Review of Matthew Connelly, Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008.
Fatal Misconception provides details of population programs that we have found nowhere else. Our brief summary below does not do justice to the wealth of detail in Connelly’s study. We give Fatal Misconception our highest recommendation.
Despite the massive casualties in World War II, many nations increased in population, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Scandinavia, and Canada. This population increase mainly came about because of improved public health that reduced infant mortality. The development of antibiotics, vaccines, and pesticides further lengthened life-spans. In fact much of the population increase that occurred in the early 1950s resulted from the invention of DDT and programs to wipe out malaria-causing mosquitoes in countries such as Ceylon, Mauritius, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Barbados. These successes led many to predict a coming population explosion, but there was one main problem underlying such predictions: an absence of reliable population statistics.
Despite anti-Nazi feelings today, immediately after World War II there was no horrific reaction to eugenics or sterilization or programs promoting racial purity. Margaret Sanger continued to advocate sterilization, and sterilization continued to be legal in several U.S. states. Contemporaries did not regard the Holocaust as the chief feature of the Nazi regime or a watershed event in history. Nazi eugenics policies were only slightly more extreme than policies in other nations, and their policies were only carrying out what the population controllers had been advocating for decades.
Population polices under the Rockefeller Foundation dating from 1913 were formulated under the idea of a one-world order in which it was necessary to transform the backward peasant into a modern agricultural worker and open all foreign nations to Western corporate penetration.
In 1948 a Conference in Cheltenham, England brought global population controllers together. Out of this conference came the concept of a “global family.” This concept represented a shift away from racial superiority to a concept of global equality of peoples and races. Julian Huxley (head of UNESCO) then advocated a world population policy, and one of the implications of a global population policy was the relinquishment of individual rights in favor of controls that were to the benefit of the entire global family. Joseph Needham, head of the UNESCO science department, then combined the idea of controlling population with respect to natural resources and stimulating economic development as the next stage of biological evolution. This conference wanted a global authority on population that would sponsor research and education. From this conference formed the International Committee on Planned Parenthood. The leadership was spit between the Americans (Sanger and her demographic experts), who wanted to raise funds to influence governments, and the Swedes under Gunnar Myrdal, who favored sex education, feminism, and private clinics. “Family planning” became the phrase that united their efforts.
John D. Rockefeller 3rd now entered the picture with initiatives in Japan, China, Taiwan, and Korea. Improved public health and disease control led to a Japanese population boom immediately after the war. Japan’s government passed a Eugenic Protection Law, which established boards empowered to force sterilizations and approve abortions. Rockefeller’s demographic experts studied Japan’s fertility rates and came to believe that reducing population was a precondition for industrial development. The Rockefeller Foundation targeted Japan as the first test of a birth control campaign, and Prime Minister Yoshida agreed. Contraceptives were then provided at government clinics. Doctors were authorized to perform abortions, and the abortion rate exceeded the birth rate by 50 percent in Japan by 1955.
By 1952, India’s independent government was extremely concerned about overpopulation and began a series of reform policies that would reduce India’s population. At first these programs targeted the “untouchables” and the insane and mentally defective. India also began to sterilize epileptics, and it soon provided free contraception and sterilization services nationwide. The UN then began to train population control workers in Mexico City, Cairo, Paris, and New Delhi. The UN also encouraged every nation to conduct a census, and in the early 1950s the first population statistics became available. From these statistics the demographers then began to make future projections and to classify individual nations as overpopulated.
In 1951 Alva Myrdal became director of social sciences at UNESCO. Myrdal believed that nations were now planning comprehensive social change, and part of this planning must involve fertility reduction. Myrdal advocated high-pressure propaganda for the liberation of women, education, and human rights. Pressure was then exerted on the World Health Organization to formulate a model birth-control program that could be replicated in the various countries. However, national opposition and organized Catholic opposition to birth control prevented the UN from taking a leading role.
In 1955 the Soviet Union legalized abortion, but the Communists resisted UN efforts to initiate population control programs in Communist countries. The issue of fertility control polarized world leaders in the 1950s and prevented funding of any large-scale program. But the population establishment had allies in the developing world, and this is where they concentrated their efforts. John D. Rockefeller organized this activist front, which included the International Planned Parenthood Federation, United Nations agencies, the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, and the major American and European drug companies. Rockefeller began by funding local population studies, and these studies discovered that population growth rates were increasing in many Third World countries.
Rockefeller funded a local study of birth control in Punjab, India that tracked the frequency of sexual intercourse, women’s menstrual cycles, miscarriages, births, and contraceptive use. However, demographers soon realized that local conditions varied from place to place, making one study insufficient and one model of population control insufficient for all of India. Paradoxically, the birth rate of those who used contraceptives was higher than the birth rate of those who did not use contraceptives. Many villagers did not understand the program, then opposed it when they did understand it. Rockefeller had to back away from supporting his study due to the unexpected results and the amount of opposition it engendered. The big foundations then decided to adopt a low profile and avoid publicly sponsoring studies and programs lest their reputations be tarnished.
