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Mustard Gas and American Race-Based Human Experimentation in World War II

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Abstract

During World War II, scientists funded by the United States government conducted mustard gas experiments on 60,000 American soldiers as part of military preparation for potential chemical warfare. One aspect of the chemical warfare research program on mustard gas involved race-based human experimentation. In at least nine research projects conducted dur ing the 1940s, scientists investigated how so-called racial differences affected the impact of mustard gas exposure on the bodies of soldiers. Building on cultural beliefs about “race,” these studies occurred on military bases and universities, which became places for racialized human experimentation.

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Thesis
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In 2008, Susan L. Smith published “Mustard Gas and American Race-Based Human Experimentation in World War II.” Research, undertaken by the US Army, attempted to quantify the effect of mustard gas (actually a volitile liquid) and othe chemical agents on people from different racial groups. This was based on the idea that different races would respond differently to the toxins, and in particular that this would be evident through dermal reaction. In other words, different skin color might mean different skin constitution. Some of the testing seemed reasonable, since new chemicals and equipment had been developed since 1919, and the racial issue added another dimension to the research. On closer examination, the testing was primarily based on old chemical agents such as mustard gas, Lewisite and phosgene, and thus the extent of the testing seemed scientifically and medically unnecessary. The chemical agents had been developed, tested, used in battle, the wounded treated and the dead subjected to detailed pathological study. The major combatants in World War I had all committed extensive scientific resources to the study of these agents looking at both offensive and defensive aspects of their use, including toxicity testing. The U.S. Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) had been formed in 1918 to specifically deal with issues such as toxicity tests, so why was the U.S. Army revisiting the subject of chemical weapons testing during World War II?
Deadly Allies: Canada’s Secret WarThe Unfought Chemical War
  • J Bryden
  • K Freeman
J. Bryden, Deadly Allies: Canada’s Secret War, 1937-1947 (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1989); K. Freeman, “The Unfought Chemical War,” The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 47, no. 10 (December 1991): 30-39
Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment
  • Id
Id., at 4-5, 64-66, 388. J. H. Jones, Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (New York: Free Press, 1981).
The Unfought Chemical War The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists In 1943 the U.S. began mustard gas testing on human subjects . At least 2,500 men were tested in gas chambers, 1,000 men in field tests, and the rest of the 60,000 with patch tests and drop tests. Id. (Freeman); see also Pechura and Rall
  • J Bryden
  • Deadly Allies
  • K Freeman
J. Bryden, Deadly Allies: Canada's Secret War, 1937-1947 (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1989); K. Freeman, " The Unfought Chemical War, " The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, 47, no. 10 (December 1991): 30-39. In 1943 the U.S. began mustard gas testing on human subjects. At least 2,500 men were tested in gas chambers, 1,000 men in field tests, and the rest of the 60,000 with patch tests and drop tests. Id. (Freeman); see also Pechura and Rall, eds., supra note 1, at 10.