Operation Whitecoat: The Human Guinea Pigs Who Helped Win the Cold War

Operation Whitecoat: The Human Guinea Pigs Who Helped Win the Cold War

In the 1950s, the United States was in a race against the Soviet Union to create vaccines such as polio. It was during this time that Project Operation Whitecoat (POW) was born. The project involved using human guinea pigs, conscientious objectors of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to test a multitude of vaccines and see how they would react in the event of a biological attack. The results of this project were astounding, and it may have helped to win the Cold War! – but at what cost?

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Who were the participants and did they have a choice?

The participants of the experiments included conscientious objectors of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that were given a limited choice considering that since 1940 the Selective Service Act had required all men between the ages of 18-26 to register for the draft. The choice, these men had were, serve as human guinea pigs or potentially be drafted into the military as fighting soldiers. While this may be considered a choice, it wasn’t exactly an easy one.

Did the participants know the full extent of the experiments?

It’s unclear whether or not the participants knew the full extent of what they were signing up for. They were likely told that they would be testing out vaccines, but it’s doubtful that they knew that some of these vaccines would be deadly pathogens.

What pathogens were the participants given and were they successful?

The participants were given a variety of vaccines and pathogens, including bacteria such as tularemia and Q fever as well as live viruses such as yellow fever, dengue fever, Rift Valley fever, hepatitis A, Yersinia pestis, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, and others.

In some cases, these vaccines were successful and the participants reportedly only experienced mild symptoms. However, in other cases the participant’s bodies were not able to fight off the virus and they had long-term complicating effects but no participants reportedly died as a result of the experimentation.

When and why were the experiments discontinued?

The experiments were eventually discontinued in the 1970s when it was revealed that some of the participants had contracted deadly diseases such as hepatitis and yellow fever. It’s likely that the public outcry over these revelations was what led to the discontinuation of POW.

What legacy does POW have?

While POW may have helped to win the Cold War, it also left a legacy of distrust among the American public. Many people felt that the government had taken advantage of these men and used them as nothing more than human guinea pigs. As a result, POW is often cited as an example of unethical government experimentation.

Do you think that Project Operation Whitecoat was ethical? Why or why

Thank you for reading Operation Whitecoat: The Human Guinea Pigs Who Helped Win the Cold War, and be sure to check out our other blog posts subject such as – The Montauk Project: The U.S. Government’s Top-Secret Program Conducting Experiments on Humans 


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