Monday, October 4, 2010


Many years ago, the U.S. Army conducted tests in the Philippines using human guinea pigs. While some accounts, especially the U.S. Army Medical Department's Office of Medical History, seem to brush over, or go light on the Army's procedures, other accounts make it clear that the U.S. Army actively infected "the natives" with diseases like the plague and beriberi (a debilitating disease that involves gradual nerve degeneration, with muscle atrophy and loss of reflexes).

Several members of the U.S. Army medical team, who participated in these projects in the late 1800s and early 1900s, were later awarded professorships in prestigious universities across the U.S. for their efforts.

I bring this up because it appears that, in the name of science, we did something similar in Guatemala in the 1940s. The NY Times is reporting that from 1946 to 1948 "American public health doctors deliberately infected nearly 700 Guatemalans — prison inmates, mental patients and soldiers — with venereal diseases." The goal was to test the effectiveness of penicillin.

The NY Times reports:

American tax dollars, through the National Institutes of Health, even paid for syphilis-infected prostitutes to sleep with prisoners, since Guatemalan prisons allowed such visits. When the prostitutes did not succeed in infecting the men, some prisoners had the bacteria poured onto scrapes made on their penises, faces or arms, and in some cases it was injected by spinal puncture.

To be sure, the US experimentation with bio-weapons goes back to the distribution of cholera-infect blankets to American Indian tribes in the 1860s. But we were at war with the Indians (not that this makes it acceptable). The Philippines and Guatemala were actually on our side when we decided to turn parts of their populations into human petri dishes.


On the positive side, at least we didn't engage in forced sterilization programs in these regions, like we did in the United States.

Recall, in an effort to revitalize, punish, or genetically clean out any targeted group of "undesirables" many U.S. states actively pursued eugenics as a matter of policy. To be sure, we did this in the name of therapy, and sterilized only habitual criminals, the insane, schizophrenics, and those born with other genetic deformities. But the reality is individual states embraced the policy (think about that the next time someone clamours for "states' rights").

Worse, they did so without notifying those who were sterilized. In fact, we became so accomplished at the practice that the Nazis cited U.S. precedent (and, specifically, California policy) when they were accused of practicing mass extermination.

With the announcement of what we did in Guatemala, we're at least acknowledging what happened. That's good, I guess.

- Mark

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