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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY

 

MAY, 1915




EUGENICS AND WAR[1]
By Professor J. ARTHUR THOMSON, M.A., LL.D.

UNIVERSITY OF ABERDEEN

IN the midst of anxieties—national and personal—we meet to honor the memory of Sir Francis Galton, born on this day ninety-three years ago. “I take eugenics very seriously,” he said, and we do him honor in following his example, and in considering what most closely concerns us at the present time in the light of what he regarded as of fundamental importance. So we naturally think to-night of war and eugenics.

 

I. The Dysgenic Tendencies of Modern War

In sailing along a coast of which we have no chart we can not tell from a distance whether this or that headland is continued into a dangerous reef or not, but we steer our course in reference to probable risks. Similarly, while we have practically no certainties in regard to the biological effect that a great war may have on a race, some probable risks are discernible. There are more than hints of dysgenic tendencies in modern war.

In ancient days a battle was probably in many cases a sifting out of the less strong, the less nimble, the less courageous on both sides, and the result of a war or raid was probably, in some cases, the practical elimination of the weaker of two clans. In both these ways there may have been a eugenic selection of the types best suited for times when fighting was the order of the day. But times have changed and war with them. Nation no longer exterminates nation, and victory is not necessarily with those of better physique. Moreover among the combatants on both sides the elimination is either indiscriminate, as when a battleship goes down, or in the wrong direction. The finest companies are set to the most hazardous tasks, where the mortality is often terrible,

  1. The Second Galton Lecture, delivered on February 16, 1915.