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

by Edwin Black
 

Review by
Sarah Emily Jordan
Four Walls Eight Windows
New York, 2003

592 pages

September 2010

  
Learning about Progressivism and eugenics

I love history. I love it enough that it was my chosen field of study in college. But, since obtaining my degree I have actually learned far more pertinent history than I did in University study. My recent forays into historical study have included quite a bit of time spent on the study of Progressivism in the United States. I had been aware of Progressivism but had never been educated on the ideology and much of the events precipitated by that ideology. One of the most important aspects of study for me has been to learn more about eugenics. A core belief of Progressivism is the idea that man can perfect man. Government is often the preferred tool to use towards that end. Eugenics was born of this ideology. It is the attempt at breeding a perfect race. It is, in a word, atrocious. I can hardly believe how little attention the practice of eugenics receives in the study of 20th Century U.S. history. But, thankfully, there are some who are trying to bring more light onto the subject.

Edwin Black has done a tremendous amount of research on the history of American eugenics and presents that research very well in War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race. I do have to point out that Mr. Black does at some times try to disconnect some dots — which I will discuss more. But for the most part I found the book to be very educational and also haunting. I am a firm believer that we must seek for truth in all things, and that includes revealing some rather terrible truths about beliefs and events that continue to have an affect on our country today.
  

History

Black begins his historical account of eugenics in America discussing the forced sterilizations that occurred particularly in the Appalachian regions. These sterilizations were targeted towards people who were termed "feebleminded". The term feebleminded eventually was used to label any persons which eugenicists wanted to decrease. As Black states:

Eugenicists sought to methodically terminate all the racial and ethnic groups, and social classes, they disliked or feared. It was nothing less than America's legalized campaign to breed a super race — and not just any super race. Eugenicists wanted a purely Germanic and Nordic super race, enjoying biological dominion over all others. (page 7)
  

Several notable figures and institutions played huge roles in the American eugenics movement. Charles Davenport was a firm believer in evolution and of the idea that mankind could play a role in its own evolution. Davenport sought the support of several important individuals and institutions. The Carnegie Institution was one of the key supporters of eugenics. Another influential individual was psychologist Henry Goddard. He was key in determining who would be labeled "feebleminded" using intelligence tests. Other notable figures include Woodrow Wilson who as Governor of New Jersey signed into law sterilization measures for the feebleminded. President Theodore Roosevelt also lent his support to the eugenics cause with this disturbing prediction:

I agree with you ... that society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind .... Some day, we will realize that the prime duty, the inescapable duty, of the good citizen of the right type, is to leave his or her blood behind him in the world; and that we have no business to permit the perpetuation of citizens of the wrong type. (page 99)
  

Black devotes a whole chapter on his discussion of another notable figure, Margaret Sanger. Black from the beginning of the book makes it clear that he supports Planned Parenthood and abortion. Margaret Sanger was the most influential person in the birth control movement. She made contact with quite a few of the eugenicists who were playing key roles in the movement. His chapter on Sanger begins with a statement that Sanger was not racist. I was hoping that he would provide some proof to back up that assertion. However, he instead quoted several letters with which she wrote in terms of decreasing the black population in the U.S. This book was one in which I took a lot of notes in the margins: there were several times in this chapter that I wrote But she was not a racist? I am more convinced than before that Sanger intended to decrease and even eliminate African-Americans.

In fact Black goes into great detail on the specific groups that were targeted by eugenicists. African-Americans, immigrants, those in poorer economic classes and those with mental health issues — all were under attack and sterilized. Again I have a hard time understanding why this truly atrocious ideology does not receive more attention for the racist agenda it perpetrated.
  

Nazi Germany

Edwin Black does a fantastic job of detailing the connections that the American eugenics movement had with the beliefs and actions of eugenics in Nazi Germany. He discusses some of the atrocities perpetrated in the name of engineering the perfect society. In doing so he provides a clear understanding of where this type of thinking can lead.

One of the most chilling assertions to come out of the whole eugenics movement was from Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes:

It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. (page 121)

This statement is paradoxically historic because it was used in the defense of Nazis during the Nuremberg Trials. How could it be that the forced sterilization that occurred in America was never put on trial as a crime against humanity?
  

Thoughts on Eugenics Today

Edwin Black, in discussing the eugenics movement today, discloses one of the common modes of operation for Progressives: changing the names. He spends some time discussing "medical genetics" and the attempt to engineer society through genetics.

However, Black as I stated before supports Planned Parenthood and abortion. To me abortion is a prominent force for continuing the eugenics agenda. Groups that are specifically targeted include African-Americans (I would suggest looking into the documentary Maafa 21 for more information on this), poorer economic classes and the special-needs population. For another chilling statement from a United States Supreme Court Justice we can look to Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Frankly I had thought that at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don't want to have too many of. So that Roe was going to be then set up for Medicaid funding for abortion.
Justice Ginsburg Says She Originally Thought Roe v. Wade Was Designed to Limit 'Populations That We Don’t Want to Have Too Many Of'
  
Conclusion

Edwin Black's War Against the Weak is very informative and he does a terrific job in detailing the history of American Eugenics. He does a particularly excellent job in connecting the dots between this atrocious movement in the United States and events in Nazi Germany. However, he makes quite the effort to disconnect other dots, particularly with regards to Margaret Sanger as well as abortion's connection with eugenics.

I recommend it as a good read and good for basic information about eugenics. But, I also recommend doing further research on your own to connect all the dots.

  

© 2010 Sarah Emily Jordan


  
Edwin Black's site

S. E. Jordan's
Psychology / Psychiatry and the Left
  1. Progressivism & Eugenics
  2. Drugs, Experts, & the Medical Model
  3. A Personal Perspective
  

  
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