October 13, 2006


A New Look at "Racial Hygiene": US Holocaust Museum Travels to Germany (Andrew Curry, 10/13/06, Der Spiegel)

Historians looking back on the period today see the German obsession with race and eugenics not as an invention of Hitler's but as an idea planted decades earlier. Promoted by respected scientists around the world, in Germany the credibility of racial hygiene or eugenics was used by the Nazis to justify first sterilization, then segregation, then murder and ultimately genocide. "The work of geneticists made the genocidal task of the regime easier," says Sheila Weiss, a history professor at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, and a fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. "If a whole generation of medical professionals had never been taught this was something science substantiated, the Final Solution would have been a lot harder."

The idea of race science or eugenics was no German invention. In 1883, British biologist Francis Galton was the first to apply the idea of heredity and breeding to humans. As people flocked to crowded cities, scientists looked for something to explain the rise of crime rates, mental illness and disease. "Unfit human traits such as feeblemindedness, epilepsy, criminality, insanity, alcoholism, pauperism and many others run in families and are inherited in exactly the same way as color in guinea pigs," an American educational chart explained in 1929.

Though German "race science" was at the forefront of the field, eugenics was popular in North America as well. America had forced sterilization laws on the books as early as 1907. By the late 1920s more than half of US states had compulsory sterilization laws. California was the nation's leader, sterilizing more people by 1933 than the rest of America combined. In a 1927 Supreme Court case, Oliver Wendell Holmes made a plain case for eugenics: "It is better for all the world, if ... society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind." Even into the Nazi era, German policies were admiringly cited by American lawmakers, many of whom saw immigrants as contaminating America's Anglo-Saxon strength. Germany's leading eugenics and heredity research center, Berlin's Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, received funding from the Rockefeller Foundation until 1935.

Yet the Nazi's rise to power in Germany was a radical turning point. Eugenicists became an integral, unquestioned part of the state, and their scientific authority lent important support to Nazi policies. Gypsies were an early focus of research, as scientists tried to develop a blood test to detect Gypsy heritage. And in the Rhine Valley, where soldiers from French colonies had been used to police the occupied territory, Doctor Eugen Fischer carried out studies of mixed race children in 1933 (the field was called "Bastardforschung" or "bastard research"). In 1937, thousands of children were forcibly sterilized.

The collaboration between the Nazis and scientists created dangerously fertile ground. In the first three years of the Third Reich, 200,000 people were forcibly sterilized -- 10 times as many operations as the US had performed in three decades. "German eugenicists and racial theorists played a role by producing knowledge that was used by Nazi policymakers to further their agenda," Weiss says. "They were valuable for the Nazi state as junior partners for this Faustian bargain."

At first, it was unclear who was manipulating whom. "It wasn't the Nazis using the doctors, but the doctors using the Nazis," German historian Ernst Klee once said.

to W. Graham
(Charles Darwin, July 3rd, 1881)
I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risk the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago of being overwhelmed by the Turks, and how ridiculous such an idea now is! The more civilised so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.

That Fish You Caught Was in Pain: Research challenges the myth among anglers that fish can't feel pain from barbed hooks (Victoria Braithwaite, October 8, 2006, LA Times)
EVERY YEAR, sportsmen around the world drag millions of fish to shore on barbed hooks. It's something people have always done, and with little enough conscience. Fish are … well, fish. They're not dogs, who yelp when you accidentally step on their feet. Fish don't cry out or look sad or respond in a particularly recognizable way. So we feel free to treat them in a way that we would not treat mammals or even birds.

But is there really any biological justification for exempting fish from the standards nowadays accorded to so-called higher animals?

There is, of course, no biological justification for caring whether any so-called lower animal feels pain. And, were Darwinism right, there'd be ample biological justification for defending your selfish genome against contamination from "lower animals" and to exterminate rival species/races. Whatever else it may have been, the Holocaust was perfectly good science.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 13, 2006 12:58 PM

Recall what was said a few days ago regarding the humanity of the unborn: science provides testimony, not verdicts.

Beyond that, the idea that the competition between ways of thinking and acting is "racial" is fatuous. Part of the advantage our ways enjoy over those of the rest is our rejection of Neneteenth Century European racist thought. Now few beyond multiculturalists and minority separatists wallow in this slime.

Of course you will find such language cast about by American scientists and even statesmen throughout its heyday, but it was ever an alien bacillus* in the body of American, that is, Christian, thought.
*Please forgive me for explaining too much, but the allusion is too central to my comment to suffer being missed. European racists so spoke of "alien" races as infectious organisms in a biological sense. I wish to turn their image against them: their pre-Christian tribalism is pestilential in a cultural sense.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 13, 2006 2:31 PM

Good science, no. Good "SCIENCE", perhaps. It depends on who or what your science is serving.

Posted by: jdkelly at October 13, 2006 6:08 PM