After WWII, US Army sprayed bioweapons on US citizens (millions). But why didn't you know?
Because nobody told you.
Millions of US citizens were guinea pigs for biowarfare ‘tests.’
The US government did it.
Few have heard.
But everyone’s heard of Watergate (a nothing burglary).
What model of the US system explains that?
I claim that between 1949 and 1969 the US Army secretly sprayed entire cities and regions of the United States with experimental bioweapons, exposing millions (millions!) of US citizens—the ones they’d sworn to protect—to disease and death.
My claim is supported by testimony and evidence presented to two special committees of the US Senate in the years 1975-77 on the subject of these ‘germ warfare tests,’ as the US Army called them. US military personnel confessed, on the congressional record, to having conducted at least 239 such tests over populated areas.
My claim, then, is undisputed historical fact.
Undisputed historical facts are good to have because they must be included in any model of our political world.
This one is also what I call a dramatic fact: one that, all by itself, makes a whole class of hypotheses about our political system entirely inviable. And that’s good news (from the scientific point of view): the more competing hypotheses we eliminate, the greater our confidence in whatever model is still standing.
Whoever wishes to propose a model of the modern Western system that can account for the biowarfare ‘tests’ may find our short piece on these crimes useful:
But a proper model of the West must also account for how these biowarfare ‘tests’ are almost completely unknown to the general public—even, it seems, to most academics!
Now, this widespread public ignorance is a deeply political thing. And that makes this a dramatic fact, because such public ignorance about something so tremendously important is, I will argue, impossible in a truly democratic State.
In other words, the problem here is structural. The problem is that the US is not a real democracy; it is run by unscrupulous and immoral people who, with their unbridled power, first attacked the citizens and then distorted their historical education. The problem is emphatically not something to do with the citizen’s ability to pay attention and remember.
I will now explain this point.
Might not the citizen be the problem?
To demonstrate that this is not the citizen’s fault, but a structural problem of our society, I will first invoke and ‘steel man’ the counterargument. Then I’ll defeat it.
Let us begin. How might one try to pin the whole problem on the citizen?
One could point out that most people have but a glancing relationship with history: their minds can remember only some things they heard in history class. And not too many of those. So one might appeal to an audience with: Look, why can’t this be the reason that people today don’t know about the biowarfare ‘tests’? Do we really need Machiavellian hypotheses about perfidious power elites distorting our historical memory? Couldn’t it just be that people don’t pay much attention to history—and don’t much care?
If you ever watched the ‘Jaywalking’ segment, back when comedian Jay Leno was hosting the Tonight Show, you might find the above train of thought reasonable.
Leno’s ‘Jaywalking’ bit went like this. He would interview US citizens on the street and his audience would gasp and laugh cruelly when he stumped people on camera with utterly basic questions of general knowledge that are routinely covered in a standard education. It was like watching a violent pratfall: you’d laugh, but also… ouch.
Isn’t this evidence that ordinary US citizens just don’t care enough about history to remember any? Couldn’t this explain why none of them remember the biowarfare ‘tests’?
No, in fact. (Here comes my refutation.)
Think about the structure: Leno was not doing science—he was chasing laughs. His entire ‘Jaywalking’ bit required a national mass audience that did know the basic facts so they could laugh at the pathological ignorance of the interviewees. And that national mass audience did laugh: Leno’s show was the highest rated in a gigantically popular format and time slot.
In other words, the ratings success of Leno’s routine demonstrates that most people in the US are not pathologically ignorant of basic questions of general knowledge.1 Yes, education is in an awful state, but most people who go to school do remember the historical milestones covered there: the Mayflower landing on Plymouth Rock, Paul Revere and “The English are coming!”, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Holocaust, the Watergate Scandal, the fall of the Berlin Wall—stuff like that.
Shouldn’t we expect the biowarfare ‘tests’ to make it into that list of universally remembered milestones?
