As a child back in the 1950s, I was well familiar with the movie “convention” of the White Hat. Cliff-hanger cowboy serials, and B-Western main feature movies, played every week on Saturday matinees at the local movie theater. With a grandpa who just LOVED B-Western movies, I got to see a lot of them. I learned very early that you could usually tell the Good Guys from the Bad Guys in the movies by the color of their hat. Once in a while a director would slip you a surprise, but usually the main hero wore a white hat.
And the main villain wore a black hat.
And as a child of the Cold War era, bred on the Great American Narrative, I was equally sure that I knew just how “it all worked” out in the real world too. My history classes, school plays, inspirational patriotic movies, even TV shows all helped me understand that when it came to American history, we Americans ALWAYS wore the metaphorical White Hats. We were ALWAYS the Good Guys. The American government and culture were ALWAYS a blessing. “Our” choices and way of doing things were always benevolent. In our country since 1776 there had always been “liberty and justice for ALL.” Well, at least after the slaves were freed at the end of the Civil War. The weak were protected and cared for.
Evil governments like the Nazis and the Russians abused even their own citizens, and even more so any racial groups among them who were viewed as inferior or a menace to the greatness of their society. Especially with the revelation of the Nazi atrocities at the end of WW2, the gross “medical experiments” on the helpless, the forced sterilization of huge numbers of people, the persecution of the whole Jewish segment of their society, the blackness of the black hat they wore was extremely obvious. And since the Americans were part of the Allied Forces who liberated those left in the Concentration Camps, it was obvious who were the White Hat people.
Unfortunately, it turned out that the real world just isn’t as white and black as a B-Western movie. I offer for your consideration the following items. These are only representative of “lots more where this came from.”
“I wish I had a family,” said Lewis Reynolds, 86, who suffered seizures after a head injury, was deemed “defective” and forcibly sterilized at the age of 13. Reynolds went on to serve his country for 30 years, in Korea and Vietnam.
“I just wonder what kind of daddy would I be if I had any children,” he said. [Source]
Lewis Reynolds didn’t live in Nazi Germany. He was swept up in the forced sterilization program of the state of Virginia that was established in 1924, a whole decade before the Nazis began sterilizing their “unwanted.” As were thousands of other people across the USA. As noted in an earlier entry in this blog, before it was all over, 33 different US states instituted forced sterilization laws on the books, based on “eugenic concerns,” and used them. And in 1927, the US Supreme Court itself gave its stamp of approval to these laws.
Or how about this…
The Tuskegee syphilis experiment was a clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 in Tuskegee, Alabama, by the U.S. Public Health Service. In the experiment, 400 impoverished black males who had syphilis were offered “treatment” by the researchers, who did not tell the test subjects that they had syphilis and did not give them treatment for the disease, but rather just studied them to chart the progress of the disease.
By 1947, penicillin became available as treatment, but those running the study prevented study participants from receiving treatment elsewhere, lying to them about their true condition, so that they could observe the effects of syphilis on the human body. By the end of the study in 1972, only 74 of the test subjects were alive. 28 of the original 399 men had died of syphilis, 100 were dead of related complications, 40 of their wives had been infected, and 19 of their children were born with congenital syphilis. The study was not shut down until 1972, when its existence was leaked to the press, forcing the researchers to stop in the face of a public outcry. [Source]
These were not medical Hitler’s Henchmen. They were authorized researchers approved by the US Public Health Service.
The Stateville Penitentiary malaria study was a controlled study of the effects of malaria on the prisoners of Stateville Penitentiary near Joliet, Illinois in the 1940s. The study was conducted by the Department of Medicine at the University of Chicago in conjunction with the United States Army and the State Department. The study is notable for its impacts on the Nuremberg Medical Trial and subsequent medical experimentation on prisoners. …In the study, each patient received bites from 10 infected mosquitoes. 441 inmates volunteered for the study. …The experiments gained much media attention and praise. Malaria research continued at Stateville Penitentiary for 29 years. The June 4, 1945 issue of Life magazine contained an article about this research. [Source]
Here are details about the Nuremberg Medical Trial:
The Doctors’ trial (officially United States of America v. Karl Brandt, et al.) was the first of 12 trials for war crimes of German doctors that the United States authorities held in their occupation zone in Nuremberg, Germany after the end of World War II. These trials were held before US military courts, not before the International Military Tribunal, but took place in the same rooms at the Palace of Justice. … The indictment was filed on October 25, 1946; the trial lasted from December 9 that year until August 20, 1947. Of the 23 defendants, seven were acquitted and seven received death sentences; the remainder received prison sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment.
