Boing Boing 

America's broken promise to veterans who survived race-based chemical weapons testing in WWII

Three test subjects enter a gas chamber, which will fill with mustard gas, as part of the military's secret chemical warfare testing in March 1945. Courtesy of Edgewood Arsenal


Three test subjects enter a gas chamber, which will fill with mustard gas, as part of the military's secret chemical warfare testing in March 1945.
Courtesy of Edgewood Arsenal

NPR this week reported about secret chemical experiments performed by the U.S. military during World War II that grouped men by race. White soldiers were considered the "normal" test subjects. Black, Puerto Rican, Japanese, and other non-white populations were singled out, and sometimes used as proxies for "the enemy."

The formerly classified government program that tested chemical weapons on our own troops was first made public in the early 1990s, but the revelation that the experiments segregated participants by race is sparking new outrage.

When records of the tests were declassified in the early 1990s, the Veterans Administration promised it would find some 4,000 veterans who survived, and offer them compensation. Very few of these survivors, who experience serious health problems and disabilities, have received any aid.

Members of the 3d Ammunition Company, part of the 2nd Marine Division, relax with a captured bicycle after the Battle of Saipan. [Wikipedia]


Members of the 3d Ammunition Company, part of the 2nd Marine Division, relax with a captured bicycle after the Battle of Saipan. [Wikipedia]

Some of these men were literally locked inside gas chambers and tortured with poison gas, then told that if they spoke to anyone about what happened, they'd end up in a military prison.

NPR reports that while the Veterans Administration has responded to the story, the radio news organization is still waiting for the government to hand over documents related to the experiments done on some 60,000 soldiers. Still, NPR has "for the first time" tracked down some of the men who survived the race-based gassing.

"It took all the skin off your hands," says former Army soldier Rollins Edwards, who was exposed to mustard gas in a gas chamber experiment.

He is black, and was also ordered to crawl through fields coated in mustard gas.

"Your hands just rotted."

Mr. Edwards describes being led into the wooden gas chamber and locked inside with other soldiers.

“It felt like you were on fire,” the 93-year-old says. “Guys started screaming and hollering and trying to break out. And then some of the guys fainted. And finally they opened the door and let us out, and the guys were just, they were in bad shape.”

Rollins Edwards as a young soldier in 1945, in the Philippines.


Rollins Edwards as a young soldier in 1945, in the Philippines.

A total of 60,000 veterans participated in the tests, which sought to reveal what clothing, barriers, or ointments might protect U.S. soldiers attacked with mustard gas by foreign forces. The tests were conducted at bases like Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, Camp Sibert in Alabama, as well as research institutions like the University of Chicago.

Caitlin Dickerson, reporting for NPR:

While the Pentagon admitted decades ago that it used American troops as test subjects in experiments with mustard gas, until now, officials have never spoken about the tests that grouped subjects by race.

For the first time, NPR tracked down some of the men used in the race-based experiments. And it wasn't just African-Americans. Japanese-Americans were used as test subjects, serving as proxies for the enemy so scientists could explore how mustard gas and other chemicals might affect Japanese troops. Puerto Rican soldiers were also singled out.

“The Germans put Jews in the gas chamber,” veteran Johnnie H. Ross told a reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1992. “The United States put their men in the gas chamber.”

In response to NPR's reports, the VA said:

"The Department of Veterans Affairs appreciates the service and sacrifices of those World War II Veterans who may have been injured in mustard gas testing. VA recognizes that disabilities may have resulted due to full body mustard gas exposure. VA has established presumptions of service connection for certain disabilities that may have resulted from this exposure.

"The NPR story rightfully points out the sacrifices that Veterans and their families have gone through during the years when they were sworn to secrecy. VA is prepared to assist any Veteran or survivor who contacts us in determining their entitlement to benefits. Additionally, if NPR is willing to share with us the list of 1,200 or so Veterans who they have been able to identify as having been exposed, VA will attempt to contact them to ensure they are receiving all the benefits and services to which they are entitled under the law."

These historical photographs depict the forearms of human test subjects after being exposed to nitrogen mustard and lewisite agents in World War II experiments conducted at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory


These historical photographs depict the forearms of human test subjects after being exposed to nitrogen mustard and lewisite agents in World War II experiments conducted at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of the Naval Research Laboratory

"Mustard gas and American race-based human experimentation in World War II." Susan L. Smith, University of Alberta, Canada. [The Journal of Law Medicine & Ethics, 2008]

"The VA's Broken Promise To Thousands Of Vets Exposed To Mustard Gas" [NPR]

"Secret World War II Chemical Experiments Tested Troops By Race" [NPR]

Related item at The Daily Caller, New York Magazine, PBS NewsHour.

