Thursday, April 26, 2012

Eugenics: An American Tragedy

ExpPats Post

“There is one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States.” ~Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf.

Not long ago I sat down and turned on the TV to catch up on the latest in politics. What I saw instead was a riveting interview by CNN correspondent Anderson Cooper with professor and author, Paul A. Lombardo, who discussed his 2008 book, Three Generations: No Imbeciles. While I make no claims to being an intellectual, I have a college degree and have done some post-graduate work. Not once had I read, nor been instructed in my classes about the practice of eugenics or social engineering in America and its subsequent influence on practices of the Hitler regime.

Paul A. Lombardo stated in the interview that forced sterilization was practiced in the United States from 1907 to well into the 1970’s. Appalled and aghast, I had to find more information. Has this been another chapter in American history books that has been conveniently tossed aside along with details of our internment of Japanese Americans, true accounts of slave and child labor, or a novel such as The Catcher in the Rye? What I will give you here is a cursory glimpse into the accounting of Paul A. Lombardo from his book. My hope is that it will spur you, as it did me, to read more of this horrific time.

According to Lombardo, legally-mandated sterilization was supported by a eugenics movement in the United States. The impetus behind this was to approve sterilization of the “socially inadequate.” Lombardo states, “Indiana enacted the first law allowing sterilization on eugenic grounds in 1907, with Connecticut following soon after. Despite these early statutes, sterilization did not gain widespread popular approval until the late 1920’s.” It then spread to at least thirty states. From what I have read so far, the grounds were rather arbitrary and were to be adopted as a cost-saving strategy “to relieve the tax burden in states where public facilities for the insane and feebleminded had experienced rapid growth.”

The criteria for involuntary sterilization included, “feebleminded, insane, criminalistic, epileptic, inebriate, diseased, blind, deaf, deformed, dependent—including orphans, ne’er-do-wells, tramps, the homeless and paupers.” By 1924 almost “3,000 people had been involuntarily sterilized in America; the vast majority (2500) in California.”

The laws in Virginia, according to Lombardo, “asserted that heredity plays an important part in the transmission of insanity, idiocy, imbecility, epilepsy and crime. It focused on defective persons whose reproduction represented a menace to society.”

It is not a stretch, then, to see how Hitler latched onto this movement in his quest for an Aryan Nation. Hitler wrote, “I have studied with great interest the laws of several American states concerning prevention of reproduction by people whose progeny would, in all probability, be of no value or be injurious to the racial stock.” As we know, Hitler then proceeded to mass extermination. And the impetus began here, in the United States of America.

There is a plethora of information on this topic. Have we truly learned from history, or are certain aspects left for us to delve on our own so that indeed, we do not repeat these horrific events? By the end of 1941 there was no safety from Hitler. Those people who did not possess what was deemed to be correct social genetics, or who did not conform to Hitler’s mandated ideals were sentenced to death or work camps, most especially the Jews.

I had turned on the TV to listen to current political rhetoric, and instead I gained a lesson in American history. I can assure you, however, that I will be listening closely to all political rhetoric. There have been times when I have heard vague murmurs and underpinnings of the very movement which began a bleak time in this country, and spread to heinous, historic depths. And I think of a line by Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, “People never notice anything.”

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