Imagine that it is 1950 and you are in California. San Francisco to be exact. Now, it was just a few years ago that the people of America came together to help the Allies win against the Nazis. And that effort took the entire country. From the women that stayed at home growing victory gardens to the regular-everyday Joe buying war bonds. At night time on the West Coast, patrols would maintain a lookout for the newest Japanese weapon, the “balloon bomb”. Entire towns would be called out at a moments notice if a bomb did manage to set off a fire in a distant location. The country was united with a purpose, a cause binding them all. So, with this picture painted in clearer detail, imagine drinking coffee at a cafe, overlooking the picturesque San Francisco Bay and watching the fog roll in. If someone would have told you that that wasn't really fog, but it was a live bioweapons experiment that was being conducted by the US Navy on the citizens of America, you probably wouldn’t have believed them. And yet it was. Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction.
The New York Times covered this article in greater depth — “Between Sept. 20 and Sept. 27 of 1950, a Navy mine-laying vessel cruised the San Francisco coast, and sprayed an aerosol cocktail of 2 specific microbes — all believed to be safe — over the famously foggy city from giant hoses on deck…researchers also added fluorescent particles of zinc-cadmium-sulfide to better measure the impact. Based on results from monitoring equipment at 43 locations around the city, the Army determined that San Francisco had received enough of a dose for nearly all of the city's 800,000 residents to inhale at least 5,000 of the particles.” But this wasn’t the only case.
MSN noted in a recent story that —“ In 1965, Army officials … secretly released a specific bacteria at Washington's National Airport and its Greyhound bus terminal… More than 130 passengers were exposed to the bacteria and traveled to 39 cities in seven states in the two weeks following the mock attack.” Another incident reported by the Washington Post noted-“In 1966, in New York City, military researchers spread a biological agent in the subway system by dropping lightbulbs filled with the bacteria onto tracks in stations in midtown Manhattan. The bacteria were carried for miles throughout the subway system.”
The Washington Post noted that —“…all told, the Army listed 27 times that it tested simulated toxins on public property, including releasing spores in two tunnels on a stretch of Pennsylvania Turnpike.” The article went on to further note that- “In addition to those experiments in public places, the Army secretary used military personnel and their families for open air experiments by spraying simulated germs into the air at a number of bases, including Fort Detrick, Md.; Fort Belvoir, Va.; and the Marine training school at Quantico, Va.”
Now, the US military has justified these incidents as being critical to national security. And maybe they are or were right. At the time, the world was entering a period of change. It was the beginning of the cold war. The conflict in Korea was just kicking off and this was in addition to lesser incidents and lines being drawn around the world. However, there was still one little problem with all of these tests. It was illegal.
In covering this story, an article at Discover Magazine noted that —“The Nuremberg Code was drafted in 1947 following the appalling revelations of human experimentation committed in Nazi concentration camps. The overarching goal of the Code was to establish a set of rules for the ethical conduct of research using human subjects, guaranteeing that the rights and welfare of such participants would be protected. Two important principles guide and define this Code: the concept of voluntary, informed consent and that no experiment shall be conducted in which “there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur.” And America was signatory to that binding agreement.
And here is the catch. While on one hand the US military has the duty to protect the American people, on the other hand it felt it couldn’t protect the American people without experimenting on them, without their knowledge. In fact, an article at the Washington Post noted that — “The Army has disclosed that it secretly conducted 239 germ warfare tests in open air between 1949 and 1969.” And to put this another way, this is at least 239 direct violations of the Nuremberg Code.
But it gets even worse. There was one man that died as a direct result of the San Francisco experiment. When his family eventually learned about the mock biological attacks the US Military had been performing, they sued, alleging negligence. A family member was quoted as saying —“ My grandfather wouldn't have died except for that, and it left my grandmother to go broke trying to pay his medical bills”. And what was the US government’s response? Go pound sand.
So, what do you think dear listeners- “Is experimenting on people without their knowledge ever acceptable?”