10 Dark Origins of Beloved Organizations
Question: what do the Nobel Prize, ASPCA, Planned Parenthood and Batman all have in common? The answer is their shockingly dark origin stories. It turns out that it’s not just violent vigilantes who have to deal with a tortured past; some of our most beloved organizations are burdened with a history more befitting The Punisher than a respected charity. I’m talking organisations like:
Planned Parenthood is a charity dedicated to women’s reproductive rights. Without getting into the politics of it, most of us can at least agree that their work with contraception and cervical screening has a positive impact—despite the fact that their organization was founded by a genocidal racist.
It’s true, Margaret Sanger was as crazy as they come; her 1932 paper My Way to Peace cheerfully categorizes the world into countries whose people have “the national characteristics desirable” and those whose people don’t. She was also a rampant eugenicist, with an abhorrence of physical, moral and mental “defectives,” who she campaigned to have segregated, sterilized and sent to work on “farms.”
Her list of defectives, by the way, included paupers, epileptics, the unemployed, and people who couldn’t read; all in all, she estimated that the USA needed to segregate five million of its citizens. Even her charitable work on birth control was promoted to “improve the quality of the race”; proof that sometimes the best things come from the worst places.
Without the ASPCA, we’d probably still have cockfighting, unregulated slaughterhouses, and no penalties for animal cruelty. Please bear that in mind while you read the next bit.
In 1894, the charity began operating New York’s municipal animal shelter, a service they provided for one hundred years. During that time they managed to make it probably the most murderous animal shelter in the history of the world. At its peak, forty to fifty thousand stray animals were destroyed each year—a level of extermination so vast that it probably would probably have depopulated the world of dogs if left unchecked.
Things got so bad that in 1976 two members of the charity’s own board sued it for animal cruelty. Just to clarify, this is the same charity that named itself “American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.” It wasn’t until 1994 that the charity finally ended their annual bloodbath, handing the reigns over to ACC; who promptly lowered the annual euthanasia rate to a less-terrifying 8,000.
It may not exactly be “beloved,” but the Department of Energy does its job. Without it we’d have no domestic power, Human Genome Project, or possibility of nuclear annihilation.
That’s not a joke. Before they got into the day-to-day business of government, the Department’s only remit was to build a city-vaporizing bomb. See, before the Cold War even got started, the race was on to perfect a nuclear weapon. The British, Germans and Americans were all busy trying to crack the Konami Code of WWII and it was pretty clear whoever got there first would win the game. To make sure it wasn’t the Nazis, the US government set up the Manhattan Project, a top secret project employing almost as many people as the car industry. After the war, the project changed hands and names, eventually metamorphosing into the innocuous-sounding Department of Energy.
Everyone reading this remembers Kony. He’s the brutal, child-soldier-using warlord the world was going to take down by watching youtube videos. The closest our post-Stalin world has to a bona-fide monster, there’s no way any charity that stood up to him could be accused of something as base as rank hypocrisy.
Except, of course it could. As one expert on international conflict in the Congo region pointed out, Kony’s LRA were not the only army to exploit child soldiers and massacre civilians. The Ugandan President has been implicated in the sort of war crimes nobody wants to read about on a family site, as has the SPLA; both of whom Invisible Children are involved with. Supporters say it’s a necessary evil that doesn’t detract from their mission, though how supporting the very thing you stand against constitutes “fulfilling your mission” is anyone’s guess.
Aside from Gandhi, Mother Teresa is probably the figure most commonly associated with words like “good” and “selfless.” She reached out to the homeless, took tea with lepers, raised astronomical amounts of money for her Missionaries of Charity, and generally lived her life as the perfect Christian. What’s not to like?
Unfortunately, she also palled around with some of the nastiest figures of her day. Just as Gandhi once obsequiously referred to Hitler as his “friend”, Mother Teresa had no qualms about accepting money from “Papa Doc,” the murderous Haitian leader; or Charles Keating, the American fraudster who gifted her charity more than $1 million of other people’s savings; savings the Missionaries never returned.
