There is a growing cult of Lysenkoism within the US armed forces. No, the US military isn’t in the business of venerating the dead and discredited Soviet geneticist and agronomist, Trofim Lysenko. It hasn’t suddenly embraced new and “revolutionary” insights about agronomy. Still, the US military has most certainly embraced new and revolutionary ideas about something else, namely gender, and it is slowly shedding or sidelining all those who don’t toe the line. Beneath the surface, there are some fairly ominous (or ironic, if you prefer) parallels between the contemporary armed forces of the United States, and the embattled scientists of the early Soviet Union.

To understand what’s happening in America, it’s helpful to look at the original Lysenkoism.

Trofim Lysenko rose to prominence in the Soviet Union during the 1930s, following a wave of devastating famines. He is considered a quack today, and indeed many thought as much at the time. Unfortunately, Lysenko’s ideas—that organisms could pass on traits acquired during their lifetimes and that organisms belonging to the same “class” don’t compete with each other but instead seek to help each other along—appealed to the Soviet leadership. With powerful patrons in the politburo, Lysenko became immune to criticism. More than 3,000 Soviet biologists were imprisoned and several were executed for failing to uphold his ideas. Lysenko’s ideas contributed to famines in the Soviet Union and China that left millions dead.

Lysenko appealed to figures like Stalin because he told people what they wanted to hear, but also because the very controversy over his ideas became a handy political shibboleth through which one could eliminate all those who didn’t put loyalty to the party line first. That his ideas turned out to have some fairly catastrophic consequences is undeniable, but so is the fact that while he was still in the good graces of Stalin, Lysenko helped to purge the Soviet scientific community of a great many “politically unreliable” individuals.

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