tom moody

War Against the Weak

Saw an advance cut of a powerful documentary film directed by Justin Strawhand, War Against the Weak. Based on a book by Edwin Black, the subject is the Eugenics movement in the US and its spectactular apotheosis and ultimate discrediting in the Nazi Final Solution--or is it discredited? The arrogance, hatred and psychopathic certainty of early 20th Century American "scientists" and their enablers in government and philanthropy, documented in the film with exhaustive visual research and frightening graphics, just makes your blood boil. The flaw in the thinking of the Eugenicists never seems to occur to them: that weeding out disease traits in a small percentage of a healthy population has nothing to do with weeding out "racial" characteristics, since non-Aryans are the, um, majority of people on Earth. The easy conflation of inherited illnesses with racial profiling should have doomed the movement to the crackpot fringes but it was instead funded and institutionalized at the highest levels of society (e.g., the state picking candidates for compulsory sterilization among poor and immigrant populations) and persists today in such charming innovations of the era as IQ testing.

Hitler and his scientists followed the American Eugenic literature closely, as the film demonstrates in photos and correspondence, and we all know where that led. Or maybe not--certain details of Nazi science inherited from American studies may have escaped your attention, such as the weird obsession with twins that led to a "twins camp" and the exceptionally depraved experimentation there by the monster Dr. Joseph Mengele.

A fictionalized treatment of the Eugenics movement can be seen in Philip Noyce's film Rabbit-Proof Fence, which dealt with a government-sponsored "scientific" attempt to "breed out" aboriginals from the Australian continent, through the use of camps and exacting charts of who can sleep with whom. Details of that film's version of history have been questioned, but anyone who sees War Against the Weak will recognize the trope of the Edwardian gentleman giving photographic lantern shows to ladies' groups, explaining the elimination of a people with an air of clinical detachment.

The visual style of War Against the Weak breaks out of the Ken Burns slow-pan-across-a-tabletop with innovative computer graphics, dramatic re-enactments, and frank, non-exploitative, Errol Morris-like interviews with current members of society's "weak" who lead productive lives, or struggle to do so. The filmgoer is left to draw the conclusion that they might not have gotten the chance in the days of Oliver Wendell Holmes' Supreme Court opinion in Buck vs Bell, which famously condemned a woman to be sterilized with the pronouncement that "three generations of imbeciles are enough."

- tom moody

October 30th, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Posted in general