In China the census in 1953 reported a population of 583 million, which was about 100 million more than had been estimated. China then legalized sterilization and abortion. The State Council complained that the “blind influx” of peasants into the cities was creating “chaotic conditions.” The State Council did not attribute this “blind influx” to Chinese collectivization programs, which were impoverishing peasants and sending millions to urban areas in hopes of survival. But Mao did not undertake a large population control effort. Instead he attempted the Great Leap Forward to accelerate collectivization. The result was a famine with over 20 million deaths.
In 1960 over 100 scientists and 39 Nobel Prize winners signed a public statement of conviction urging the UN to take actions to achieve a balance of population and resources. This statement predicted famine and unrest, leading to panic and explosive wars over vanishing natural resources. These alarmists predicted a “human tidal wave” which would bring about the decline of civilization. African children then began to appear on posters pleading for funds, even though Africa had a very low birthrate and was a net food exporter. In fact commodity prices had been falling for years, and the poor were consuming a shrinking portion of the world’s resources. There was no reason to believe that poor people were going to form armies to invade the wealthiest nations and take their resources, but this was the propaganda line the eugenicists settled on. The alarmists claimed that the poor would “turn to revolution,” “explode out of national boundaries,” and “fight to live.” Population control promised to neutralize these threats by getting rid of more poor colored people.
By 1963 India, with the support of Ford Foundation funds, had programs in place to distribute IUDs and conduct sterilization programs. Despite a high incidence of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease in IUD users, the leading population controllers wanted to continue such programs as “the individual patient is expendable in the general scheme of things.”
Studies of these IUD programs showed that about 15 percent of women
expelled the IUD and another 11 percent had them removed because of
pain, bleeding, or infection. These problems did not stop the Ford
Foundation from promoting IUD programs in Pakistan, Korea, and
Taiwan. At this point Ford began to massively increase funding.
The economic planners of this time believed that no country could achieve economic development if it were overpopulated, even though many densely populated areas, such as Hong Kong, were quite wealthy. Lyndon Johnson was worried that U.S. foreign aid was going down a rathole. By tying foreign aid to population control, Johnson believed the U.S. could get something concrete for its money. Again India became the leading target that pooled the resources of the United Nations agencies, the Ford Foundation, and the U.S. government. The UN wanted to increase sterilizations in India by ten times. The Population Council sent a million IUDs to India. Johnson put together a $1.5 billion aid package, and continued U.S. food assistance to India was tied to expansion of the sterilization and IUD programs. The justification for this great leap forward was that every birth prevented was a boon to society. From this calculus emerged the doctrine that having children was anti-social and not having children promoted social good. Threats to withhold U.S. grain supplies threatened India with starvation. India was now under Johnson’s thumb, with future aid tied to population control performance. Indira Gandhi agreed to these terms, appearing desperate for U.S. grain. In the end India got both a famine and a brutally accelerated population control program.
The IUD program in India began to turn into a fiasco when it was reported that half the women reported pain and bleeding. Moreover, drought hit Indian agriculture hard in 1966. As poor Indians began to starve, they readily signed up for a cash payment to be sterilized. Quotas were set for particular regions, and local entrepreneurs competed to find candidates for sterilization. However, the approach was hit-or-miss, with many elderly and unmarried getting sterilized. Records were falsified for profit. India passed laws prohibiting maternity leave for employees with three or more children, and free medical care was denied for anyone with three or more children. Scholarships, grants, loans, and housing benefits were denied on the same basis.
As feedback reached the Johnson administration officials and the Ford Foundation officials that the Indian programs were failing to reach their target quotas, panic set in, and a crisis mentality developed that led to a search for more funds. Congress then became involved and set aside $35 million of USAID funds for family planning programs. The Population Council and the Ford Foundation now had millions to spend, and of course much of it was spent by the leaders on themselves. These top officials began to jet around the world in search of countries in need of a family planning model. Activists, scholars, consultants, government officials, commissions, educational publishers, doctors, and public health bureaucracies were now drawn into a circle of opportunity created by massive government funding, mainly by the United States.
In Europe, Asia, and America, fertility peaked by 1965 and began to decline, just at the moment the population control movement began to reach critical mass. India was a special case, but population programs in other countries could not be shown to have reduced fertility significantly. As economic growth gradually accelerated around the world, people naturally began to have fewer children. The population control programs simply piggybacked on this trend. In 1968 Paul Erhlich published the Population Bomb, and Ehrlich’s false claims further muddied the picture by predicting crisis then catastrophe, even as fertility rates were declining.
As the U.S. shipped tons of contraceptives overseas and basically gave them away, governments lost control over their public health bureaucracies and stopped acting as guardians of their people. Most countries of the world legalized abortion in the decade of the 1970s. Family planning experts knew they were winning the day, and many wanted to go beyond family planning to large-scale programs like adding sterilization agents to water supplies, dropping contraceptive mists from airplanes, and propaganda broadcasts on television. Advocates began to leave behind any discussion of human rights and let their true agendas be known.
