Orrin Judd has had several recent posts that have highlighted the darkest aspect of what the Terri Schiavo drama could portend: that Germany’s obsession with euthanasia, and eventually wholesale assembly line-style slaughter in the 1930s and 1940s, actually pre-dated the rise of the Nazis, just as anti-Semitism was present long before as well. The Nazis simply stoked both ideas and then perfected the dark technology to carry them out.

This is actually consistent with much current historical thinking about pre-WWII Germany. In the past, most historians viewed the Nazis as a strange alien virus that subverted the will of the peaceful and enlightened Germans, as Orrin himself wrote a few years ago:

When it comes to popular history on the Nazi era, a subject about which very little deviation from the norm is tolerated, the one book that you’ll most often see cited is William Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. A perfectly acceptable relic of its time, this book treats Hitler and the Nazi Party as complete aberrations, imposed on a slumbering Germany by a freakish set of circumstances. This view, understandable in a liberal West which finds it necessary to aver “it couldn’t happen here” and which found it necessary to rehabilitate Germany into a worthy Cold War ally, has prevailed for the better part of sixty years now.

Current thinking seems to be quite different: as Ian Kershaw described in his two-volume biography of Hitler (full disclosure: I haven’t read Vol. 1 yet), Hitler was accepted quite enthusiastically by the bulk of the German people, at least until the invasion of Russia went south.

Scientists in particular led the way for much of Germany’s culture of death, as Mark P. Mostert noted in the fall 2002 Journal of Special Education:

Prior to World War I, the German eugenicists concurred with their American and British colleagues regarding a scale of human worth, dividing the German population into those who were superior (hochwertig) and inferior (minderwertig). Thus, eugenics asserted that the “feebleminded” (a generic, inaccurate term covering everything from mental retardation to alcoholism) were almost always so because of inherited inferior characteristics. From these assumptions, they “saw the cause of the social problems of their times, such as alcoholism and prostitution, as inherited feeblemindedness, and viewed the manifestations of poverty, such as intermittent employment and chronic illness, as a hereditary degeneracy” (Friedlander, 1995, p. 6).

However, without the political heterogeneity that encouraged diverse views within the genetics movement in the United States and, to a lesser extent, in England, German eugenicists’ views were much more radically homogeneous. Until Germany’s defeat in World War I, the German eugenicists concentrated on “positive Eugenics,” through the encouragement of higher birth rates among superior populations, which reflected the German eugenic concentration on class rather than race. However, a precursor of future troubles appeared in a eugenic faction that favored the concept of the Nordic racial ideal and despised its inferior counterpart, the anti-Nordic (Friedlander, 1995). It was this concept that eventually dominated German eugenic discourse and became enshrined in the Nazi idea of Aryan supremacy.

The two genocidal markers of Social Darwinism and eugenics were firmly in place in the professional and lay psyche when the National Socialists, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, were elected in January 1933. Thereafter, German acceptance of humanitarian inequality mixed with Hitler’s racist convictions to produce the political ideology of the “Thousand Year Reich,” a major component of which was the elimination of those deemed inferior (Friedlander, 1995). Furthermore, these two markers became the bedrock of increasingly coercive official policy, eventually killing thousands of people with disabilities. These two genocidal markers were then enacted in the real world, first by involuntary sterilization.

Read the whole thing, it’s quite staggering.

Am I suggesting that Terri’s death will be a slippery slope into the abyss? Not necessarily. (And this is not to suggest that America is on a path to becoming Nazi Germany–or the Weimar Republic for that matter. That’s Chutch’s schtick.)

However, it’s important to note that path that previous cultures and their scientists took, observe the landmarks along their way, and compare them with the road signs appearing in our windshields.