Friday, December 10, 2010

Better for All the World by Harry Bruinius

Better for All the World: The Secret History of Forced Sterilization and America’s Quest for Racial Purity, by Harry Bruinius. Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.

Bruinius is on the religion faculty at Hunter College, contributing writer to The Christian Science Monitor, and the founder of The Villiage Quill.

Better for All the World is a heart breaking narrative history of the persons involved in sucessfully promoting the eugenics movement in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While the notion of racial purity and eugenics is horrifying in itself, B’s superb research, presentation, writing and narrative leading allow the reader to know these people as people who sincerely cared about the nation and her people. In some ways reading this volume is like having to slow down next to a brutal and bloody crime scene, one desires to look away but the visceral shock of the scene locks the passer by into gaping horror.

There is a perennial question about the German citizens leading up to WWII, “How could they let this come to pass?”

They thought they were doing something good, making the state and its people better. The pattern had been set, right here, in the United States.

The horror remains today, though the terminology has changed, the ideology remains.

B’s title “Better for all the World” is taken from Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in the court’s decision in Buck vs. Bell to allow the sterilization of Carrie Buck by Dr. John H. Bell of the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-minded on October 19, 1927. Justice Holmes’ words in context are:

“We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. 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.... Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” (p. 21) [emphasis mine]

B’s organized his work into four “books.” The first book is the Introduction, containing two chapters. B takes us into the office of Dr. John H. Bell as he is noting the clinical procedure he performed between 9:30 and 10:30 am on October 19th, 1927. The underlying question in B’s presentation of Carrie Buck’s history is the same as that for pre-WWII Germany, “How could they let this come to pass?”

From chapter 3 to 14 B introduces us to the main individuals who shaped the eugenics movement. For each of these people B gives the reader very good insight into who these individuals were based on their own letters, diaries, and scientific records.

While the eugenics movement is mostly unknown today, it was considered the height of scientific and national progress in the U.S. in the early 20th century. Advocates included U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wildon, Franklin D. Roosevelt; leading court figures; presidential advisers; the women's suffrage movement,  Margaret Sanger--anyone who was anyone important and most of the country supported eugenics. County fairs across the nation in this so-called “positive eugenics movement” held “Fitter Family Contests” where the measure was their genealogical background.

And those who were judged “unfit” were institutionalized and, where possible, sterilized; in order to keep their “germ plasm” from infecting the wholesome heritage of America.

After introducing the reader to the the high moral ground which formed the basis for Dr. Bell’s sterilization of Carrie Buck, B takes us to the pioneers of the field.

The reader gets to know Sir Francis Galton,  Charles B. Davenport, Henry H. Goddard,  Harry Laughlin and many other well known and surprising individuals involved in the Progressive Movement in the United States and its related movement English Fabianism. B does an excellent job of showing the reader that these people were loving, caring, normal people with their own foibles and problems. Their progressive view of how the state should take charge of the details of human life (of others) binds them together.

Hitler and the National Socialists in Germany were so impressed with the American laws that they borrowed the eugenics law adopted in California its rationale and language for the Racial Hygene Law of Germany in 1933.

During the period of the eugenics movement in the United States over 65,000 people were forcibly sterilized. Germany in the same period also sterilized over 150,000 people by force.

In the aftermath of the Nuremberg Trials eugenics became an unpopular term, the very idea left a bad taste in the mouth of most of Europe and America. The very foundations and organizations organized for eugenics in America changed their names, and the name of their focus. Margaret Sanger’s The American Birth Control League, two goals of which were to track the genealogies of people and prevent “dysgenic” births. The American Birth Control League changed its name in 1942 to Planned Parenthood. According to 2005 CDC Data in the states reporting black babies were aborted in 35% of all abortions despite blacks being only 12% of the population of the US.

This bears emphasizing, data from the Census Bureau show that there are 288,400,000 people in the U.S, in 2005. 76% were white. That is 219,184,000 whites, and 304,602 abortions by whites. That’s 1 abortion for every 720 adult whites that year.

Data from the same year shows that 12% of the population was black. That is 34,608,000 blacks, and 209,991 abortions by blacks. That’s 1 abortion for every 165 black adults that year.

Blacks are being killed by abortion clinics, particularly Planned Parenthood, at a rate 300% higher than whites.

In 1973 The American Eugenics Society became the Society for the Study of Social Biology, “social biology” the new term for eugenics. The periodical Eugenics Quarterly became Social Biology in 1969. Many eugenics groups reorganized as studying the problem of “population control” under the philosopy of Malthus. Someone has to select who gets to die.

B’s volume is well worth the read so that all can know what Progressivism does at its most basic drives. Progressivism aims to make people better by the force of government.

In the words of Malcom Reynolds:
So now I'm asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything, I know this - they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They'll swing back to the belief that they can make people... better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin'. I aim to misbehave.” Serenity (2005)

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