The population elite then clamored for bigger programs. Garrett Hardin, for example, drew an analogy between having children and the abuse of public lands in Tragedy of the Commons. Hardin characterized overbreeding as self-aggrandizement and anti-social. Hardin advocated reexamining individual rights to see which ones still applied in the age of global environmental crisis. Zero Population Growth then formed a model penal code that called for compulsory sterilization of parents with five or more children. Scientists began to dream of a contagious virus that would sterilize everyone, with an antidote offered to those qualified to reproduce.
Actually U.S. fertility had peaked in 1957 with 123 births per thousand women. By 1976, there were 76 births per thousand women.
In 1967 the Dalkon shield IUD was developed. It was recalled in 1975 after having been shipped to 42 countries. The shield was painful to insert and remove and caused infections.
The Population Crisis Committee decided that the next population threat lay in U.S. cities, full of juvenile delinquents, drug addicts, and idle welfare recipients. Population control could reduce crime and save spending on welfare programs.
The IPPF then tried to get photographs in foreign nations illustrating the unhappiness of large families and the happiness of small families. These efforts failed, and the IPPF commissioned paintings to illustrate their point.
Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb then enlisted David Brower, the head of the Sierra Club, in an environmental-population control alliance. Ehrlich painted a drastic picture of unhappy poor people invading the United States and advocated drastic, compulsory solutions. Ehrlich wanted the United States to stop providing foreign aid (food) for areas of the world that were “beyond help.” Ehrlich’s book went through 22 printings and sold 2 million copies. Ehrlich called for the development of mass sterilization agents.
Meanwhile, the demographers and social scientists really had no idea what strategies worked to reduce fertility. Birth control was linked with health services. A movement arose that demanded “integration” of multiple policies using multiple agencies, linked with legislation to provide appropriate rewards and penalties. The foundations were also at work on propaganda materials to show that unplanned families were unhealthy, violent, and unclean. The Disney film Family Planning, commissioned by the Population Council, featured Donald Duck crossing off unwanted children. Smaller families were surrounded by consumer goods. The Disney film claimed that “deep down, everyone wants the same thing for themselves and their families.” This message met resistance in cultures where more children meant more wealth and greater security in old age. The population propaganda linked the decision to have another child with the idea of an unaffordable luxury that worked against society’s long-term interest. Moreover this Disney propaganda claimed that a father who uses family planning is a “master in his house.” Donald Duck claimed that we all have a responsibility toward the “family of man.”
The feminist Betty Friedan then came forward to propagandize young girls that delaying marriage, reversing sex roles, embracing homosexuality, and contraception and abortion were good things. Feminism was eventually portrayed as principled, moral, tolerant, and liberated. Meanwhile, the population controllers were promoting the abortion of female fetuses over male fetuses in India.
In 1969, the Eugenics Quarterly changed its name to Social Biology, and in 1972 the American Eugenics Society became the Society for the Study of Social Biology.
It was widely recognized that eugenics was a pseudoscience and the prop for population control, which was a politics, not a science. Moreover, population control had become a privileged vested interest group that sought public funds and changes in law. Population control was recognized as racism and classism. Demographic research began to show that high fertility was not closely correlated with poverty. Ehrlich was rebutted and discredited by Julian Simon. Mahmood Mamdani’s The Myth of Population Control offered an authoritative rebuttal to the controllers’ claims. Resistance groups began to arise who were more than poor people resisting control, without intellectual understanding. It was pointed out that population controllers were mainly interested in controlling other people’s populations.
The UN Fund for Population Activities provided funding for countries that would not support U.S. aid. Funding increased so fast that programs were “scaled up” regardless of consequences. Foreign leaders came on board because their governments did not have to pay for population control services, and some of the cash ended up in their bank accounts. Research universities and pharmaceutical companies were brought in on the cash flow network.
Of course the increased sums of money led to corruption, not just the lavish lifestyles of the elite but corruption that filtered down from foreign bureaucrats to lower level bureaucrats in foreign counties, as is true of any aid program. The bureaucrats also faced the standard problem of increased budgets, how to spend the money fast enough to justify an increased allocation for next year.
One problem was that the clinic model seemed not to be working. Supply of contraceptives was unlimited and free, but how to stimulate demand? Mobile clinics had problems traveling on rural roads. Elites from the population agencies rarely ventured outside their foreign enclaves in capital cities. Drop-out rates were high. The population controllers decided they needed to overcome local conditions by staking everything on a centralized UN program. However, competition arose among various UN agencies over control. The UN Population Division actually had little experience running programs as their experts were mainly demographers devoted to gathering statistics. Rather than focusing on ways to develop more effective programs, the UN bureaucrats specialized in inventing methods to shield their organizations from criticism.
Propaganda terms to reject: family of man, overpopulated nations, family planning, the liberation of women, the blind influx of peasants into the cities, balance of population and resources, human tidal wave, having children is anti-social, the war on poverty, the circle of opportunity provided by government funding, overbreeding, environmental crisis, the environmental-population alliance, role-reversal.