now discredited pseudo-science of eugenics helped fuel one of the most horrific nightmares of modern times.

In War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race, award-winning investigative author Edwin Black connects the Holocaust and other Nazi war crimes to the American eugenics movement, a crusade for selective breeding that led to the forced sterilization of nearly 70,000 Americans deemed "unfit."

A best-selling writer on the Holocaust, Black does not blame Olson and his colleagues for the Nazi atrocities. But he does argue that they hatched the quest to create a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed master race here in the United States.

He points the finger at top scholars of the era, political leaders, self-styled reformers and the wealthy industrialists who funded it all.

"What we have here is corporate philanthropy engaged in ethnic cleansing," Black said.

And Olson's role was to help craft a U.S. sterilization law. It would be imitated by Nazi Germany--a feat Olson viewed with pride before his death in 1935.

"It was Judge Olson who helped proliferate and propagate these bizarre theories into every jurisdiction--local, state and national . . . and overseas," Black said. "He was a major mover in some of the most far-reaching persecution, oppression and genocidal campaigns the world has ever seen."

Despite Olson's prominence in the eugenics movement, he is a minor character in Black?s book, published by Four Walls Eight Windows and due out Sept. 7.

So the Sun-Times decided to take a look at Olson, poring over yellowed newspaper clippings, moldy letters and personal papers once stored in an Indiana chicken coop and musty documents on file at the Chicago Municipal Reference Library.

Was Olson a malicious race theorist or a would-be reformer with bizarre ideas about the mentally ill, caught up in a movement that spiraled out of control?

This is somewhat unfair in several ways: first, the connection between the euthanasia movement and the Holocaust is far more
, but we don't like to talk about that because euthanasia is politically popular, while you don't have to worry about offending the few remaining eugenicists; second, whenever you lift a man out of his times and judge him by the standards of your own you are doing him a disservice. This article ends with the following passage:
Barry Mehler, director of the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism at Ferris State University, said he believes it is pointless to try to discern Olson's true motives, arguing that they are irrelevant to what he must ultimately be judged on.

"By the damage that was done to tens of thousands of victims in the United States, who were sterilized, by the millions of victims worldwide," Mehler said. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

"You don't judge people by their intentions. You judge people by the outcomes."

But if we accept this as true then the Justices who voted in favor of Roe v. Wade and thereby paved the way for forty million abortions must be held to be evil, rather than seen to be morally blind on the issue, which seems a fairer assessment. One's actions can result in evil without one being evil. There actually is a deffirence between those who have diminished the value that we place on human life by advocating things like eugenics, abortion, euthanasia, etc., and those who then used this dimishment as an excuse to engage in systematic murder. The distinction is of no consolation to the victims but is owed to the advocates. Posted by Orrin Judd at August 31, 2003 8:44 PM
Comments for this post are closed.