America's WWII Experiment: Gas Own Soldiers by Race

NPR speaks to survivors of the race-based experiments
By Brownie Marie,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 22, 2015 12:51 PM CDT
America's WWII Experiment: Gas Own Soldiers by Race
Three kinds of tests were performed: patch tests, field tests, and chamber tests.   (AP Photo/File)

(Newser) – Since 1993 we've known about a formerly classified government program that saw chemical weapons tested on our own troops during World War II. Today NPR peels back another layer of the onion, reporting that some of the experiments were performed on subjects grouped according to race. NPR says it's still waiting for the government to hand over documents related to the experiments done on some 60,000 soldiers, but in the interim it has, "for the first time," tracked down some of the men who endured the race-based gassing. "It took all the skin off your hands," says former Army soldier Rollins Edwards, who was exposed to mustard gas while in a gas chamber and also recounts crawling through mustard gas-coated fields. "Your hands just rotted."

Edwards is African-American; Japanese-Americans and Puerto Ricans were also subjected to race-based experiments, found NPR, while white soldiers were themselves parceled into a group: NPR explains they served as the "control," with their reactions being "normal" and then stacked against those of the minority troops. NPR does note that it's not the first to break this news: A Canadian medical historian shared some details in a 2008 paper in which she suggested the military was trying to identify a minority soldier who could better withstand the chemicals on the front lines; no such racial differences were identified. In Part II of NPR’s investigation, the outlet will explore the lack of compensation the affected soldiers received for their suffering, due in part to the secretive nature of the experiments. (Read more World War II stories.)

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