But hey, that money was probably going to people who deserved it, right? Think again. A 1991 report alleged that the Missionaries gave only seven percent of donations to those whom they supported, while the rest went to building new missions. All this might even be forgivable, were it not for the horrific accounts of negligence in the Calcutta mission. According to this report, volunteers often lacked any medical training, resulting in deaths that could have easily been avoided. Depressing proof, if needed, that nobody’s perfect.
There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of PEW. Basically, they’re a non-partisan NGO who get their kicks improving public policy and protecting the environment. Oh, and they were established by a bunch of free-market psychos.
Before anyone gets offended, let me add that supporting a free-market economy is as valid a position as any other. On the other hand, claiming Roosevelt’s New Deal was “a gigantic scheme to raze US businesses to a dead level and debase the citizenry into a mass of ballot-casting serfs” crosses that hazy line from “opinionated” to “insane.” Set up by the children of oil tycoon Joseph N. Pew, the PEW Trust spent the first years of its life vigorously campaigning for unrestricted drilling rights and such-like, before undergoing a Scrooge-like change of heart and becoming staunch environmentalists.
While Mensa was officially founded after a chance meeting on a train, the idea of a club for clever people had first been floated by Cyril Burt in 1946. Earlier in life, Burt was a member of the British Eugenics Society; a group of doctors, scientists, and teachers concerned with “preserving the virility of the Anglo-Saxon race”.
This isn’t just a tenuous connection either; one of Mensa’s two founding fathers openly acknowledged Burt’s influence and the society made him honorary president. Of course, this was all years ago and Mensa has no truck with eugenics now—apart from that brief period in 1995 when their newsletter suggested the homeless “be humanely done away with, like abandoned kittens”.
For most people, receiving a Nobel Prize is probably the highest accolade they can imagine. Forget the Oscars and the Pulitzers—a Nobel Prize tells the world that you’re not only fantastic, but that you’re fantastic for the common good. What sort of living saint would set up such a philanthropic award?
How about one nicknamed “The Merchant of Death”? Before dedicating his fortune to encouraging awesomeness, Alfred Nobel was foremost an inventor; and foremost among his inventions was dynamite. When it came time to print his obituary in 1888, a French newspaper recognized his contribution to suffering by running the headline “The Merchant of Death is Dead.”
Except here’s the kicker: he wasn’t. The paper had jumped the gun and Alfred was alive and well enough to read his premature obituary and become obsessed by it. So obsessed, in fact, that he decided to set up the Nobel Prize specifically to protect his future reputation from sneering French obituary writers.
Being a homeless child in Victorian London wasn’t all jolly songs and artful dodges; for every wise-cracking scamp there were roughly a gazillion scared and hungry kids at perpetual risk of exploitation. In 1867, philanthropist Dr Thomas Barnardo decided enough was enough; he was going to help Britain’s orphans, even if he had to kidnap healthy children from happy families to do so. Wait, what?
Turns out Dr Barnardo had a pretty broad definition of what constituted “help”; while sometimes this involved rehousing homeless kids, other times it involved abducting infants from their godless Catholic parents. See, for Barnardo, abuse and Catholicism were interchangeable. Over the course of his life he snatched and sent thousands of otherwise-happy kids to Canada or Australia, usually without even bothering to inform their parents. For those of us not familiar with the finer points of Victorian law, this was very much illegal; Barnardo was hauled into court eighty-eight times on related charges, but each time the case was dropped. Oh yeah, and that ‘Dr’ at the front of his name? He totally made that up.
Lord Baden-Powell was as old-time British as they come: tough, adventurous, terrified of masturbation and probably gay. In 1908 he published the aptly-titled book ‘Scouting for Boys’ and the rest is history; except for the part where he supported Hitler.
I kid you not. Baden-Powell’s 1939 diary includes the immortal line “Lay up all day. Read Mein Kampf. A wonderful book.” Throughout the thirties he continued to hand out Swastika badges, way beyond the point it was advisable to be seen in public wearing one; while in 1937 he met the German ambassador in London to discuss forging closer ties between the Scouts and Hitler Youth.
If that wasn’t enough, MI5 even have him on record moaning about the difficulties he faced with the “socialist press when our boys had appeared in uniform at a fascist demonstration”. So to surmise, the founder of the Scouts was a sexually repressed admirer of Hitler who gave swastikas to children and supported Nazi Germany. Way to ruin our childhoods, history.