Secret Mustard Gas Experiments

NPR News

It’s not news that the United States military tested mustard gas on American troops during World War II. Information about the secret experiments was declassified in the 1990s. What wasn’t understood until NPR’s investigation team dug deeper and tracked down survivors is that in some variations, soldiers were segregated by race to look for possible advantages that could be exploited on the battlefield. African-Americans were exposed because it was theorized their darker skin might prove more resistant and frontline-worthy if the Axis powers resorted to mustard gas. Japanese-American soldiers were commandeered as proxies for the Pacific Theater enemy. It’s shocking to hear that some groups of soldiers had their arms swabbed with the toxic agent, some were herded into sealed rooms where gas was pumped in, and still others had the chemical air-dropped on them in field trials. Survivors recall screaming to be released from what amounted to gas chambers. Congress reacted swiftly to NPR’s report, calling for investigations, hearings and a formal apology. The Veterans Administration began granting benefits to veterans whom NPR profiled, including one whose claim documentation had languished for decades. For diligent research and reporting that brought a disgraceful experiment into full focus, Secret Mustard Gas Experiments earns a Peabody Award.


Correspondent: Caitlin Dickerson. Research Librarian: Barbara Van Woerkom. Senior Producer: Nicole Beemsterboer. Senior Investigations Editor: Robert Little.