The Horrific Experiments Carried Out by the US Government

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It seems that government distrust is at an all-time high, with roughly 17% of the population believing that our leaders have our best interests in mind. After Vietnam, Watergate, the War on Terror, and other mishaps involving those at the top, faith in those we elect has plummeted since the 1960s. 

But there are other, more sinister reasons you could have for not always buying what the government is selling you. Throughout our history as a country, some of the population has been subjected to experiments, many times completely unaware. Some of these experiments run the gamut from “mildly annoying” to “absolute betrayal of fellow human.” The examples we are about to present to you are mostly the latter. Buckle up. 

9. Mustard gas experiment

Mustard gas, or sulfur mustard, was first put in use in World War I. The chemicals cause severe burning of pretty much every area of the body it comes into contact with. Officially banned by the United Nations in 1993, mustard gas also takes up to a day for the symptoms to begin, which is a hell all its own. 

It’s strange 1993 was the year the UN decided to grow a conscience, because that’s the year the U.S. government declassified a program of experiments they conducted with mustard gas during the Second World War. In that program, America’s own troops were exposed to the gas and then had their reactions documented. The tests appear to have been voluntary, though the fact that they were conducted in total secrecy, lacked any kind of post-test healthcare, and the soldiers were threatened with dishonorable discharge if they spoke about them leaves a bit of the “choice” in question. Oh, and the subjects were all grouped by race. 

8. Tuskegee syphilis

The Tuskegee Airmen were a legendary Alabama-based squad of black airmen, the first to serve in WWII. Prior to 1940, African-Americans were not able to take to the skies for the U.S. military. Round about the same time these men were making their town of Tuskegee and country as a whole proud, down the road a bit the government was undoing some of that very progress. 

The Tuskegee syphilis experiments were an insane study done by the U.S. Public Health Service, in which they let hundreds of poor black men think they were being treated for their existing syphilis (though they never told the men they had the specific disease; they told them it was “bad blood”). They of course weren’t treated at all, and were given placebos so that the “researchers” could see how far syphilis could progress untreated. The men went blind, insane, even died, even as penicillin, which could literally cure the disease, became available in 1947. 

Even when funding for the study ran out, the men were still not treated, and never told they had syphilis. It went on until 1972, when the study finally leaked nationwide. During those few decades, 28 men died directly from syphilis, 100 from complications, and 19 children inherited the disease at birth. 

7. Dioxin poison experiments

Agent Orange and its use in the Vietnam War was one of the darkest chapters in an American history already rife with them. Agent Orange contained a poison called dioxin, which is already present in the world, and the higher something in the food chain is, the more dioxin it possesses. But when it’s a concentrated dose, that’s when severe health effects like cancer start creeping in. 

The Dow Chemical company was curious about the health effects of dioxin in the 1960s, so they tested it on inmates in a Philadelphia prison. 70 in all volunteered, and it’s the only time on record that subjects were administered external doses of the poison willingly. 

Willingly, huh? So what’s the big deal? Well, no records were kept of the experiment, no studies were done to follow up after the testing, ten of the subjects were given way higher amounts of the poison than Dow recommended, all of the records and results were destroyed (always a good sign of trustworthiness), and we have no idea if the 70 men lived forever or all died of leukemia. Is that enough?

6. Military poison tests

It’s bad enough when a military uses biological weapons that harm its own troops (see: Agent Orange), but what if you found out that they turned those toxins on their own citizens? You could possibly argue that soldiers on the battlefield accept some kind of risk in their environments, but that logic doesn’t apply to everyday civilians living their lives. 

But that’s exactly what happened in San Francisco in the fall of 1950. A Navy ship sprayed microbes into the air just off the coast of the city, in an attempt to see how a major metropolis could be vulnerable to such an attack. That’s right, they didn’t tell a soul in the city about the test, and they repeated it for seven straight days. Local hospitals were astounded to see patients infected with a bacteria they’d never seen in their walls before, and at least one person is thought to have died from the experiments. Every chemical that was used, the government swore they were completely safe, once the public found out. They have all since been identified as pathogens. In the decades since, numerous similar tests were found to have taken place in other major U.S. cities, from New York to St. Louis. 

5. MKUltra

This one is so ubiquitous throughout our culture as being a shady government mind control program, but as far as specifics, it seems not many people know just how bonkers MKUltra was. The CIA sanctioned the program in 1953, as a way to weaken people during interrogations, and to control someone completely. For twenty years, they used all sorts of (sometimes illegal) tactics like psychedelics, hypnosis, and torture to get the results they seeked. 


