So I was watching the PBS series “America and the Holocaust” by Ken Burns and I was struck by a segment on Eugenics in the first episode. Basically, eugenics is designed to ensure that only those who are the most genetically “pure” or best will be allowed to procreate. It also assumes that those determined to be less than “pure” will not be allowed… (Allowed to what? Procreate? Exist?)
Hitler was definitely a Eugenicist.
So was Teddy Roosevelt.
Okay, ten points if you can tell me who said the following:
“I wish very much that the wrong people could be prevented entirely from breeding. And when the evil nature is sufficiently flagrant, this should be done. Criminals should be sterilized and feeble-minded persons be forbidden from leaving offspring behind them.”
- Adolf Hitler
- Mao Tse Tung
- Theodore Roosevelt
Ding ding ding. Yep. It was Teddy. Rough Rider guy. National Parks guy. President guy. Clip the Balls Off the “Feeble-Minded” guy.
Whoa! That was a surprise. But not so much when you watch the entire episode. Teddy wasn’t alone. In fact, that view was pretty mainstream.
A case can be made (and I’m not making it, but a lot of people back then did) that a society culled of all it’s worst individual features would be “better” or even “best.” That was Hitler’s idea. So, of course, it must be bad. But wasn’t that pretty much the same idea we had when we were summoned to “Go west, young man” and get rid of all them “injuns?” How much of a stretch was it when we hung the “No Irish Need Apply” signs. Or Italians, or Negroes, or Mexicans?
Because it pretty much comes down to who determines who are the “wrong people.” Teddy said it was criminals and the feeble-minded. Romans thought it was the Christians. Catholics thought it was the Protestants. Aryans thought it was the Jews. And Israelis think it’s the Palestinians. There will always be the “wrong people.” Always has, always will.
It’s pretty clear that the whole Nazi thing didn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s what happens when your premise is to create a “pure” society. That’s what happens when you take that concept to it’s logical conclusion. If they are “wrong” and you can’t have them around, what are you going to do with them? Yeah, you get the idea. And what is really scary is that it starts to put so much of what we’re seeing now in a whole different perspective.
So it occurs to me that as crazy as it seems that ol’ Teddy would say such a thing, it’s not too far off from what we’ve been doing as a nation…right now! Like, Build the wall. Like, send a pack of Venezuelans to the Vineyard. Or to Kamala’s house. Or just stick ‘em in a pen/camp/prison/oven.
So let’s be real: If you are thinking like that, if you actually believe that allowing the “wrong people” into your society is bad, then eventually you have to do something about it. Maybe you’re just complaining and moaning right now. But times change, pressure points strain. The “wrong people” are all around you. They will become the source of your problems. And something has to be done. So then what? What’s the logical conclusion? And really, how different can it be from the one Reinhard Heydrich came up with? (Oh, and by the way, no matter who you are, you are the “wrong people” to someone out there. Maybe to a whole lot of someone’s.)
Yea, okay, so what? It’s just the way of the world. As you say, always has been, always will be.
Yea, maybe. Humans are insufferably prone to anti-“wrong people” feelings. It’s sort of natural. We have our tribes, our familiar faces, our comfort zones. “Wrong people” aren’t part of that. Until you talk to one. And then another. Until you see that “wrong people” can love their sons and daughters, their wives and husbands, neighbors, and friends just as much as “right people” can. They have struggles just like you and come up with solutions just like you. You don’t have to bring them into your tribe. Just let them be people. The sad reality is that it takes a lot of energy to let that happen. It takes work, and effort and money and who knows what else. It’s hard.
But what do you think the logical conclusion of that approach will be? Of letting the feeble-minded, the Irish, the Mexicans, the Jews, the Blacks, the Muslims, the You-Name-Its be just as okay to you as your friends and family are?
Okay, maybe not everyone in your family 🤭.