Picture it. There you are, in school, a budding US citizen, and they tell you something completely amazing: over a period of many years, and breaking every law of Man and God, but more specifically the sacrosanct Nuremberg Code, a group of unelected US government bureaucrats secretly sprayed experimental bioweapons on millions of their fellow US citizens—including, quite possibly, your own family (maybe even you). Is this something that, after hearing it in school, might later easily slip your mind?
So if ordinary folks don’t know anything about this, then it is impossible that these crimes are regularly getting mentioned—let alone emphasized—in history class.
And that’s a structural problem—it ain’t the citizen’s fault. It’s not an issue of attention span, civic interest, or the quality of one’s memory.
And if this is never getting mentioned in school, then it can’t be in the textbooks. And if it ain’t in the textbooks, then professional historians must not be mentioning it either…
Do professional historians ever mention these crimes?
Imagine that, in school, your teacher asks you to go compose a well-researched summary of medical crimes in the United States. As a first step, you go to History.com to see what the main crimes might be. But wait—does History.com even contain articles about medical crimes in the United States? Yes, it does!
What will you turn in? If History.com is your main guide, your summary will have nothing on the biowarfare ‘tests’ and a fair amount on the Tuskegee Experiment.
What was that?
In the Tuskegee Experiment, black citizens of the US were slowly killed by medical researchers of the US Public Health Service who wished to learn more about syphilis. They told these men they were giving them treatment for syphilis, but they weren’t.
As one article on History.com explains,
“In order to track the disease’s full progression, researchers provided no effective care as the men died, went blind or insane or experienced other severe health problems due to their untreated syphilis.”2
History.com also mentions Tuskegee in an article that addresses the thorny question of reparations. And Tuskegee is mentioned again, for context, in an article about how “The ‘Father of Modern Gynecology’ Performed Shocking Experiments on Enslaved Women.”3
Such coverage is all to the good: people should learn about the Tuskegee Experiment. For that was an outrage, and it deserves all of our indignation and a deep reflection. How could this happen in the United States?
Yes, but the question remains: Why doesn’t History.com have a single article on the Pentagon’s biowarfare ‘tests,’ perpetrated not on 400 black Americans but on millions of US citizens of all colors?
Well, perhaps because the professional historians who write for History.com don’t know anything about that. And if they don’t, that’s probably because one cannot find these crimes mentioned—let alone discussed—in standard political histories of the United States, the kind that are used to train budding historians. I give two illustrative examples:
Paul Johnson “dedicated to the people of America” his book A History of the American People.4 Yet he never mentions the biowarfare attacks suffered by the people of America.
Yes, Johnson is entirely mainstream. But at the other pole we have:
A People’s History of the United States, a famous book by Howard Zinn penned as a historian’s revolt against traditional narratives.5 His entire purpose was to protest—most explicitly—the oppressions suffered by Americans. Yet the biowarfare attacks, once again, do not appear.
That’s more surprising. But it does confirm the overall pattern.
Since professional historians don’t mention the biowarfare attacks, history teachers don’t either. The structural problem runs deep.
Wikipedia as a reflection of mainstream authority
These days people get their standard information mostly from Wikipedia, which, by its own rules, is designed to be a reflection of what mainstream authorities say. Since the standard histories don’t mention the biowarfare attacks, Wikipedia is unlikely to discuss them too loudly, because the ordinary folks editing Wikipedia won’t know much about this. Even if they do, they’ll have trouble properly inferring the relevance from how the system treats this topic.
Small surprise, then, that Wikipedia—as I found it on 15 October 2022—has not one single main article dedicated to the (at least) 239 massive US Army biowarfare attacks against US citizens. What it does have is this:
One short page—almost a stub—on the first of those attacks: Operation Sea Spray. This page does tag a brief section at the end on “Similar Biological Warfare Tests.” But that’s a handful of bullets and nothing more.
That bulleted section—this is true—refers us to a “main article.” But if you click you’ll see: this is not a main article on the ‘tests’ per se; it’s about the United States Biological Warfare Program writ large.
