Yep! During the one damn giant war we've had in which chemical weapons were actually few and far between, the military took it upon themselves to introduce around 60,000 American volunteers (or "volunteers," as sources insist on writing the word in this case, for some reason) to that ol' World War I favorite mustard gas, occasionally mixed with equally terrifying substances such as the arsenic compound Lewisite. It wasn't just one accidental case of a lone mad general-doctor pulling a "stand in that corner, the lot of you, and don't mind the mist that makes your faces melt," either. People got enlisted in special units devoted to chemical weapon testing straight out of basic training. And as you can probably guess, a whole lot of the guys who ended up with the program were black, Japanese American, Puerto Ricans and -- you get the drill. They already knew how white dudes react to mustard gas from World War I, so why sacrifice them?
OTIS HISTORICAL ARCHIVES via Getty Images
They still used white soldiers as a control group, though, because America damn well brought enough for everyone.
So what were the tests like, then? Quoth Rollins Edwards, who was drafted into the program in 1944 and found himself in a wooden gas chamber with 12 other black soldiers as the gas started to pour in:
"That's when everybody went crazy. It just felt like you were on fire sure enough. And the guys started screaming and hollering and trying to break out. And then some of the guys fainted and finally opened the door and let us out and the guys were just -- they were in bad shape because they just couldn't control themselves."
To this day, Edwards has chemical burn marks on his arms. Many ended up worse. However, for uncertain reasons (but presumably thanks in no small part to the copious threats of prison that they were pelted with), the people who took part in the program kept their mouth shut well into 1980s, and when some of the most badly affected finally started seeking compensation, it turned out that the people in charge of the testing had kept curiously bad books, and the victims of the tests had to actually prove that they had been gassed. It took until 1991 for the Department of Veterans Affairs to create guidelines to take care of these cases, which coincided neatly with the tests finally becoming declassified in 1993.
So yeah. At this point, I'd normally link a picture of a kitten and lighten the mood with a dick joke, but you know what? Right now, I'm too depressed to finish this one on a light note. I'll just move straight to the customary post-column writing bottle of whiskey. Hi, my name is Pauli, and this has been my light comedy article about awful bullshit. Go help a veteran.
For more tales of governments gone bad check out 5 Conspiracy Theories You Won't Believe (Really Happened) and 7 Insane Conspiracies That Acutally Happened.
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