Saturday, October 2, 2010

Guatemala, Dr. John Cutler, Tuskegee, Nürnberg, and Learning

I must be crazy: On the whole, I like living in America.

Despite the fact that this country systematically discriminates against my ancestors.

The Irish ones, anyway. Discriminates something fierce. Why, you'll see "Irish need not apply" signs in employers' windows!

Oh, wait: which century am I at?

The year is 2010. This is the 21st century. There's been an Irish president, for crying out loud. The Irish, by any sensible measure, are now accepted by America as a whole.

That's one reason why I like living in America: This country has a track record for learning from mistakes. Eventually. It took a major war to sort out the slavery issue - and the War Between the States involved other issues, too. That's another topic.

Guatemala, STD Experiments

Disgusting medical experiments conducted in Guatemala by Americans have been in the news. The experiments were criminal by today's standards.

Seriously: What was done by the Venereal Disease Research Laboratory of the Public Health Service was not good. It was bad. It was wrong.

An excerpt from yesterday's news:
"PAHO Statement on STI Experiments in Guatemala"
PharmaPro (October 1, 2010)

"1 October 2010. We have just listened to a press briefing by Dr. Francis Collins, Director of NIH, who discussed experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s, in which prisoners and other vulnerable groups were intentionally infected with sexually transmitted diseases. Dr. Collins said these experiments were 'deeply disturbing' and 'reprehensible,' and we agree. We join the US Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of State in deploring these experiments.

"This research was conducted by the Venereal Disease Research Laboratory of the Public Health Service and venereal disease experts from Guatemala, with funds given to the Pan American Sanitary Bureau (PAHO's precursor) by the U.S. Institutes of Health, and with some cooperation by Guatemalan authorities. Dr. John Cutler, who conducted these experiments and worked on the infamous Tuskegee experiments, was then a Public Health Service medical officer.

"We are just learning details of these experiments, and the US Institute of Medicine is now conducting an investigation.

"The Organization has established strong ethical standards for research it sponsors or is associated with to prevent such abuses for many years now...."
What that agency of the American government did in Guatemala was bad. It was not good. It was wrong. They shouldn't have done it.

Those experiments occurred in the 1940s.

Now that an official (and long-overdue) apology has been made, my guess is that the appalling lapse in ethics will be discussed in news media - and may be added to the litany of American offenses taught in American schools.

America is Not Perfect

Make no mistake: bad things have been done in America. Sometimes by the American government.

I'm glad that systematic treaty violations of the 19th century are being sorted out in American courts: but those agreements with the first nations on this continent should not have been broken in the first place.

I do not approve of the way that the government of Hawaii was overthrown and the territory taken.

And I'm not all that crazy about some of what's being done in today's America.

Still, I'd rather live here, than any other place in the world. That's not the knee-jerk emotional reaction of a chauvinist. I have, from time to time, over the decades, been so fed up with what was happening in this country that I started looking around for someplace to go.

I discovered that there wasn't a country around, for example, that provided the kind of safeguards for its citizens' rights that I enjoyed here. Perfect safeguards, no: generally adequate, yes. There's more - but the point is that I chose to stay: after looking at the alternatives.

I'm not the only one who likes it here. One of the major issues these days is how to deal with folks who are in this country illegally. On the whole, I think it's prudent to follow the rules of a country you're emigrating to - but I think it says something for America that we're one of the places people try to break into.

America Learns

About that "litany of American offenses taught in American schools" I mentioned earlier: I think that the American educational system is overly-enthusiastic in portraying America as a cesspool of racist, sexist, homophobic bigots out to destroy the environment and rip crumbs from the bleeding lips of the oppressed.

That said, I also think it's a good idea to make sure that each new generation knows about what went wrong before. And what went right.

Both are important.

Knowing what worked in the past may keep folks from reinventing the wheel - and crying out for some new law, when there's a neglected one on the books that needs to be enforced. And that's yet another topic.

Knowing what America has done wrong might keep this country from making a similar mistake again. I can't prove it, but I think that one reason we don't have concentration camps for Muslims in this country is that the American government (finally) acknowledged that locking up Japanese-Americans was a bad idea.

There are other ways of running a country - which is why I don't plan to move.

Turkey, for example, seems to be trying to cover up atrocities committed by the Ottoman Empire. Which strikes me as silly, considering that the current government was set up by folks who overthrew the Ottoman Empire. And yes, that's an oversimplification.

Japan is doing a little better: but there's an effort by some folks in that country to rewrite the history of WWII - without the details they don't like.

I sympathize with folks who don't like some parts of their country's history. As I wrote, I'm not at all crazy about some things that America has done. But I think it's vital to remember errors: so that we will learn, and not repeat them.

I think it's important to remember triumphs, too: like the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the repeal of the 18th Amendment. Not to maintain a puffed-up jingoistic pride: but to remember why it's important to not repeat errors.

America's a great place to live, we've got a lot to lose: and if we don't keep learning we may do just that.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.