Although the interest of some German scientists in now-discredited racial theories is best known as a World War II phenomenon, archivists have discovered that at least one POW camp in World War I was also a centre for racial research. According to a feature on Australia’s ABC, an Aboriginal soldier, Douglas Grant, was captured at Battle of Bullecourt in April 1917. Eventually he ended up at Wünsdorf, a POW camp south of Berlin.
The POWs of Wünsdorf were an extraordinary bunch, for they were mostly Muslims. One of the more bizarre schemes of their German captors was to whip up fervour for jihad among Muslim POWs and send them back to India and the Middle East to stir up trouble for the Allies. The 5000 POWs were given luxurious treatment and an elaborate mosque was built in the camp. It was Germany’s first.
With captives from around the world, German researchers also realised that this was a golden opportunity to investigate racial differences. Grant was a full-blood Aboriginal from the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland who had been adopted by a white couple from Sydney. "He was measured all over, and upside down and inside out," Grant told an historian later. According to the ABC:
While the scientists argued there was a scientific basis to these studies, there was also a clear agenda to create a picture of German superiority and racial purity. It was the beginnings of attempting to prove that Germans were the "master race". One German scientist argued that the POW camps were "a Völkerschau [people show] without comparison"...
Sunday, August 13, 2017
In a recent article in the American Journal of Bioethics, bioethicist Art Caplan and three colleagues call for a complete overhaul of the venerable Belmont Report (see below). This is the 1979 US government report which set out three famous principles which have governed human research ever since: respect for persons, beneficence, and justice.
Most government reports are already gathering dust within a few months after their publication. But the Belmont Report’s influence has been enormous, as it shaped the bioethical framework for clinical and research decision-making in the US and many other countries as well.
Caplan & Co make a good case for revising the standards in the light of experience and changing times. But it comes at an awkward moment: the Trump Presidency. What kind of commission would Mr Trump create to study this issue? Perhaps a noisy and truculent one, a bull in the bioethics china shop. Be careful what you wish for?
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