History Lesson in the Wake of COVID-19

If you are suddenly thrust into homeschooling as a result of the COVID-19 panic, not to fear. Here is a little history lesson that also happens to be an excerpt from my book, In the Name of The Pill. I hope you enjoy it.

The Population Bomb

Population concerns exploded onto the scene in 1968 when Paul Ehrlich’s massively popular book, The Population Bomb, hit bookstores everywhere.  Mr. Ehrlich wrote the book after his family took an unsettling trip to Delhi, India. He filled its pages with sensational predictions about the catastrophic effects of global overpopulation:

Book on the risks of birth control

“A minimum of ten million people, most of them children, will starve to death each year of the 1970s. But this is a mere handful compared to the numbers that will be starving before the end of the century. And it is now too late to take action to save many of those people.”

Mr. Erhlich’s doomsday forecasts coupled with almost nightly dire predictions on network newscasts left the nation panicked about overpopulation. After the world’s population topped 3.5 billion, Walter Cronkite reported, “Net world population is increasing by 23 people every ten seconds. It’s clear that world population growth remains completely out of control.”

As more and more people bought into the movement’s cries for Zero Population Growth, leaders like Erhlich and Robbins felt comfortable to reveal their bold plans for coercive tactics intended to curb population growth. Speaking at the U.S. national conference for UNESCO in 1969, Mr. Erhlich proposed adding sterility drugs to the nation’s food supply and water reservoirs.

Although the idea of tainting food and water supplies never really caught on, the bold rhetoric continued boiling behind the scenes. As it became clear the general public was never going to embrace their most outrageous desires, population control enthusiasts began to speak in more palatable terms. However, on occasion one of them would speak a little too frankly to the press, and it would cause a stir. Just months before the Nelson Pill Hearings took place, President Nixon established a separate Office of Population within USAID and gave them a $50 million budget. In 1977, the Director of this Population Program, Dr. Ray Ravenholt, may have been a little too transparent when he told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that his agency’s goal was to sterilize twenty-five percent of the women on the planet.

Population Politics

Politically speaking, the population-control movement first saw the light of day with the formation of the Draper Committee in the 1950s. After previously serving on Eisenhower’s staff during World War II, General William Draper formed this influential committee, which recommended population-control programs be tied to military assistance in countries struggling with poverty issues.

Government sponsored population-control sounded menacing, and the civilian population reacted negatively to the Draper Report. President Eisenhower ultimately rejected the report contending that population problems in other countries were not a concern of the United States government.

However, his hedging seemed to be more a matter of political expediency. Once out of office, he joined another former president, Harry S. Truman as honorary co-chairs of the Planned Parenthood Federation. Though the term “population-control” was still being rejected by the public-at-large, the movement suddenly had colossal political clout.

This was a fascinating time for the population control movement. The political elite from both parties in the U.S. seemed to be fully on-board with the need to limit population growth. However, because the idea so repulsed the average voter, the politicians were caught in a delicate balancing act. U.S. voters weren’t the only ones listening to their population control arguments incredulously. In 1965, at the Second World Population Conference in Belgrade, the American representative, Frank Lorimer stated, “We have 200 million people now, we will have 300 million by 1980. Wouldn’t we be better off with 100 million people less?”  To which, the Russian delegate responded, “What is the matter with you Americans, don’t you like people?”

The population control movement knew they had a problem with optics. Recognizing that all social-engineering is preceded by language-engineering, they tweaked their pitch to focus on individual responsibility. Their new rally cry centered on birth control rather than population control. Within a decade, birth control was legalized, and The Pill had been approved by the FDA.

As a side note, when Dr. Alan Guttmacher, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation sought to strengthen ties in minority communities, he approached the National Negro Advisory Council previously established by the Birth Control Federation of America. It was Malcolm X who suggested that ‘family planning’ would be even more palatable than ‘birth control.’ According to notes taken at that meeting, “His reason for this was that people, particularly Negroes, would be more willing to plan than to be controlled.”

Lyndon B. Johnson became the first sitting President to publicly speak in favor of population control. The year was 1965. At a speech celebrating the 20th anniversary of the United Nations, Johnson called upon all member nations to “wage together an international war on poverty.” He pleaded with them to protect our fragile heritage, offering this as food for thought:

“Let us in all our lands–including this land–face forthrightly the multiplying problems of our multiplying populations and seek the answers to this most profound challenge to the future of all the world. Let us act on the fact that less than $5 invested in population control is worth $100 invested in economic growth.”

Fear Becomes Zeitgeist

By the time the 1968 presidential election rolled around, overpopulation fears had woven their way into the national zeitgeist. Still, the fears of unsustainable population were largely seen as a foreign problem, not a domestic one. The Republican Party’s Foreign Policy platform leading up to the elections offered this perspective:

“The world-wide population explosion in particular, with its attendant grave problems, looms as a menace to all mankind and will have our priority attention. In all such areas we pledge to expand and strengthen international cooperation.”

President Richard Nixon stayed true to the promise. It would eventually become clear that ‘cooperation’ actually meant ‘coercion.’ Within months of taking office, Nixon delivered a Special Message to Congress on the Problems of Population Growth. Declaring that ‘population growth is among the most important issues we face,’ he called for ‘expanded action and greater coordination’ of international population control programs through the United Nations.

In his testimony at the Pill Hearings, General Draper proudly dropped the names of some of the influential leaders who had thrown their support behind population control – the Presidents, of course, Nixon, Eisenhower, Johnson, and even Kennedy, ‘authorized our Government for the first time to help other nations achieve population limitation.’

He explained how they had worked through the United Nations, using the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the World Bank to provide aid to countries and leaders who would ‘promote’ population limitation in their countries.

General Draper also offered some insight into the work being done at home. He praised Senator Joseph Tydings and the young Representative George H.W. Bush for their work on a bill that ‘will greatly speed up our own domestic family planning programs.’ Interestingly, he also mentioned the work of a couple of unelected officials – Dr. Louis Hellman from the FDA, and a young counsel to the President named Rumsfeld. He emphatically declared, “Mr. Donald Rumsfeld [is] loyally devoted to carrying out President Nixon’s 5-year program [to reduce population growth].”

In his Special Message to Congress, President Nixon also announced his plans to establish a commission that would evaluate the state of population growth. He appointed John D. Rockefeller to head the Commission. The Commission’s subsequent report wasted no time in summing up their findings. The first paragraph offered this food for thought: “After two years of concentrated effort, we have concluded that, in the long run, no substantial benefits will result from further growth of the Nation’s population.”

There can be no argument that an extremely powerful group of men and women were hell-bent on curbing population growth, and they weren’t about to let safety concerns surrounding The Pill get in their way. Or, as General Draper put it, “The decade of the sixties has been the decade of comprehension. The decade of the seventies must become the decade of all-out action.”

More Information

That’s the end of the excerpt. If you are interested in watching more about this topic, I highly recommend this documentary short from the New York Times – The Unrealized Horrors of the Population Explosion.

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