Secret World War II Chemical Experiments Tested Troops By Race

As a young U.S. Army soldier during World War II, Rollins Edwards knew better than to refuse an assignment.

When officers led him and a dozen others into a wooden gas chamber and locked the door, he didn’t complain. None of them did. Then, a mixture of mustard gas and a similar agent called lewisite was piped inside.

“It felt like you were on fire,” recalls Edwards, now 93 years old. “Guys started screaming and hollering and trying to break out. And then some of the guys fainted. And finally they opened the door and let us out, and the guys were just, they were in bad shape.”

Edwards was one of 60,000 enlisted men enrolled in a once-secret government program — formally declassified in 1993 — to test mustard gas and other chemical agents on American troops. But there was a specific reason he was chosen: Edwards is African-American.

“They said we were being tested to see what effect these gases would have on black skins,” Edwards says.

An NPR investigation has found evidence that Edwards’ experience was not unique. While the Pentagon admitted decades ago that it used American troops as test subjects in experiments with mustard gas, until now, officials have never spoken about the tests that grouped subjects by race.

For the first time, NPR tracked down some of the men used in the race-based experiments. And it wasn’t just African-Americans. Japanese-Americans were used as test subjects, serving as proxies for the enemy so scientists could explore how mustard gas and other chemicals might affect Japanese troops. Puerto Rican soldiers were also singled out.

White enlisted men were used as scientific control groups. Their reactions were used to establish what was “normal,” and then compared to the minority troops.

Summer Reads

Even though summer is coming to a close, nothing should end the feeling of lounging in the sun with a book in hand. These following books will broaden your mind with unique thoughts and foreign lands, and inspire you so much that you’ll feel like you’re wandering in an unknown place once again just like you did in your summer adventures. 

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Was walking with my boyfriend last night and we found this in the sidewalk. It so perfectly captures life right now. 

My husband and I have been working through some tough things, as we settle in to the reality of life as a poly family. I’ve been struggling with a lot of fear about my marriage, and doing a lot of reading and journaling, trying to get to the bottom of my emotions. Yesterday I read this quote in Brene Brown’s new book ‘Rising Strong’ (which I can’t recommend enough). 

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” CS Lewis

It hit me, hard, that this is exactly what’s going on for me. The fear I’m feeling about my marriage is actually grief. I’m mourning the old marriage, even as I dive with enthusiasm and joy into my amazing new one, complete with the best boyfriend ever and a few amazing metamours. And it makes sense. What we had was good, and it is gone. What we can build from here will probably be better, but that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t something lost. 

As soon as I realised what I was feeling, what was underlying the fear and anger and sadness, and gave myself permission to mourn, it felt like a weight had been lifted. I can sincerely say “Dear unknown, bring it on!!” again, and I am so very happy!!