The study, allegedly intended to test the effects of gases on “black skins,” is just one of many criminal and racist studies carried out by the US government in the last century.
Though the Pentagon admitted as early as the 1990s that enlisted soldiers in WWII were used as unwitting test subjects in military experiments, only recently has the Pentagon admitted that the tests were racially targeted at black men. As many as 60,000 soldiers of color, mainly black, were used in horrifying experiments where they were locked into gas chambers and exposed to Lewisite and Mustard gas. Exposure to these chemicals causes lung irritation, blisters, and many long-term effects.
The government used a group of white soldiers as the control group in this sickening perversion of science. According to one of the black soldiers who were part of the experiments, Rollins Edwards, the government told him that he and others were being tested “to see what effect these gases would have on black skins.” Edwards, now 93, says his skin still regularly falls off in flakes as a result of the testing. For years, he tried to convince others that something horrible and wrong had happened to him by carrying a jar full of his dead skin. His arms are covered with scars from blisters caused by the exposure to the toxic gases.
Sadly, this is only part of the US government’s long history of using people of color as unwitting test subjects in highly unethical medical experiments. The most well-known of these is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, where the government infected poor and illiterate blacks with syphilis without telling them they had been given the disease and without offering them treatment. The goal of the study was supposedly to better understand the diseases’ natural progression without “intervention,” i.e. treatment for the disease. The study continued for nearly 40 years until it was exposed in the early 1970s. As horrific as this may seem, the rationale for this inhumane experiment was common for much of the last century, largely thanks to the American Eugenics movement of the early 20th century.
Though many credit Hitler with inventing the quest for a “master race,” that idea actually originated in the United States. The movement was popularized by the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation. Elements of this twisted philosophy were enacted into a national policy of forced sterilization and segregation laws, long before Hitler even rose to power. These laws were adopted by over 30 states and led to more than 60,000 sterilizations of people who were either disabled, mentally ill, or belonged to socially disadvantaged groups. In an infamous Supreme Court decision in 1927, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes applauded such practices when he rules that the sterilization of a teenage girl was constitutional because “three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The reason for this young girl’s “imbecility” was that she had a child out of wedlock after a relative raped her.
Despite the fact that the horrendous rationale of eugenics largely disappeared from public view after WWII, eugenics still persists today in the United States. Just 3 years ago, California prisons were caught sterilizing more than 100 black female inmates without their consent or approval in a frightening display of eugenics at work in today’s supposedly “post-racism” society. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was caught hiding results from tests that used an experimental measles vaccine that actually increased the risk of autism in black children. Dr. William Thompson went on record saying that the authors of the study manipulated the study and hid data showing that black babies were more than three times more likely to develop an autism spectrum disorder if they received the vaccination before age 3. Parents of the children were not made aware of the risk to their child developing autism.
With the issue of racism and race boiling over this year, let’s remind ourselves of the government’s role in creating, enforcing, and perpetuating racist practices that have robbed many people of color of their lives and livelihoods.