Feb 26, 2014
In the English language, the word “Spartan” has come to mean austere. The culture of ancient Sparta was so harsh that mothers would send their sons off to war with the warning, “Return with your shield or on it.” Spartan austerity began at birth. New-born infants were examined and if they were not fit, they were left to die.
Infanticide was not unusual in the ancient world. But in Sparta, it was managed by the state with chilling efficiency. What mattered most was not the individual, but the nation. Weak individuals were not allowed to drain the strength of one of the ancient world’s mightiest military empires.
The Spartan mentality has not been relegated to ancient history. A look at the modern era demonstrates that the Spartan view of the human person as valued only as a vehicle for utilitarian efficiency has repeated itself with tragic results. In October of 1939 the Nazis, experts in lies, deceit, and cruelty, introduced in Germany a program of euthanasia with the stated purpose of giving a merciful death “to patients considered incurable according to the best available human judgment of their state of health.” With the code name “Aktion T 4,” Hitler personally ordered the widespread "mercy killing" of the mentally disabled, the mentally ill, epileptics, cripples, Down's syndrome children and the senile. The Nazis wanted to rid the state of those deemed “unfit.”
After the Second World War, it was discovered that 70,273 individuals died in six "euthanasia" centers between January 1940 and August 1941. By the end of the war, even young people labeled as juvenile delinquents were being euthanized. Nazi Germany’s ideological justification to relieve the chronically ill of their suffering and to relieve the state of the unfit paved the way for the horror of mass murders and the unspeakable evil of the Shoah.