CENTENARY OF THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL EUGENICS CONFERENCE MARKS POTENTIAL FOR EVIL TODAY©
By Frank Amoroso*
As the world watches London host the 2012 Olympics, there is another event of note that took place in London one hundred years ago. This month marks the centenary of the First International Eugenics Conference that convened at Europe’s largest hotel, the Hotel Cecil in London, on July 24, 1912. The Union Jack flapped in the brisk summer breeze coming off the Thames River as over four hundred people from all over the world arrived at the Conference. The majestic Hotel Cecil stood between the Strand and the Embankment with commanding views of river and Westminster Palace. Unbeknownst to the attendees, this Conference would be notable for laying the groundwork for future horrors. It set the stage for Adolph Hitler to become a ‘race patriot’ in Germany and for Margaret Sanger to develop her infamous ’Negro Project’ which targeted the black community, resulting in a black genocide of forced sterilizations and abortions.
London had been selected as the site of the prestigious conference because it was the hotbed of intellectual furor over the nascent science of Eugenics that had been synthesized from the principles of natural selection and survival of the fittest espoused by the prominent British scientist, Charles Darwin in his seminal work, The Origin of Species. His cousin, Francis Galton, had taken Darwin’s theories on evolution and combined them with the work of the botanist, Gregor Mendel to create the budding science of Eugenics. Galton was joined by George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Ellis Havelock and scores of other British intellectuals in igniting a firestorm of interest among German, French and other intellectuals.
The Eugenicists also relied on the population control theories of Thomas Malthus who wrote,” All children born, beyond what would be required to keep up the population to a desired level, must necessarily perish, unless room is made for them by the deaths of grown persons. We should facilitate, instead of foolishly and vainly endeavoring to impede, the operations of nature in producing this mortality.”
Politicians Embrace the Siren Call of Eugenics
The politicians were quick to see in Eugenics the potential for profound societal change, guided, of course, by the ubiquitous hand of government. The master of ceremonies for the inaugural banquet was Major Leonard Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin, who welcomed the audience and introduced the notables on the dais. Among the panel were Sir David Burnett, the Lord Mayor of London; Sir Rickman John Godlee, President of the Royal Academy of Surgeons; and honorary vice president of the Conference, Sir Winston Churchill, the First Lord of Admiralty. Major Darwin lectured the assemblage on the role of natural selection in weeding out inferior stock. Sir Winston stated that the “… multiplication of the feeble-minded [constitutes] a very terrible danger to the race.”
Former Prime Minister, Arthur James Balfour chaired the Conference. Noting that the birthrate of the feeble-minded was higher than that of the good professional man, he opined that the true eugenist has “… ideals of what a man ought to be, of what the State ought to be and of what society ought to be and he means that those ideals are not being carried out because we have not yet grasped the true way of dealing with the problems involved.” He identified the task of Eugenics as to improve the hereditary traits of each nation, thereby improving humanity. Balfour concluded that this Congress of scientists, physicians, activists, social workers, clergymen and professors was the vanguard of human thought. Balfour challenged policy-makers to convince the public that the science of Eugenics was one of the most critical endeavors ever undertaken by man.
Literary Figures Espouse the Eugenic Principles
The writer, H.G. Wells, conjured up a utopian society that would be ruled by healthy and intelligent elites. “The swarms of black, and brown, and dirty white, and yellow people … will have to go.” To foster world peace, he reasoned that fewer and better children were necessary. In order to achieve that, he believed that the unfit and feeble-minded should be sterilized.
George Bernard Shaw, the noted Irish playwright, was another proponent of Eugenics. At a meeting of the Eugenics Education Society two years earlier, he stated that what the “social purity” movement should develop was a “lethal chamber” to eliminate the unfit. Although he did allow for the fact that if social purity had been in force when he was conceived, he probably would not be speaking to them. He outlined what he identified as a practical test for those on the fringes of society.
“You must all know half a dozen people at least who are no use in this world, who are more trouble than they are worth. Just put them there and say ‘Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence? If you can’t justify your existence, if you’re not pulling your weight in the social boat, if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little more, then, clearly, we cannot use the organizations of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive, because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yourself.’”
“I appeal to the chemists to discover a humane gas that will kill instantly and painlessly. In short – a gentlemanly gas deadly by all means, but humane, not cruel.”
The First International Eugenics Conference ignited interest in positive Eugenics – the engineering of human reproduction so that there would be more children by the genetically superior (whatever that meant) and negative Eugenics – the banning of unsuitable marriages among those with undesirable traits and facilitating the mortality of those deemed physically unfit, materially poor, spiritually diseased, racially inferior, and mentally incompetent.
World Suffers Dire Consequences of Eugenics
Tragically, a firestorm of evil ensued as millions became victims of this pseudoscience that became the rationale for hideous racial hygiene programs designed to achieve “racial purity.” When Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, Dwight D. Eisenhower, liberated the Nazi concentration camps at Ohrdruf and Buchenwald, he encountered scenes of unspeakable horror. Eisenhower reported that,
“The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda’. “
Eisenhower insisted that evidence of savagery, torture and cruelty of the Holocaust be recorded so that the world would never forget the atrocities of the Nazis. Combat photographer Margaret Burke-White memorialized the conditions in film. Yet, today, there are those who deny as propaganda the documentation of the atrocities wrought by the Eugenics Movement.
Over the last century, knowledge with respect to genetics and the mystery of life itself has increased exponentially. Designer babies and gender-specific abortion have become part of the popular dialogue. Furthermore, formulaic restrictions on the availability of medical care for certain demographic groups and so-called population control are seeping into policy decisions under the guise of economic realities. To avoid a recurrence of the hubris that led to the well-chronicled evils resulting from the Eugenics movement, constant vigilance is necessary. And so, the centenary of the First International Eugenics Conference should be marked, not in celebration, but in warning of the potential for evil that lies in the tenets of Eugenics.
*Frank Amoroso is the author of Behind Every Great Fortune™, a novel of historical fiction that chronicles the exploits of Otto Hermann Kahn, known to millions as the Monopoly Guy. Behind Every Great Fortune™ is a story of intrigue, sex, murder and betrayal that unravels the dark secrets of Otto Kahn and Oheka Castle, his monument to money and power, on Long Island’s Gold Coast. For further information go to: www.BehindEveryGreatFortune.com