National Socialism, as Rudolph Hess observed, was “nothing but applied biology.” It was a philosophy based on genes that crushed mainly Jews, but also homosexuals, the mentally ill, the mentally retarded, those with genetic disorders, and others; an attempt to breed a master race, with foundations in xenophobia, racism, sham science, and good old American enterprise and ingenuity.
The United States’ success in stamping out that foul creed is one of its proudest moments, but few are aware of the impact that American corporate philanthropy, “scientific” research, and eugenic proselytizing had on the formation of Hitler’s Third Reich. Voice contributor Edwin Black, who previously focused on the way IBM assisted the Nazis in their mad rise, covers similar ground in War Against the Weak. Chronicling the “pernicious white-gloved war” that began in the early 20th century and flowered with the help of America’s best philanthropists (Carnegie and Rockefeller), brightest corporations (IBM), and brashest individuals (Margaret Sanger), Black lays out how they, with help from leading scientific journals (the AMA’s), universities (Columbia), and legislative bodies (New York’s), sought to rid society of its “defective germ-plasm”—that 10 percent of the have-not population thought by the haves to genetically perpetuate sickness, insanity, alcoholism, and poverty. Through their influence they installed sterilization laws in a number of states, and, more perniciously, eugenic ideas in the minds of those who would engineer Europe’s Holocaust.
While Black is careful to qualify his views on the impact of eugenics on Nazi party actions (as opposed to ideas), the list of the morally culpable is long, stretching from Teddy Roosevelt to Winston Churchill, handily complicating the view of the Allied impact on the origins of World War II. Our devils lie in these contextual details, and we have some owning up to do.