The trial was named for the most notorious of those accused, Karl Brandt.
…Among other positions, Brandt headed the administration of the Nazi euthanasia program from 1939 onwards and was selected as Adolf Hitler’s personal physician in August 1934. In 1942, he became Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation. He was involved in criminal human experimentation, along with his deputy Werner Heyde and others. [And was co-head of the T-4 Euthanasia Program.] After World War II, Brandt was convicted of crimes against humanity. He was hanged on June 2, 1948. [Source]
The reason the malaria study had an “impact” on this trial is that the Nazis on trial submitted information about it, along with information about US state sterilization programs, about the US Supreme Court decision affirming those programs, other US medical experimental programs that defied most people’s sense of what should be medical ethics, information about US eugenics research and activities, and more, as part of their defense.
As a matter of fact, Karl Brandt’s defense specifically included entering passages from Madison Grant’s Passing of the Great Race into the trial record!
The primary emphasis was to show that there was accepted precedence in other countries, particularly in the US, for both the theories upon which the Nazi programs were based, and on the practices they developed. As you may imagine, all of this didn’t sway the court judges…and until quite recently no one seems to have written or spoken much about it…because it certainly doesn’t reflect well on the White Hat image of the US.
Nor does the following book. This is about circumstances occurring AFTER World War 2. Yes, I have read this. And YES, it convincingly documents amazing, mind-boggling stories.
Amazon description: During the Cold War, an alliance between American scientists, pharmaceutical companies, and the US military pushed the medical establishment into ethically fraught territory. Doctors and scientists at prestigious institutions were pressured to produce medical advances to compete with the perceived threats coming from the Soviet Union. In Against Their Will, authors Allen Hornblum, Judith Newman, and Gregory Dober reveal the little-known history of unethical and dangerous medical experimentation on children in the United States.
Through rare interviews and the personal correspondence of renowned medical investigators, they document how children—both normal and those termed “feebleminded”—from infants to teenagers, became human research subjects in terrifying experiments. They were drafted as “volunteers” to test vaccines, doused with ringworm, subjected to electric shock, and given lobotomies. They were also fed radioactive isotopes and exposed to chemical warfare agents. This groundbreaking book shows how institutional superintendents influenced by eugenics often turned these children over to scientific researchers without a second thought. Based on years of archival work and numerous interviews with both scientific researchers and former test subjects, this is a fascinating and disturbing look at the dark underbelly of American medical history.
Yep. No White Hats here. Just White Lab Coats. Which should have been …Blood Red.
There is another aspect of American Society that the Nazis exploited, not during the post-war trials, but in international propaganda during the years the Reich was in power and persecuting the Jews. There was much bad press given to such incidents as Kristallnacht.
But Hitler could easily pull out and spread information on incredibly similar incidents on American soil over many decades leading up to World War 2. The victims were not Jews here, but Negroes. It happened time after time, but the most significant incident was likely the destruction of the whole “city” of Greenwood, a suburb of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It was the most prosperous black community in the US, often referred to as “Black Wall Street.” It had doctors and lawyers and a school and library and hotels and restaurants and stores. And over 10,000 residents.
Here’s how it looked on May 30, 1921.
And here’s how it looked on June 2, 1921.
The Tulsa Race Riot was a large-scale, racially motivated conflict on May 31 and June 1, 1921, in which whites attacked the black community of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It resulted in the Greenwood District, also known as ‘the Black Wall Street’ and the wealthiest black community in the United States, being burned to the ground. During the 16 hours of the assault, more than 800 blacks were admitted to local white hospitals with injuries (the black hospital was burned down), and police arrested and detained more than 6,000 black Greenwood residents at three local facilities, in part for their protection. An estimated 10,000 blacks were left homeless, and 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fire. The official count of the dead by the Oklahoma Department of Vital Statistics was 39, but other estimates of black fatalities have been up to about 300.
