America’s dark history of eugenics can’t be forgotten

Somewhere, hidden in that closet at the end of the hall, America’s got a nasty skeleton tucked away—the kind of dark secret most of us don’t wish to bring up in conversation. But, as citizens of our dearly beloved nation, we’re more than just entitled to know the whole truth.

The eugenic movement is one such ghoulish aspect of our past.

The current version of American history focuses too much on triumph and the success of our nation. Perhaps, it is merely normal to express pride in great accomplishments, but one cannot ignore the inevitable hiccups and bumps we have experienced along the way.

With this in mind, quite frequently we only view one side of the story; the happy, joyous bit that paints the better side of American history. We know about how we fearlessly broke away from British rule and how we saved the day at Normandy, but we fail to recognize the wrongdoings of our country as a whole.

The American eugenics movement of the early 1900s was an attempt to breed out social ills and unfavorable traits such as ‘feeblemindedness,’ promiscuity among women, and pauperism through forcible sterilization, according to Rich Remsberg of National Public Radio.

Coercive sterilization, segregation laws and marriage restrictions were integrated into national policy in 27 states at the turn of the century as an attempt to remove both social and racial impurities, according to the History News Network at George Mason University.

The notion that subjectively undesirable traits could be ‘bred’ out of a population is familiar. We saw this particular ideology at the height of Nazi Germany.

In fact, the United States did play a role in the birth of the genocidal movement across the ocean. In 1927, the Rockefeller Foundation helped fund the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Berlin, according to an article from the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science.

This institution grew to become a major proponent of the dangerous and deadly ideas that were born during the 1930s, according to Freie Universität in Berlin.

The American role in inspiring the horrors overseas is not well known among students. Despite its negative implications, such an influential aspect of our history should not be ignored within textbooks or inside the classroom, particularly during discussions about World War II.

Our historical involvement in the eugenics movement and its adverse effects serve as a lesson to future generations, one that describes ethical implications of sometimes seemingly progressive movements. Although the movement was born with the noble intention of bettering humanity, its outcomes were far from dignified and miles away from forward thinking.

The American eugenics movement and other historical blunders including the implementation of the Japanese internment camps or the racial mistreatment of immigrants should be as well understood by students as the Declaration of Independence and our triumphs over racism with individuals like Martin Luther King Jr.

By accepting and actively teaching the mistakes of our country, we can work toward a better nation. When future lawmakers, council men and teachers understand the faults of erroneous misconceptions or ideologies of past Americans, they can make progressive steps forward.

-Michelle Chan is a sophomore animal science major from Phoenix, Ariz. She can be contacted at 335-2290 or by [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the staff of The Daily Evergreen or those of Student Publications.