Many of the test subjects were involuntarily subjected to these methods. Fear from the Cold War and from soldiers returning from Korea sparked the CIA to seek more and more ways to conduct MKUltra, from prisons to mental health facilities. Mob boss Whitey Bulger was even a subject, and spoke of horrifying hallucinations and being administered LSD. All of this culminated in a test called Operation Midnight Climax, where random people in many cities were just given LSD unknowingly. But by the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the government decided that unconsenting individuals subjected to acid doses and sex surveillance probably wasn’t cool. 

4. HIV Pregnancy Study

The United States government has a long, illustrious history of conducting unannounced experiments and generally meddling in the lives of ordinary citizens. But they aren’t shy about leaving the safety of the American borders. No sir. Just ask pregnant, H.I.V.-positive African, Thai, and Dominican women. Oh wait, you can’t, because we probably helped to kill them and their babies. 

There is a drug called AZT that, when taken by a pregnant woman with H.I.V., can decrease the chance of transmission to her baby by 66%. That’s huge. So of course, the government wanted to find a cheaper way, as AZT costs about a thousand dollars per patient. In these foreign countries, half the pregnant women were given less AZT than normally administered in the U.S. (likely to see just how low you could go and still be effective), and the other half were given placebos. Which, if you’re paying close attention, means that half of those women will most likely give birth to a baby with H.I.V., instead of, you know, just giving them all AZT. 

3. Black Cancer Patient Irradiating

Part of the hysteria and paranoia of the Cold War was worrying about radiation from bombs that everyone was sure were going to fall at some point. But the government wasn’t really sure how much radiation the human body could withstand and still function. That is handy information to know. 

The Pentagon, having the curiosity of a 4-year-old child, wondered what the breaking point would be. If nuclear war ever was to take place, they needed to know what their soldiers could handle in regards to radiation. So, they followed their history in Tuskegee and tested black people without their knowledge. From 1960, until 1971, black cancer patients had their whole bodies irradiated, even though that specific type of radiation was useless for their illnesses. They were just told that this “new treatment” could help. During the course of an hour, they received the radiation equivalent of 20,000 X-rays. The year after the experiments ended, it was revealed that about a quarter of the subjects died of radiation poisoning. The doctor who spearheaded these tests recently received a commendation for his career achievements, so, karma probably isn’t a thing. 

2. The Monster Study

Now, many of us aren’t scientists. Fewer of us are speech pathologists. But you’d imagine that most of us would say that yelling at and berating a child with speech problems wouldn’t help them with their afflictions. But that’s just what they did in 1939 at the University of Iowa, during the so-called “Monster Study.”

22 orphans were culled together by Dr. Wendell Johnson, in an effort to disprove all prevailing theories on stuttering. Why orphans? Because we’re terrible. Before testing, they were separated into two groups, those who stuttered and those who didn’t. Only half of the children in the stuttering group were actual stutterers, by the way. During the six months of experiments, the orphans who spoke well were given plenty of positive reinforcement. The ones in the stuttering group (which, again, contained many perfectly-speaking kids) were subjected to long-winded lectures and belittling comments about how they spoke. The results? Well…

“Of the six ‘normal’ children in the stuttering group, five began stuttering after the negative therapy. Of the five children who had stuttered before their ‘therapy’, three became worse. In comparison, only one of the children in the group labelled ‘normal’ had greater speech problems after the study.”

So labels do matter. Children can undergo permanent damage if not carefully handled during a study that they weren’t even made aware of. Some developed speaking problems that they carried for the rest of their lives. They did, however, receive a sizable settlement in 2007.

1. Project 4.1

Most folks conjure up the New Mexico desert in their minds when you talk about when the U.S. first started testing atomic bombs. And they would be partly right. But America also dropped a hell of a lot of them on the Marshall Islands in the Pacific. From 1946 to 1958, the U.S. tested 67 atomic bombs on the islands, which had a population of 52,000 people. Obviously, those residents had to leave. 

The largest bomb, the Castle Bravo test in 1954, was when the government decided to conduct a study on the effects of fallout on the population. The fallout cloud, it seems, “accidentally” blew over a significant number of people. That tends to happen when you test a nuclear bomb 1,000 times stronger than Hiroshima. Some people say that the fallout exposure was intentional. All told, 239 residents were exposed to significant radiation levels at rates 580 times higher than a normal weekly amount. A 2012 documentary spoke to some of those residents, who remember being sick and having their hair fall out, as well as stories of deformed babies.


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