Inside this latter article, the biowarfare attacks on US civilians are mentioned in passing, buried inside a middle section cryptically titled “Cold War (1947–1969)” that contains, not counting the footnotes, a grand total of 1,166 words.
That number—1,166 words—is an eloquent figure. To properly grok it, let us do a controlled political comparison.
First, please note—lest we miss the point—that the biowarfare attacks are 1) high treason; and 2) military/medical crimes against humanity rivaling those for which Nazi doctors were executed at Nuremberg (after which the famous Nuremberg Code was elaborated to protect our right not to be treated like disposable lab rats). Despite that, no US president was tried for spraying bioweapons on millions of US citizens. In fact, it seems that nobody—not one person—was ever prosecuted.
And yet the 20th century did see two scandals that almost got a sitting US president impeached: the Watergate Scandal (President Richard Nixon’s covered-up burglary in the Watergate Hotel) and the Lewinsky Scandal (President Bill Clinton’s lies under oath about sex with his intern, Monica Lewinsky).
These two scandals present us with a useful comparison.
Wikipedia has one article on the Watergate Scandal with 10,817 words, plus other (long) main articles on specific aspects of the scandal and the trial. And Wikipedia’s articles on the Lewinsky Scandal, on Clinton’s impeachment, and on the trial itself together add up to 11,500 words.
Thus, quite in sync with the political system, Wikipedia implicitly considers that some purloined documents and an Oval Office fellatio are at least ten times (ten times!) more important than the US government spraying millions of its own citizens with experimental bioweapons, which is a crime against humanity.
The subliminal effect on unwary minds—minds that know nothing of the biowarfare ‘tests’—is that extramarital sex and a burglary are just about the worst things that a US president will do. To learn otherwise, they’d have to be hunting for the topic of the biowarfare tests specifically (and with some dedication) to have any chance of finding it in Wikipedia.
The short answer to the title question, then, is this: You didn’t know about the biowarfare ‘tests’ because the system as a whole barely mentions them.
Now let us decide which model of the US system fits
The following is a bare-bones taxonomy of democratic health:
Healthy democratic system. The biowarfare ‘tests’ on millions of citizens do not happen in the first place.
Weakened democratic system: The biowarfare ‘tests’ happen, but once discovered, a major scandal ensues. Public outrage forces prosecutions and important legal reforms. The whole affair then becomes an integral aspect of historical education in order to repair and strengthen the democratic system going forward. In consequence, the biowarfare ‘tests’ become a widely shared item of basic cultural knowledge.
Severely weakened democratic system. The biowarfare ‘tests’ happen. They are discovered and a public scandal ensues, but little else happens. The system is not legally reformed. Nobody goes to jail.
Terminally ill democratic system. The biowarfare ‘tests’ happen. They are discovered. But no true public scandal develops. The vast majority of US citizens, even in the generation in which the scandal is discovered, never learn of it.
Autocratic/totalitarian system. The biowarfare ‘tests’ happen. Citizens can’t even produce a public documentation of these events.
It seems that, on the evidence, we are in a terminally ill democratic system. For one of history’s greatest crimes, perpetrated by unelected US bureaucrats on their fellow citizens, though documented, never became a true scandal in its own time. And today, it is almost completely unknown to everyone.
Indeed, a 2019 study of historical knowledge among Americans found that, even in Louisiana, which came in dead last, almost 30% of its residents could pass the citizenship test required of naturalized US citizens. Sure, that’s bad, but it’s way better than anything ever seen on ‘Jaywalking,’ where nearly all shown interviewees were completely ignorant about everything.
‘Tuskegee Experiment: The Infamous Syphilis Study’; History.com; 16 May 2017; Elizabeth Nix.
‘The ‘Father of Modern Gynecology’ Performed Shocking Experiments on Enslaved Women’; History.com; 4 December 2018; by Brynn Holland.
Johnson, P. (2009). A History of the American People. United States: HarperCollins.
Zinn, H. (2003). A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present. United Kingdom: HarperCollins.