RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Huseman writes: "During World War II, the government subjected thousands of troops to mustard gas tests - and kept it a secret."

Soldiers are shown racing through a smoke screen, to which tear gas had been added by surprise to test their powers at detecting its presence, during a drill at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in 1941. (photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty)
Soldiers are shown racing through a smoke screen, to which tear gas had been added by surprise to test their powers at detecting its presence, during a drill at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in 1941. (photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty)

During WWII, Thousands of US Troops Were Used as 'Guinea Pigs' by US Military, Then Discarded

By Jessica Huseman, ProPublica

24 November 17

During World War II, the government subjected thousands of troops to mustard gas tests — and kept it a secret. More than 60 years later, an NPR reporter and researcher helped the men get justice.

hen we think of the harm that befalls soldiers during wartime, specific images come to mind. The fallout from scientific experiments — especially those carried out by our own government — isn’t one. But that was the reality of tens of thousands of military men in the 1940s, who were poisoned with mustard gas by the U.S. government to see how their bodies would react. It took decades to bring to light the vast scope of the experiments, and it couldn’t have been completed without the work of two NPR journalists.

For years, veterans were sworn to secrecy about the tests, prohibited from even discussing them with doctors. While this curtain was lifted in the 1990s, and Congress and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs promised medical care and services, many vets didn’t get it. NPR reporter Caitlin Dickerson and research librarian Barbara Van Woerkom found records for and called hundreds of vets who were used in these experiments, and their work paved the way for the men — who are now well into their 80s — to receive the care and recognition they needed.

Dickerson was new to the investigative desk when she began working with Van Woerkom, who’d been gnawing around the edges of the story for years. She said she understood right away the urgency of what Van Woerkom was sitting on. “There was also this element of time, because most of the men who were used in these tests had died, and those who were still around were in their 80s or 90s,” she said. “It felt sort of dire.”

Dickerson started calling them. Because the men were older, communication was sometimes difficult. But they finally started opening up. They told her about their skin flaking off, about chronic health problems they couldn’t fully report to their doctors. Many hadn’t even told their wives about the experiments.

“Some of them said, ‘I just can’t believe that the government did this to me. I trusted them. I trusted that they weren’t going to hurt me,’” said Van Woerkom.

The pair set off to see if they could prove, systematically, that the government failed to keep the promise to get these vets care. They dug through the VA’s medical benefits database and found a pattern: In denied claim after denied claim, the VA asked the vets for more proof that they were actually involved in the experiments — proof they didn’t have, because the tests were classified.

The journalists found more disturbing information. In testing to see how different races would react to the poison, the military used Japanese-American soldiers as stand-ins for enemy soldiers — something Dickerson said struck her. “Some of them were recruited out of internment camps,” she said, only to be used “as guinea pigs on the frontlines of a chemical war.”

The journalists asked the VA why it had contacted only 610 veterans in the 20 years since the tests were made public, and officials said they’d done the best they could. But in only two months of research, Dickerson and Van Woerkom had found double that number.

Their reporting brought about change. After the story aired, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., proposed a bill requiring the VA to reexamine all claims made by vets used in mustard gas experiments. It was signed into law last August. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+7 # ktony 2017-11-24 11:39
My Dad spoke of having to run through a room with mustard gas in it. I think it was "supposed" to be so that the soldiers would recognize it. He did not mention extensive testing, but he only opened up about WWII late in life. That topic did not come up then, or acquire more details.
+5 # Kootenay Coyote 2017-11-24 23:35
& yet Nazis were condemned for similar experiments, no? Draw your own conclusions….
+2 # Wise woman 2017-11-25 12:47
It is so difficult to grasp the level of evil this country has spawned. The "greatest generation" subjected to mustard gas experiments? Every day we hear more and more incredulous stories about how this country has treated its people. The "once admired" country I learned about as a child is mired in filth.
+2 # Glen 2017-11-26 08:20
Never forget extreme exposure to radiation during H bomb testing. The military and government did not care then and do not care now.

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.