The Nazi Doctor Who Discovered Autism

In 1981, a psychiatrist named Lorna Wing coined the term Asperger’s syndrome to describe a peculiar combination of normal or above-normal intelligence, obsessive interest in a few narrow topics, and a severe deficit of social skills. She had taken the name from the Viennese pediatrician Hans Asperger, who did some of the earliest research on the connected condition of autism. In a new biography of Asperger, Edith Sheffer has uncovered his disturbing activities after Hitler took over Austria. Simon Baron-Cohen writes in his review:

Hans Asperger has long been recognized as a pioneer in the study of autism. He was even seen as a hero, saving children with the condition from the Nazi killing program by emphasizing their intelligence. However, it is now indisputable that Asperger collaborated in the murder of children with disabilities under the Third Reich. . . .

These findings cast a shadow on the history of autism, already a long struggle toward accurate diagnosis, societal acceptance, and support.

With insight and careful historical research, Sheffer uncovers how, under Hitler’s regime, psychiatry—previously, [at least in theory], based on compassion and empathy—became part of an effort to classify the population of Germany, Austria, and beyond as “genetically” fit or unfit. In the context of the “euthanasia” killing programs, psychiatrists and other physicians had to determine who would live and who would be murdered. It is in this context that diagnostic labels such as “autistic psychopathy” (coined by Asperger) were created.

Sheffer lays out the evidence, from sources such as medical records and referral letters, showing that Asperger was complicit in this Nazi killing machine. He protected children he deemed intelligent. But he also referred several children to Vienna’s Am Spiegelgrund clinic, which he undoubtedly knew was a center of “child euthanasia,” part of what was later called Aktion T4. . . . Sheffer argues that Asperger supported the Nazi goal of eliminating children who could not fit in with the Volk: the fascist ideal of a homogeneous Aryan people. . . . Nearly 800 children were killed in Am Spiegelgrund. Asperger went on to enjoy a long academic career, dying in 1980.

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Read more at Nature

More about: Euthanasia, History & Ideas, Medicine, Nazism, Psychology

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey