Ideas Have Consequences

by TOM MCLAUGHLIN December 30, 2010
While I was teaching a lesson last spring about how the eugenics movement led to the Nazi Holocaust, Kathy McDonald, an ed tech who worked in my classroom, called my attention to an obituary in the Conway Daily Sun for the late Walter Henry Berry, Jr. He and his wife had spent their childhood in the Laconia State School, which at the time had been run by the New Hampshire State Eugenics Movement.
The obit showed a picture of white-haired, white-bearded Walter with his little dog, Goldie. Many local residents indicated on the Sun’s Facebook page that they remembered seeing them walking together on Route 16. Some of my students did too, and it made the lesson more real. Last month, they Googled the “New Hampshire Eugenics Movement” and learned that hundreds of NH citizens were forcibly sterilized at the Laconia State School. Walter’s obit didn’t say he or his wife were, but neither did it indicate they had any surviving children. My students learned also that Maine forcibly sterilized hundreds at Pineland Hospital in Gray.
According to Wikipedia:
“At its peak of popularity eugenics was supported by prominent people, including Margaret Sanger, Marie Stopes, H. G. Wells, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Emile Zola, George Bernard Shaw, John Maynard Keynes, John Harvey Kellogg, Linus Pauling and Sidney Webb. Its most infamous proponent and practitioner was, however, Adolf Hitler who praised and incorporated eugenic ideas in Mein Kampf and emulated Eugenic legislation for the sterilization of ‘defectives’ that had been pioneered in the United States.”
In class, we studied ideas popular in America during the early 20th century and how they affected American beliefs about the beginnings of the universe, human life, and whether human life had meaning. I called student attention to correlations between Darwinism, eugenics, left-wing political movements and atheism. Most of those Wikipedia listed above were left-of-center, including Tennessee biology teacher John Scopes’ attorney, Clarence Darrow - an atheist who defended communists and anarchists. He was also one of the earliest members of the ACLU. Last month, National Review Online’s Jonah Goldberg posted some excerpts from the textbook Scopes used when he taught evolution in Tennessee. According to Goldberg, the passages had been cited by prosecutor William Jennings Bryan during the famous “Monkey Trial.”
The first passage was a boilerplate summary of Darwin’s theory describing how humans evolved from lower life forms. Teaching the other passages, however, would get John Scopes or any other teacher today in big trouble. Not because they’d violate any laws against teaching evolution, but because they’re blatantly racist - declaring the so-called Caucasian Race to be the epitome of evolutionary progress. See for yourself:
“The Races of Man. – At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; the American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest race type of all, the Caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.”
After a boilerplate paragraph on natural selection, the text went into a frightening new area: “Artificial Selection.”
“Darwin reasoned that if nature seized upon favorable variants, then man by selecting the variants he wanted could form new varieties of plants or animals much more quickly than nature.”
Then came: “Improvement of Man.”
“If the stock of domesticated animals can be improved, it is not unfair to ask if the health and vigor of the future generations of men and women on the earth might be improved by applying to them the laws of selection.”
The text then describes generations of Jukes and Kallikaks - two families cited as “parasites” because of “feeble-mindedness and immorality” which the text considers genetic. That led to this scary passage:
“Parasitism and its Cost to Society. – Hundreds of families such as those described above exist to-day, spreading disease, immorality, and crime to all parts of this country. The cost to society of such families is very severe. Just as certain animals or plants become parasitic on other plants or animals, these families have become parasitic on society. They not only do harm to others by corrupting, stealing, or spreading disease, but they are actually protected and cared for by the state out of public money. Largely for them the poorhouse and the asylum exist. They take from society, but they give nothing in return. They are true parasites.”
And finally, came this chilling passage called “The Remedy”:
“If such people were lower animals, we would probably kill them off to prevent them from spreading. Humanity will not allow this, but we do have the remedy of separating the sexes in asylums or other places and in various ways preventing intermarriage and the possibilities of perpetuating such a low and degenerate race. Remedies of this sort have been tried successfully in Europe and are now meeting with success in this country.”
Walter Henry Berry, Jr. and his wife were victims of the above “remedy” of “separating the sexes in asylums or other places” at the hands of the New Hampshire Eugenics Movement. The Third Reich believed it was better to “kill them off to prevent them from spreading.” At the close of World War II the world saw in the Holocaust the logical, horrible extension of the “science” of eugenics. “Prominent” people stopped advocating it, but, one - Margaret Sanger - went on to found Planned Parenthood, which performs millions of abortions with billions of US taxpayer dollars. That organization today is strongly supported by prominent left-of-center Americans too numerous to mention.

Ideas like eugenics have histories - and, they have consequences for the lives of ordinary people. Contributing Editor Tom McLaughlin is a history teacher and a regular weekly columnist for newspapers in Maine and New Hampshire. He writes about political and social issues, history, family, education and Radical Islam. E-mail him at

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