Here’s an interesting piece of history, during the temperance movement of the early 20th century, when propaganda as a science was still in its infancy. Propaganda has been around almost as long as we’ve had civilization, but really came into its own with World War I, so these prohibitionist efforts were just before that, around 1909. And it would just be a curiosity, an artifact of another time, if not for the fact that the neo-prohibitionists today continue in the sad tradition of this same kind of nonsense, never missing an opportunity to chastise adults for their parenting in an effort to demonize alcohol and remove it once more from society. For the sake of the children continues to be a popular rallying cry, and just as ridiculous today as a century ago.
Safeguarding the Babies, apparently a popular poster from the time, argued that if you as an adult drank alcohol then you were creating weak children, ones with diminished “vitality,” a term never really defined. This, the poster claims, is based on science and states that families where the parents are teetotalers only have 1.3% weakly children while families where the adults drink have kids who are 8.2% weakly. Oh, the horror! It’s a little hard to read that in the poster, but a lantern slide made a few years later by the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in 1914, using the same data, is more clear and even goes on to suggest that in drinking families almost of a quarter (24.8%) of their children will die while abstaining families kids will perish only 18.5% of the time. So that must mean the 6.3% difference is due entirely to their being drink in the house, right? I mean, what else could it possibly be?
Yet another version, this one from 1913 and created by the Scientific Temperance Federation of Boston, Massachusetts, is one of at least 50 such poster that they made available to their followers, and through their “Scientific Temperance Journal,” which is about as scientific as you might expect. At least this one actually reveals the source of the “science,” which was a survey of 109 families in a single village in Finland. In 50 of those families, the adults didn’t drink, while in the other 59 they did. That’s the study, conducted by a professor Taav. Laitinen of the University of Helsingfors, which is the University of Helsinki, and apparently published as “Report XII International Congress vs. Alcoholism.”
It’s hard to say if the 109 families in Laitinen’s “study” is a statistically significant cohort, but it seems unlikely. But Laitinen continued to expand his research to include more finnish families, eventually including nearly 6,000, and he continued to get predictably similar results.
But scientific hooey aside, the message was clear. Drink, and your children will suffer. Drink, and your children are more likely to die. I tend to view the early 20th century as a more gullible time, and I can only assume many more people believed this nonsense without questioning it. Neo-prohibitionist groups today employ the same pseudo-scientific balderdash, only now they dress it up with degreed researchers and publish in slightly less questionable scientific journals, or at least ones that hide their true purpose better. But then, as now, it’s still laced with naked agenda to promote a specific cause, not to enlighten or educate for the sake of that knowledge. It is propaganda, pure and simple. The scare tactics are particularly offensive, since it calls into question the parenting of virtually anyone who drinks alcohol as somehow caring less for their children than parents who abstain. I’d love to say we live in a more enlightened age, but today’s anti-alcohol organizations continue to stoop just as low as cries of “think of the children” ring just as hollow now as when they questioned the “vitality” of our children merely by growing up in a household where drinking took place.