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Veterans at Risk: The Health Effects of Mustard Gas and Lewisite (1993)

Chapter: C. Involvement of the National Academy of Sciences Complex in World War II Research Programs: A Summary

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Suggested Citation:"C. Involvement of the National Academy of Sciences Complex in World War II Research Programs: A Summary." Institute of Medicine. 1993. Veterans at Risk: The Health Effects of Mustard Gas and Lewisite. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2058.
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C
Involvement of the National Academy of Sciences Complex in World War II Research Programs: A Summary

Chartered in 1863 during Abraham  Lincoln's presidency, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) serves as an independent scientific advisory organization to Congress and government agencies. Three other components of the Academy complex were added later under the Academy's original charter, the National Research Council (NRC) in 1916, the National Academy of Engineering in 1964, and the Institute of Medicine in 1970. Each component of this complex works through committees of scientific experts who gather to discuss, share their expertise, and make recommendations on scientific policy and issues. A key aspect of all such committees is their independence from outside pressure and influence. Through a variety of mechanisms, each committee represents a group of individuals who operate with consideration for all known positions or views on a specific subject, but who also operate with complete independence from any of the involved parties, including those providing the funds for the study.

As the United States mobilized for the Second World War, the level of involvement of NRC committees in the actual research enterprise was dramatically changed. Of interest to the present study is the fact that certain NRC committees acted directly for the government in the supervision of war-related research, including animal studies of the effects of mustard gas on the body and tests with human volunteers of ointments to protect against mustard gas burns. The specific agencies and relationships involved in this collaboration of the NRC with the government are described in other sources, but the important aspect is that the strict, distinct boundary lines we see today between the role of

Suggested Citation:"C. Involvement of the National Academy of Sciences Complex in World War II Research Programs: A Summary." Institute of Medicine. 1993. Veterans at Risk: The Health Effects of Mustard Gas and Lewisite. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2058.
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the NRC committees and the role of the government were absent (Andrus et al., 1948; Stewart, 1948).

In 1941, President Roosevelt established two branches and an Advisory Council under the Office of Scientific Research and Development to initiate and supervise war-related research. The first of these branches was the Committee on Medical Research (CMR), charged with studying the medical effects of various warfare agents and situations and with developing protocols of treatment for everything from malaria to mustard gas burns. CMR came directly to the NRC and took advantage of already standing NRC committees to form, among others, the Committee on Treatment of Gas Casualties. It was from this group that the first requests for human volunteers were made in order to test protective ointments then under development.

The other branch, the National Defense Research Committee (NDRC), was charged with the development of protective clothing, gas masks, and other equipment-type items. Thus, the NDRC was responsible for the chamber tests of protective clothing against mustard gas, such as the tests done at the Naval Research Laboratory. Although seemingly separate, CMR (and NRC's Committee on Treatment of Gas Casualties) and NDRC dealt with many overlapping issues and, thus, were in relatively constant communication with each other. The overlap among the groups can be seen today in the reports of the testing programs, some of which list NDRC as sponsor, some of which list CMR, and some of which list those two along with NRC's Committee on Treatment of Gas Casualties.

The specific role of the Committee on Treatment of Gas Casualties was to review and supervise the 23 grants dealing with chemical warfare agents. This supervisory role for NRC committees ended in 1944, when CMR expanded its staff and reorganized in order to coordinate and supervise all medical research contracts. By 1947, many of the responsibilities and functions of the CMR were incorporated into newly formed government agencies, such as the National Science Foundation.

REFERENCES

Andrus EC, Bronk DW, Carden GA Jr, Keefer CS, Lockwood JS, Wearn JT, Winternitz MC, eds. 1948. Advances in Military Medicine. Vols. I and II. Boston: Little, Brown.

Stewart I. 1948. Organizing Scientific Research for War. Boston: Little, Brown.

Suggested Citation:"C. Involvement of the National Academy of Sciences Complex in World War II Research Programs: A Summary." Institute of Medicine. 1993. Veterans at Risk: The Health Effects of Mustard Gas and Lewisite. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2058.
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Page 338
Suggested Citation:"C. Involvement of the National Academy of Sciences Complex in World War II Research Programs: A Summary." Institute of Medicine. 1993. Veterans at Risk: The Health Effects of Mustard Gas and Lewisite. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/2058.
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Page 339
Next: D. Excerpts from Chamber Tests with Human Subjects I, II, and IX. Naval Research Laboratory Reports Nos. P-2208 and P-2579 »
Veterans at Risk: The Health Effects of Mustard Gas and Lewisite Get This Book
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Recently, World War II veterans have come forward to claim compensation for health effects they say were caused by their participation in chemical warfare experiments.

In response, the Veterans Administration asked the Institute of Medicine to study the issue. Based on a literature review and personal testimony from more than 250 affected veterans, this new volume discusses in detail the development and chemistry of mustard agents and Lewisite followed by interesting and informative discussions about these substances and their possible connection to a range of health problems, from cancer to reproductive disorders.

The volume also offers an often chilling historical examination of the use of volunteers in chemical warfare experiments by the U.S. military--what the then-young soldiers were told prior to the experiments, how they were "encouraged" to remain in the program, and how they were treated afterward.

This comprehensive and controversial book will be of importance to policymakers and legislators, military and civilian planners, officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs, military historians, and researchers.

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