Black, Edwin. War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master
Race. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2003.
This is a long read: 445 pages of text and another 75 pages of notes. The book provides one
perspective on the 30-40 year history of the Eugenics movement here in the United States. It
takes a different tack of that history in that it sees the US movement as essentially a Hitler-like
effort to create a Master Race, an Aryan race which would be biologically superior. That the
Eugenicists sought the biologically superior is not new but the emphasis is usually on classism:
the upper class versus the lower classes, the immigrants, the Blacks. This history certainly does
suggest that classism was involved but its main thrust is the Hitlerian notion of racial superiority.
Here classism seems to get turned into racism and they are not the same. But in spite of that
novel emphasis, the usual tale emerges: science got used to justify, rationalize and explain social
There is also an emphasis here on the use of major foundation money in the promotion of elitism:
Carnegie, Harriman and Rockefeller and shown to be involved in the promotion of what some
have called "scientific racism," the use of science as an ideology, as justification for the elite's
position. It is to be expected that the huge foundations would have supported the classism
implicit in Eugenics: they and their founders had to show that they got their wealth "honestly"
and "from God." Such proof fit with the religious beliefs of the capitalists and more,
demonstrated that Carnegie, Harriman and Rockefeller could not, themselves, be blamed for the
inequities of the social system.
It is noteworthy that this history comes out at a time when various governors are apologizing
publically for the mistreatment of citizens under eugenic laws of sterilization. If anyone does not
understand what those apologies are about, the story is here. And the whole episode is cast in the
"glitter of science."
One of the major points of this book: "...this bizarre cult of Nazi race science was
organically linked to America.
...(T)he Nazi principle of Nordic superiority was not hatched in the Third Reich
but on Long Island decades earlier - and then actively transplanted to Germany.
How did it happen? Who was involved? To uncover the story I did as I have done
before and launched an international investigation. ..
When we were done, we had assembled a mountain of documentation that clearly
chronicled a century of eugenic crusading in America's final universities, most
reputable scientists, most trusted professional and charitable organization, and
most revered corporate foundation. They had collaborated with the Department of
Agriculture and numerous state agencies in an attempt to breed a new race of
Nordic humans, applying the same principles used to breed cattle and corn. The
names define power and prestige in America: The Carnegie Institution, the
Rockefeller Foundation, the Harriman railroad fortune, Harvard University,
Princeton University, Yale University, Stanford University, the American Medical
Association, Margaret Sanger, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Robert Yerkes, Woodrow
Wilson, the American Museum of National History, The American Genetic
Association and a sweeping array of government agencies from the obscure
Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics to the U.S. State Department. (pp. xviii-xxii)
The author sees his book as speaking for the "...hundreds of thousands of Jewish
refugees who attempted to flee the Hitler regime only to be denied visas to enter
the United States because of the Carnegie Institution's openly racist anti-
immigrant activism..." (p. xvii) He is telling a story about racism and elitism in
the U.S. and making it clear that it was not only Nazi Germany who was guilty of
This spin of America's responsibility for the SS policies of the Hitler regime in Germany is
novel. And while there were complaints from American eugenicists that the Nazis were "beating
us at our own game," and a long series of connections between Nazi governmental and scientific
figures in the States (including money from Rockefeller), the effort is tendentious, I think.
Antisemitism is not nor was it ever an exclusively American trait. There were other sources for
Hitler's lunacy: including DeGobineau and Ernst Haeckle as well as millions who were jealous
of Jewish successes in Germany and throughout Europe. It was a useful crutch for Hitler and he
used it to come to power.
There is the usual coverage of Davenport and Laughlin, that is not what distinguishes this book
from the others. But what is novel is the last section of the book, called Newgenics, which
stresses the continuation of this kind of simplistic thinking. The sociobiologists of the 70s and
the investment in the construction of the human genome. Those billions are not novel approaches
to the human condition but, as Black sees it, a continuation of earlier thinking. How different is it
to want a "biologically perfect" baby in 2004 and to want to improve the Aryan type in the
1930s? And the elimination of disease by biological controls is not new. Eliminating the unfit
may be accomplished in several different ways. Is it wrong from big insurance companies to want
genetic profiles on people so as to more properly prepare rates for them? Is it wrong for a
government to want to improve its military power by improving the stock? "A Texas couple
wants to engineer a baby to grow into a large football player. And One West Coast sperm bank
caters exclusively to Americans who desire Scandinavian sperm from select and screened
Nordics." (p. 442) Are such choices permissible and how different are they from the goals of the
eugenicists of old? Black's emphasis here is one I appreciate.