Peter Linebaugh on Hitler's anti-semitic views on syphilis and their parallels with racist medical trials in America.
"Administrators fear that one thing will lead to another - that prisoners will strike for better food, that they will try to escape. This is why they must keep prisoners feeling powerless and divided."
Beverly Abplanalp, Prisoners' Legal Services (N.Y.), Gay Community News, 1988.
The Nazis learned much from America. In Mein Kampf (1925-6) Hitler praised American race policy as being closest to that "folkish state concept" he wished to bring to Germany, and did. Hitler and the Nazis in the 1920s shared with American medical opinion an obsessive preoccupation with syphilis.
The raciaI medicine that developed in American in the 19th century sought to establish differences in disease immunity, susceptibility, and relative severity between the races. They tried to prove that blacks were physically inferior and sexually promiscuous. When the census indicated a declining birth rate among Afro-Americans in the second half of the 19th century, some physicians regarded this as confirmation of the racist belief that freedom from slavery would lead to racial extinction.
Syphilis was depicted "as the quintessential black disease." Another physician said Afro-Americans were "a notoriously syphilis-soaked race." No doubt these attitudes affected the "social hygiene" movement of the turn of the century when white professionals educated the white population to safer sex. The huge manpower needs of World War I led to the creation of the Division of Venereal Diseases of the U.S. Public Health Service, and to neighborhood VD clinics. Yet even these structural changes in the social reproduction of a healthy labor force failed to modify the virulent assumptions of American racial medicine.
The Nazis also associated syphilis with an oppressed minority, the Jews. "This Jewish disease" is what Hitler called it. It contaminated the people, corrupted the young, and poisoned the blood of the race. Hitler censured the sexual stimulation of the city (movies, billboards, shop windows), which he associated with syphilis and "blood sin and desecration of the race" in a process he called "Jewification." To the Nazis, the disease whose origin and name is inseparable from European conquest, massive migrations, slavery, and misogynist family policy, became once again, this time in the name of cleanliness, the means to institute an ascending scale of murder-"euthanasia" of syphilitics, forced migration, slave labor, and death camps.
In America, too, genocide was practised in the name of science. In 1932, the year the National Socialists won a plurality in the German Reichstag, the U.S. Public Health Service instituted its own "official, premeditated policy of genocide" (as one critic called it when it was exposed in 1972) under the name of the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. About 600 Afro-American men in Macon County, Alabama, were hoodwinked into the study. In exchange for an occasional hot meal, a ride in a Buick, and a burial stipend, the syphilitic men enrolled in a study which was designed to show, what no evidence had ever suggested, that the mortality of Afro-American syphilitic men differed from that of white syphilitic men.
The men were not told they had syphilis. They were denied treatment for syphilis. Their wives and their children contracted syphilis. The study was racist in its goal, its means, and its techniques. The "government doctors" hoped to show that the mortality of tertiary syphilis in black men indicated a higher incidence of cardiovascular pathology than in syphilitic white men who were believed to die more often from neural complications. The men were treated like cattle - "corralled" in annual "round-ups" and given lumbar punctures with huge needles.
While Macon County thus became a "private laboratory" or "sick farm" analogous to Buchenwald, Nordhausen, and Auschwitz, one should not infer that the experiments were a local aspect of “Southern exceptionalism" any more than the freezing, immersion, and typhus experiments of the Nazis were exceptional, because as the Tuskegee "subjects" migrated northwards, as some would, Public Health officials in Cleveland, New York, and Detroit provided "collegial cooperation" by withholding treatment to the afflicted men, despite the Hippocratic oath and despite state and federal public health laws of 1927, 1943, 1957, and 1969 specifically prohibiting the withholding of treatment.
The Tuskegee experiment continued for forty years. The trial of the Nazi doctors, and the resulting Nuremberg Code against human experimentation, didn't even give the post-war public health officials pause (indeed, in the late '40s the U.S. Government assisted and protected Nazi doctors!). Nor did the Helsinki Declaration of 1964 on the same subject cause the project to be questioned. What brought an end to the "study" was a combination of the efforts of a San Francisco whistle-blower whose parents had fled the Nazis, and the legal efforts of Fred Gray, the civil rights lawyer of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Behind them in 1972 was of course both the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Revolution.
"Scores of men had died from a disease that could have been cured." The U.S. Government to this day has not apologized for the experiment. Even the liberal critique of the experiment shares a moral attitude with the racial medicine of the Nazis and Klan, for when they charge that the Tuskegee Study was "bad science" they mean that some of the men may have seen "contaminated" by unauthorized treatment. This is the topsy-turvy, ass backwards, world of science, where saved lives equals "bad science" and treatment equals "contamination."
Indeed, it may be up to the same tricks. In February 1988 Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, announced that the U.S. is planning to conduct large-scale human experiments in Africa to test potential AIDS vaccines. In the same month Dr. Robert W. Ryder, director of an American AIDS research program on humans in Zaire, explained, “What we can do here that we cannot do in the United States is to follow thousands and thousands of AIDS victims because wages are low."
Such research is conducted in a specific economic and demographic context, in the case of Africa one largely determined by the World Bank. It promotes an anti-natalist policy and seeks to reduce the number of Africans who being too attached to "old ways," i.e., their land, are obstacles to the development of macroparasitic agri-business. In this context, the AIDS scare is highly useful. The international medical establishment has gone out of its way, from the Panos Dossier to Dr. Gallo and his monkey business, to produce the appearance in the West of massive HIV prevalence in Africa.
The authors of Aids, Africa and Racism summarize their unequalled command of the medical literature: western doctors
"gathered together groups of sick and dying patients, and diagnosed them as suffering from AIDS to the exclusion of all other possibilities. Without the ethical constraints that applied in their own countries, they conducted small and unreliable sero-epidemiological surveys that 'proved' that millions of Africans were infected with the virus. They barely paused to question, let alone explain why so few of these seropositive people showed any evidence of the disease. To prove the disease had originated in Africa they fetched old blood samples collected on previous safaris from the bottom of their freezers, and subjected them to the same unreliable tests. And then they broke the news to a Western public eager for yet another story of millions dying in Africa."
It is the old story, going back to the sharecroppers of Macon County, to the free Blacks of Philadelphia, to the yellow fever in Haiti, to the shepherd "Syphilis" of Hispaniola, and back further to Thucydides and Moses. It is the story of racism. Once it is believed that Black people are dirty, disease-ridden, sexually promiscuous, and about to die anyway, then it becomes possible to institute genocide. In the midst of the Tuskegee experiment at the time of the "Final Solution," Zora Neale Hurston, steeped in the pan-Africanism that swept the world after 1918, re-wrote the Moses tale in 1939 telling about Mentu and his "nice lizard talk." Compared to then, Africa is immeasurably stronger. It will take care of itself. To be sure it needs our help. But this help is not the help of crocodile tears. It must be the help of our own lizard talk against the controlled, selective, and secretive knot-heads who manage our illnesses in the pretence of our health.
We have learned from our history that the more we commingle and converse, the more we eat each other’s food, sleep with each other, and deal with one another's shit, the stronger we become. We have learned from our history that the microparasites that destroy us appear as godsends to the macroparasites, until they threaten, or until we threaten, to get "out of control." We have learned from our history that the macroparasites need us both for their wealth and power and for their health. That is why we developed lizard talk to begin with. They can no longer produce those genocidal microparasites without paying a price of such social disorder that we must take power ourselves for justice's and our own lives' sake.