US tested mustard gas on its own soldiers during WWII

January 14th, 2009 - 11:05 am ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Jan 14 (IANS) Americans tested mustard gas on thousands of their own soldiers during World War II to know which race was more vulnerable to it, according to a Canadian historian.Susan Smith of Alberta University said Monday that the misguided race-specific mustard gas tests by the American military were carried out on White, African-American, Japanese-American and Puerto Rican soldiers to know its effectiveness against different races.

“If these men proved less susceptible to mustard gas than White men, then they could be used in combat for defensive or offensive purposes against the Germans or Japanese,” said Smith who presented her findings as part of the Anti-Racism and Decolonization Network Brown Bag Lunch Series at her university in Edmonton.

Though mustard gas was never used by the allies during the war, she said it was tested on “Japanese-American soldiers specifically to learn how to defeat Japan”, adding that the tests were “designed to serve White interests…to save White American lives”.

She said at least nine race-focussed experiments on mustard gas were conducted at the universities of Chicago, Cornell and the Rockefeller Institute in New York.

These experiments were just one small part of a massive field study featuring over 70,000 soldiers from Britain, Australia, America and Canada, a release quoted Smith as saying.

She said tests involved applying small amounts of mustard-gas agent to the skin, or spraying soldiers from an airplane or placing them in gas chambers to see how long it took to become incapacitated.

Smith said the US government always denied these experiments, but participants, who were sworn to secrecy, broke their silence in the 1980s and 1990s when ill-effects of the exposure became clear. The participants were given no warning and there was no follow-up care, she said.

In the short term, Smith said, the mustard gas tests caused blistering, loss of pigmentation and hair, eye injuries, damage to the lungs and severe swelling of the genitalia as well as “psychological consequences from the intense fear”.

In the long run, she added, these tests caused post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer, asthma, emphysema and blindness. Many of the soldiers “insisted they’d been given no warning of the level of pain and suffering they would face. There was no immediate care and no follow-up care”.

According to the Canadian historian, the researchers initially thought that African-Americans were less susceptible to the effects of the gas, attributing the resistance to the “long-standing White assertion that African-Americans had thicker skin”.

But in the end, they found that there were no differences in the reaction of soldiers of different races to mustard gas.

Smith said her study was based on records from the US Chemical Warfare Service and Defense Research and Development Canada. She said she also used the testimony of 250 veterans from the archives of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington.

Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics also carried her findings recently.

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