The events of the riot were long omitted from local and state histories. “The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private. Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place.” With the number of survivors declining, in 1996, the state legislature commissioned a report to establish the historical record of the events, and acknowledge the victims and damages to the black community. [Tulsa Race Riot]
What was the purpose of all this destruction? It seems pretty obvious by the “caption” on this photo postcard from the time period.
You can read the details of this incident in the Meet MythAmerica Special Report series, Terrorism on American Soil.
And the following two books go into even more details, making it abundantly clear that the same “spirit” that drove the evil actions of the Brown Shirts and the concentration camp tormentors in Nazi Germany was throughout much of our history “alive and well” on Main Street USA. Many large groups of “Average Americans” found themselves able to commit unspeakable evils, but not manipulated to do so by the demagoguery of one maniacal madman like Hitler. They were fully capable of just rising up under their own steam and becoming a howling mob of madmen, bent on violence and destruction.
Amazon description: “Leave now, or die!” Those words-or ones just as ominous-have echoed through the past hundred years of American history, heralding a very unnatural disaster-a wave of racial cleansing that wiped out or drove away black populations from counties across the nation. While we have long known about horrific episodes of lynching in the South, this story of racial cleansing has remained almost entirely unknown. These expulsions, always swift and often violent, were extraordinarily widespread in the period between Reconstruction and the Depression era.
In the heart of the Midwest and the Deep South, whites rose up in rage, fear, and resentment to lash out at local blacks. They burned and killed indiscriminately, sweeping entire counties clear of blacks to make them racially “pure.” Many of these counties remain virtually all-white to this day. In Buried in the Bitter Waters, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Elliot Jaspin exposes a deeply shameful chapter in the nation’s history-and one that continues to shape the geography of race in America.
Across the nation is an understatement. Here are just a handful of the headlines that document this insanity.
Amazon description: “Don’t let the sun go down on you in this town.” We equate these words with the Jim Crow South but, in a sweeping analysis of American residential patterns, award-winning and bestselling author James W. Loewen demonstrates that strict racial exclusion was the norm in American towns and villages from sea to shining sea for much of the twentieth century.
Weaving history, personal narrative, and hard-nosed analysis, Loewen shows that the sundown town was—and is—an American institution with a powerful and disturbing history of its own, told here for the first time. In Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, sundown towns were created in waves of violence in the early decades of the twentieth century, and then maintained well into the contemporary era.
Sundown Towns redraws the map of race relations, extending the lines of racial oppression through the backyard of millions of Americans—and lobbing an intellectual hand grenade into the debates over race and racism today.
The Germans also got really bad press around the world (before the world knew HOW much worse it got, in the Concentration Camps) for the activities of Hitler’s “Brown Shirts” in not just violence against property, but in violence against Jewish people personally: bludgeonings, torture, killings. While Germany was still trying to avoid war with the US, it may have avoided mentioning the “parallel” situation in the US. But once Germany was at war with the US, it could certainly have made hay with documentation on the incredible, horrific, very PUBLIC incidents of lynching that had gone on for decade after decade in the US from the Reconstruction period right up to World War 2. Such as this ghoulish description of a “town square” type of lynching in Waco, Texas in 1916.
Over 10,000 spectators, including city officials and police, gathered to watch the attack. There was a celebratory atmosphere at the event, and many children attended during their lunch hour. Members of the mob castrated Washington, cut off his fingers, and hung him over a bonfire. He was repeatedly lowered and raised over the fire for about two hours. After the fire was extinguished, his charred torso was dragged through the town and parts of his body were sold as souvenirs. [Wiki Waco]
The first photo below shows the end result of the incident, and it is horrific enough. But the second photo shows the situation in progress…if you don’t have a strong stomach, don’t look too closely…the man was reportedly still alive in the center of that picture.