Women Are Needed: WWII-era U.S. government poster art, 1943.

tumblr_nn0oolHIhS1qay553o1_1280

1943 U.S. Employment Service propaganda poster.

Read the rest

Short documentary puts World War II fatalities into context

WWII

More people died in World War II than in any other conflict in history, yet it can be hard to conceptualize that massive loss of life.

Read the rest

Marshall Islands, site of largest-ever U.S. nuclear weapons test, sues 9 superpowers including USA

Nuclear weapon test Bravo (yield 15 Megatons) on Bikini Atoll. The test was part of the Operation Castle. The Bravo event was an experimental thermonuclear device surface event.


Nuclear weapon test Bravo (yield 15 Megatons) on Bikini Atoll. The test was part of the Operation Castle. The Bravo event was an experimental thermonuclear device surface event.

“The tiny nation of the Republic of the Marshall Islands is once again at the center of international activism, filing two lawsuits, one in US federal court against the United States, and one in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against all nine countries that possess nuclear weapons,” writes Robert Alvarez at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.

Read the rest

Obituary for an amazing history teacher


Katie sez, "This is an article by a friend of mine about a teacher who passed this week from our high school in Ontario, Canada. This history teacher had the students dig trenches, sleep in cold, wet tents, march and "mow down" other students all in an awesome example of teaching. I had already graduated after the first class did this, but it made headlines every year."

Read the rest

Sandwars: the mafias whose illegal sand mines make whole islands vanish


Singapore's insatiable appetite for sand to use to expand its island's territory has led to a worldwide boom in illegal sand-mining, run by criminal gangs who are responsible for the destruction of entire islands in the Pacific rim.

Read the rest

Burning Man temple to heal Ireland's Troubles, IRL and in Minecraft


David Best, who builds the enormous, gorgeous temples at Burning Man each year, created "Temple" in London/derry, where survivors of the Troubles have left memorials to their dead in advance of the temple being burned on Mar 21.

Read the rest

World War 3 Illustrated: prescient outrage from the dawn of the Piketty apocalypse

The Reagan era kicked off a project to dismantle social mobility and equitable justice began. This trenchant, angry, gorgeous graphic zine launched in response.Read the rest

Great Battles covers 30 important battles of the western world

Great Battles is a selection of 30 of the most important battles of the western world, from the ancient Greeks to more contemporary conflicts, organized chronologically into three sections (Age of Sword, Age of Gunpowder and Age of the Rifle). Each battle spreads across eight pages, the first six including an account of the battle, illustrations and some side texts. The last two pages covering each battle are always the most interesting, depicting a two-page colorful map of the battlefield showing the troops’ positions, directions of movements and important terrain features. – Alessandro Nicoli de Mattos

See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Pretend cities to fool bombers through history


Starting with a fake Paris built to lure Kaiser Bill's incendiary bombs, through to the pretend industrial towns used in WWII England to divert 900 tonnes of munitions, to the pretend airbases built in the Pacific Northwest and through to the Viet Cong's pretend villages to disguise tunnel complexes.

Read the rest

UK cultural institutions leave their WWI cases empty to protest insane copyright


They want the term of copyright changed to life plus 70 years, instead of 2039 for unpublished works of uncertain date, a standard that makes it impossible to reproduce or display things like letters home from the front.

Read the rest

Kickstarting Night Witches, an RPG about WWII Soviet airwomen


Night Witches is the latest game from Jason Morningstar, creator of the excellent caper/heist game Fiasco.

Read the rest

UK psyops created N. Irish Satanic Panic during the Troubles

During the 1970s, when Northern Ireland was gripped by near-civil-war, British military intelligence staged the evidence of "black masses" in order to create a Satanism panic among the "superstitious" Irish to discredit the paramilitaries.

Read the rest

Rare footage of the 1914 Martian conflict

The History Channel's created a bizarre secret history of a war against Martian invaders that's an allegory for WWI. The accompanying video has a spooky resonance and plausibility that is not to be missed.

Read the rest

Paintings of life in Raqqa, the de facto Isis capital


Molly Crabapple writes, "With the exception of Vice News, ISIS has permitted no foreign journalists to document life under their rule in Raqqa. Instead, they rely on their own propaganda. To create these images, I drew from cell-phone photos an anonymous Syrian sent me of daily life in the city. Like the Internet, art evades censorship."

Read the rest

WWII's VD posters: exciting nexus of propaganda, Mad Men, gender and design


Ryan Mungia's Protect Yourself: Venereal Disease Posters of World War II uncovers many obscure propaganda posters that were, once upon a time, just as popular as the iconic "We Can Do It!" woman.

Read the rest

When Buddhists call for genocide

There's a fascinating story in the American Buddhist magazine Shambala Sun about the Burmese Buddhists who are killing and harassing their Muslim neighbors. Thoughtful and full of context, it is very much worth a read.

Read the rest