A small window into 18th century eugenics
February 6, 2009
The concept of breeding human beings for nefarious purposes is far from a novelty. Men have toyed with the idea for many-a-century. Monarchs throughout history have studied the hide and texture of the creature called eugenics, poking its skin with a pitchfork and finally piercing it, revealing black pus streaming of its scales. The questionable art of breeding human livestock was cultivated to its very extreme by different royal houses of (mostly) German descent festering all over the European continent. Fanatically marrying inside each others families, they drew from a disturbingly limited gene pool- with all the nasty side effects that go along with it (a peculiar maliciousness in their behaviour- in combination with some repulsive physiological features in their outward appearance). Products of centuries of interbreeding themselves, it became the royals’ specialty to crossbreed their poor animals until they were degraded to utterly hideous, cross-eyed perversions of their natural selves.
Royalty is the name, eugenics their game.
Because the bluebloods considered their subjects as little more than animals, the inevitable next step was that they should expand their experimentations to their human quarry. Already a favourite hobby of European royalty, the elite transcended its original fiddling to refine the handiwork to a new level of efficiency. Eugenics was no longer some decadent deficiency on the part of the elite. It became a matter of policy, to be used at the pleasure of the state in oppression of the individual. However, the inclination of royalty to actually attempt breeding a subservient class of men was a relative novelty by the time Frederick William I from the house of Hohenzollern became king of Prussia in 1713.
The strange case of the Prussian Grenadiers
Charles Darwin wrote that human beings, unlike livestock, had never been forcibly bred for select characteristics, ‘except in the well-known case of the Prussian grenadiers.’ To the amazement of fellow-rulers and trembling subjects alike, the Soldier-King (as Frederick was nicknamed) began to collect giant men as one would collect rare stamps. From all over Prussia he had his agents look for- and oftentimes kidnap- men suffering from gigantism. In striving to create his own personal soldier core of giants, the king instructed his subjects to immediately signal the authorities whenever they should become aware of exceptionally tall men in the vicinity. He also made clear to his political allies that they could keep their gifts of gold for themselves as long as they provided him now and then with fresh giants to fill up his stock. The strange and sinister request dripped down to every segment of Prussian society. Prussian teachers, eager to appease the morbid king, kept an eye out for tall children and promptly handed them over to him when they got the chance. Newborn babies, expected to grow unusually tall, were marked with a bright red scarf for identification purposes.
If someone was unfortunate enough to be over six feet tall and born in the Prussian sphere of influence (which was quite extensive), he would sooner or later be noticed and assigned to the king’s private collection cabinet. Cautious parents, aware of his eccentric cravings, made improvised shelters for their children to hide them from the ever watchful eyes of king Frederick’s scouts- who feverishly roamed the land in search of specimens to satisfy his dark avocations. If the collection item-to-be happened to be well-to-do (or of noble descent himself) no expense was spared to acquire him- for the king reserved enormous amounts of cash just for the purchasing of giants. If one had the misfortune of being of modest means or descent, the conduct of the Prussian agents was altogether different: in this case they were given carte blanch to simply abduct the person in question, bring them before the Prussian king to be inspected, stamped with the royal seal and subsequently enslaved. It would sometimes occur that his agents were so eager in carrying out their assignment that their prey would not survive the brutal journey to the Prussian throne. This would always enrage the impatient king, and the agent in question could count on a swift reprimand for his negligence (usually on the unhappy end of a rifle). Some glitches aside, his collection grew steadily- and before long he managed to assemble his giants in a formidable ‘regiment’ which were regularly taken out on display when some befriended tyrant came to visit. But Frederick was not satisfied with merely collecting the giants to impress neighbouring monarchs; Frederick took the whole thing to the next level.
According to Washington Monthly author David Wallace-Wells, ‘King Frederick’s obsession was more than mere schoolyard eugenics.’ Indeed it was. Frederick was not the man for silly pet projects or idle pastime pleasures. He was a Prussian king and that means thoroughness in absolutely every respect. With an ambition that would put Marie Stopes to shame he gathered from all over Europe the most impressive ‘samples’ and selected each and every one of them personally before sending them to his sublevel experimentation chambers. The most notorious of these experiments was the stretching of his grenadiers on a specially constructed rack to make them even taller than they already were. Frederick would sometimes preside over these racking sessions while enjoying his lunch at the same time. However absurd and cruel this method, it revealed the king’s stalwart fervour in all things unethical. One of the first to venture into the world of methodical eugenics, king Frederick encountered the same difficulties as his future counterparts. When it became apparent that this method resulted in the death of the giants instead of gaining even one inch in length, he ended the practice lest he run out of giants before he could breed new ones. But putting a halt to this racking practise could not prevent the giants from dying in alarming numbers, for many sought refuge in suicide. As only a German blueblood could devise, the king forced his rapidly shrinking collection to interbreed with equally tall women so as to build a future army of giants, which would be the envy of Europe’s upper-class. Here he actually attempted to breed a ‘new man’, and it is said that the city of Potsdam, lair of the Hohenzollerns, was littered with unusually tall men at the end of the 18th century as a result. It is sad, this tale of the Potsdam giants. They fell victim to the elite’s bloodthirsty appetite and unwittingly became one of the first to be sacrificed on the altar of eugenics.
The Green Guise
To consolidate their place in 20th century society, modern eugenicists have manoeuvred themselves comfortably inside an ancient genealogy, dating all the way back to the marbled days of Plato. Once established as a ‘legitimate’ branch of applied science, eugenics took the gloves off and showed its true face. Forced sterilisations and brute experiments were everyday events in the years leading up to the Second World War. These operations were enforced by all major powers, and spearheaded by the British and the Germans. After the Nazis were supplanted by the rising fronts in the East and the West, both invading allies put all of their own eugenic sins on the back of the thoroughly slain bad guy (of course a lot of SS-demons were captured only to be pampered somewhere in South-America or the U.S.). 1945 meant the end of old Germany, not necessarily of the Nazis, who were given their own playing ground in super secret facilities on the other side of the Atlantic.
After the war a great mask of deception was strapped on the gruesome face of eugenics. Openly denouncing her more crude manifestations, the new boss (same as the old boss) grinned a second and then cried an infamous cry that over time turned into a worn-down mantra: ‘save the earth from overpopulation.’ This call reverberates straight into our own time, where generously funded ‘scientific’ organisations miss no opportunity to usher in an ‘age of environmentalism’: a brilliantly deceptive phrase covering a wide range of crimes: from one-child policies to subsidized abortions and so called family planning. However ‘green’ the guise may be, we have only to study history in order to uncover her true countenance.