March 31, 2008

The repeated historical falsehood

It just happened again. Dr. Marc Lamont Hill (whom I recently posted about at Newsbusters here) was on the O'Reilly show discussing the recent rousing reception that Barack Obama mentor Jeremiah Wright got at a church this past weekend. Hill, like many others, brought up the "context" in which many in the black community believe Wright's claim that the US government created AIDS to destroy African-Americans. That context is that our government "gave" syphilis to some 400 black men in the infamous Tuskegee experiment.

The problem with that oft-repeated statement is ... it's not accurate.

As David Mills reports at the Huffington Post (hardly a bastion of conservatism for anyone unfamiliar)

Rev. Wright said from the pulpit, in a video clip shown on Fox News: "The government lied about the Tuskegee experiment! They purposely infected African-American men with syphilis!"

Wright is wrong. That's not what the Tuskegee experiment was.

In the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male," federal researchers refused to treat a group of black men who already had syphilis, long after a cure had been found.

Instead, doctors treated these men like laboratory animals, studying the course of the disease over decades.

The Tuskegee experiment was the most shameful episode in the history of the U.S. Public Health Service. President Bill Clinton apologized on behalf of the nation in 1997.

But the government did not infect black men with syphilis.

I would tend to concur with anyone who might say that this is a fine point to argue, because, regardless, the experiment was a truly heinous episode in our country's history. But it should be noted -- correctly -- that the government did not purposely "inject" black men with the virulent STD. There are sufficient instances in American history (this one included) that aren't very favorable to black Americans. Embellishing [some of] them isn't necessary.

Furthermore, it wasn't African-Americans who were uniquely subjected to past government experiments. For example, from the late 1940s to the early 1960s, Army regulars were subjected to the radiation of above-ground nuclear bomb tests. In 1989, a TV movie titled "Nightbreaker" was made detailing how some of these tests were conducted.

Both the Tuskegee survivors and many of those involved in the atomic exposure tests received federal compensation. Of course, it is extremely difficult to put into dollar figures a price for suffering, but, ultimately, it was revealed what had happened in these cases. Corrective action was taken. To touch on my original premise, how far should such episodes in history be utilized to ... justify current philosophy and/or anger? In addition, could such experiments be conducted today in our age of instant communications? I think that it's unlikely; however, unfortunately, such sordid historical events serve as a springboard for the Grassy Knollers and the 9/11 Truthers.

Posted by Hube at March 31, 2008 09:25 PM | TrackBack

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