Throughout the late 1800s, the twilight of the Enlightenment era, a new world-view was being increasingly adopted. Marxism, socialism, and scientific sociology were having a profound impact on society.
In the late 1800s and the early 1900s the idea was being advanced that people are the products of their social environments - that poverty is a social condition and that people become criminals because of social and economic conditions, etc.
Those advancing these views were largely calling for major social changes to correct these socially created problems. It was in contrast to these ideas that fascism began to develop in societies around the world, especially in America.
The idea that poverty, crime and ignorance are a product of social conditions was a threat to the dominant members of society because the call was for these dominant members of society to reform their ways to create increased equality for all people.
In this social climate, those who opposed the idea that society created the problems of individuals put blame on race and bloodline instead. The ideology developed that the "socialists" were wrong, and that society's problems were not caused by oppressive economic conditions, but rather that social problems were caused by genetic inferiority.
This is an ideology that was adopted by many wealthy and upper-class Americans and was related to the development of the ideology of "Social Darwinism," the idea that certain people were "genetically" more fit and that the more fit legitimately had the right to rule the inferior.
It is out of all of these ideas that the American eugenics programmes began, funded by wealthy Americans such as Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller. The idea was that people were born poor or born criminal, etc.
They were bad seeds and thus the problem of poverty was not really a social problem, it was a problem of bloodline, to be fixed by selective breeding programmes, forced sterilisation, and the maintenance of racial purity. Racial purity was the idea that races should not mix out of the fear that if whites and blacks mixed the inferior black bloodline would corrupt the white bloodline, leading to more crime, poverty, and ignorance.
In the 1890s Indiana prisons were performing castrations on convicts, both to "cure" them of masturbation, and to prevent them from "breeding more criminals." Dr. Albert Ochsner advocated the sterilisation of convicts "to eliminate all habitual criminals from the possibility of having children."
In 1902 Dr. Harry Clay Sharp stated, "We make choice of the best rams for our sheep... and keep the best dogs... how careful then should we be in begetting of children!" Sharp also advocated that every state institution should "render every male sterile who passes its portals, whether it be an almshouse, insane asylum, institute for the feeble minded, reformatory, or prison."
In 1902 Blood of a Nation was published in America by David Starr Jordan. Jordan stated that, "The pauper is the victim of heredity, but neither Nature nor Society recognizes that as an excuse for his existence." Dr. J.N. Hurty, who was State Health Officer of Indiana and also became the president of the American Public Health Association, stated that, "Men and women are what they are largely because of the stock from which they sprang."
All of this of course stood in stark contrast to the ideas of "leftist" sociologists who were saying that people were born virtually equal and that differences arose from environmental conditions. These people promoted the idea of rehabilitation of prisoners and the changing of economic conditions to promote economic equality and provide greater access to opportunity for those who were born into poverty.
In 1907 Indiana became the first place in the world to legalise forced sterilisation of the poor, prisoners, and mentally ill. Washington, Connecticut, California, Virginia, Nevada, Iowa, New Jersey, and New York all followed suit. In fact, New Jersey's eugenics bills were signed into law by then governor, soon to be president, Woodrow Wilson.
American scientists began working with European scientists, especially in Germany. In 1911, a meeting of the First International Congress on Eugenics was held, including attendees from America, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Norway. Winston Churchill, Alexander Graham Bell, and other highly established individuals were in attendance.
In 1912 the Rockefeller Foundation was created, supported by oil billionaire John D. Rockefeller. The Rockefeller Foundation funded eugenics programmes endorsed by John Rockefeller Jr. himself. By 1914 eugenics had been adopted in America as a valid field of study and was even taught in high schools.
In 1915 D.W. Griffith's silent film, 'The Birth of a Nation', was released and it quickly became a national hit. The film did cause controversy, but went on to become the highest grossing silent film of all time.
President Woodrow Wilson's History of the American People was quoted in the film to describe how Northerners and blacks were using deception and abuse of power to "put the white South under the heal of the black South."
Birth of a Nation described how Lincoln had undermined state sovereignty and created a powerful federal government. It depicted Northern blacks and freed slaves as monstrous villains who were destroying white civilisation and abusing their new-found power after the Civil War. The major villain of the film is a mulatto, a man of "mixed white and black race".
Near the final climax of the film, where the Ku Klux Klan unites to save a town from "Negro anarchy", the film's protagonists retreat to a cabin that is occupied by a Union Civil War veteran and the following scene commences:
Though it is often said today that the concept of an "Aryan race" was invented by Hitler or the Nazis, this is not true. The concept of an Aryan race certainly predates the rise of Nazism. Here, in 1915, in the most popular film in American history up to that time, the entire story focused on the concept of defending the Aryan race.
America was generally a non-pacifist country by and large after the Civil War. But the memory of that war had turned many people against armed conflict. Americans did rally around the Spanish-America War to a degree, but there was also a large and loud segment of anti-war protestors during that war as well. But Washington rulers did not pay any heed to anti-war protestors.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, three years after it had begun, it was partly because the war was being brought to America via the sinking of ships like the Lusitania and Germany's offer to help Mexico invade America to regain the territory that Mexico lost to the United States in the Mexican-American War. There were economic reasons as well.
On the whole, though, America was a country that opposed involvement in major wars. Woodrow Wilson was elected based on his promise to keep America out of war, and he was then re-elected in 1916 with the popular campaign slogan, "He kept us out of war." But in fact, all these are only bullyragging.
After World War-I, America quickly went back to its pacifist attitudes, with a great many people resenting the American involvement in the war. America suffered 364,800 casualties during WWI, however, this was a very small fraction of the total number of casualties.
Despite the fact that America came late to the war and suffered less than 1% of the total war casualties (Russia and Germany suffered the most) Americans still felt as though it was unfair that Americans had to die in a war in which they felt they had no real stake. In addition, American soldiers returning from the war made it very clear in public speaking tours and books that modern warfare was absolutely horrific.
Europe was generally resentful of the nature of the American involvement as well. Though the Allies were very happy that America did finally come in to help turn the tide, at wars end American industry had made enormous profits from the war. America was viewed to have suffered relatively nothing and Europe was still in a state of disaster.
Americans were taking much of the credit for winning the war as well, yet the Europeans had been in the war since 1914. Britain lost 60,000 men on the very first day of war, and the war effort was extremely costly to all of Europe. Because of this, the Europeans felt that Americans were doing too much boasting for the relatively small sacrifice that they contributed.
The writer is an independent political observer who writes on politics, political and
human-centered figures, current and international affairs
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