And the Nazis had plenty to pick from…such public “festive” lynchings occurred in places as far scattered across the land as Cairo, Illinois, Duluth, Minnesota, and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. See more details on this ghoulish phenomenon in the Meet MythAmerica Special Report series, Terrorism on American Soil.
Am I implying that the US, in general, has throughout its history been “just as bad as” Hitler’s Germany? Am I suggesting that there has never been any nobility to American aspirations and efforts? OF COURSE NOT.
The founding documents of the country were full of great ideas and hopes. Sometimes the government and the citizenry have lived up to those hopes and built on those great ideas.
But I have found in recent years that the over-arching “American Narrative” that I believed in as a child was not an accurate reflection much of the time of the actual way that “history happened” in our country. It is a white-washed, cleaned up, carefully-selected tapestry of events, peopled by caricatures of historical figures, mythic heroes rather than flesh and blood humans.
For instance, Madison Grant…whose story has been told in this blog series. He was a real American man. He accomplished some amazing exploits—saving the redwoods, saving the bison, building a world-class zoo. But at the same time he promoted some of the most pernicious ideas imaginable, to the point that Adolph Hitler himself called Grant’s most famous book his “bible.” The “fruit” of Grant’s teachings in the field of eugenics was in many ways abominable. It is my personal conviction that it is a mistake to take any historical figure, such as Grant, and put a White Hat on an idealized statue of him, ignoring “the Rest of the Story.” This can be done without insisting that he was the Devil Incarnate, deserving of a grotesque statue wearing a Black Hat.
Why not just dispense with the hats and the statues and the whitewashing and the under-the-rug sweeping? Why not lay ALL the pieces of the puzzle of American History out as they are unearthed by historians (such as the authors of the books listed above) and, to paraphrase an old adage, let the pieces fall where they may?
Why not get a CLEAR picture, as much as possible, of ALL that has happened, and then just embrace it as “OurStory.” Both beauty and ugliness, both pettiness and self-sacrifice of our citizenry, both what is praise-worthy and what is worthy of condemnation in the acts of our leaders.
Why not LEARN from the horrendous mistakes, such as the burning of Greenwood, the ghoulish public spectacles of torture and death of lynchings, the flawed laws based on the mistaken notions of the false science of eugenics that led to denying many Americans of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? If we don’t examine those aspects of our society and its history, trying to come to grips with how on earth “we let it happen” as a people back then, why should we think that the same type of things can’t happen again? We have no evidence to indicate that “human nature” has changed drastically in the last fifty years.
American Society has “evolved” some different sets of cultural and legal expectations in recent decades that have, one might say, put a “damper” temporarily on the kind of mob violence perpetrated by whole allegedly “respectable” communities such as the majority of citizens in Waco who witnessed and cheered the brutal lynching in 1916. But I am convinced that many of the same attitudes as those acted upon in days gone by still lurk in the hearts of many. And they may well manifest themselves in coming years in some unexpected ways.
Federal laws were put in place in the late 1960s and later which made it more difficult for people to express their hatred for other races through violence in a public setting. But those laws had no power to change hearts. Just because a school in the south was integrated by Federal mandate in the 1960s doesn’t mean a white supremacist in that time period who had fought against such action for so long just woke up one day suddenly with love in his heart for African Americans. Nor does it mean that he would not pass on his prejudices to his children, even if he is not empowered yet to “remake” society back the way he wants it to be.
I don’t believe that embracing a blind “patriotism” that can See No Evil in anything ever done in America is the way to create a future America that will live up to the best of the aspirations of the Founding Fathers. There has been a strain of deep sickness running throughout our history that has flared up over and over again in acts of darkness—the Trail of Tears, the military atrocities involved in subduing the Philippines after the Spanish American war, exploitation of child labor, Jim Crow Laws, dealing with labor disputes by enlisting National Guard machine guns, eugenic attempts to eliminate basic human rights in service to a theoretical eugenic Utopia, and on and on. I think we would do better to shine the light on these flare-ups of sickness in our past, face them, publicly renounce as a corporate citizenry what was evil, and thus take away its power to erupt again.
I really do think we all need to know “The Rest of Our Story.” Which is the purpose of this blog.
This entry has concluded the series on Eugenics. A new series begins with the next blog entry: