Tuesday, May 31, 2016

So You Want to Read About Eugenics?

Sometimes it would be easier if we only read fiction.  Happy fiction, books that take us to a place where we don't have to think.  We can fly, be kings or princesses, fall in love overnight.

Fluff.  Lots and lots of fluff.

Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen is not fluff.  Sadly it is non-fiction - a story of the history of the eugenics movement in the United States and a Supreme Court decision that led to the forced sterilization of a woman who was considered an imbecile - and as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously declared, "Three generations of imbeciles are enough."

So at twenty-one, Carrie Buck was sterilized.  Were the three generations imbeciles?  Carrie, her mother, and Carrie's daughter Vivian, a product of rape, who was "tested" at eight months and found to be mentally defective?  Most likely not.  But they were poor and had no one to speak up for them.

The eugenics movement wanted to produce better human beings and what better way than by purifying the white race?  Eugenists produced a list of people who should be prevented from reproducing - including criminals, deviants, people with disabilities, including the deaf, blind, epileptics, people in the low range of I.Q. tests, as well as immigrants from non-Nordic countries.  This faux science led to over 60,000 forced sterilizations in the United States. 

And if sterilization couldn't keep the United States pure, the eugenics movement also helped set up immigration restrictions and quotas.  They were in place in the 1930s.  Otto Frank (father of Anne) wrote letters to U.S. officials begging to immigrate.  His letters went unanswered.  Hitler read books by eugenists and used portions in Mein Kampf.  Racial hygiene laws were put into terrible practice in Nazi Germany.  (Holmes's quote about "Three generations of imbeciles..." was used as a defense argument by Nazis at the Nuremberg trials.)

Reading this book wasn't easy.  Almost every page made me angry.  But it's an important subject and if you turn on the news these days, too familiar.  Building a wall.  Genetic modification that can lead to designer babies.

Take a chance on this book.  It may make you uneasy, but sometimes that's a good thing. 

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