Friday, September 08, 2017

The Dark Files: Tonight at 10:00

About a year ago, I was invited to co-host The Dark Files, a special the History Channel was planning that would focus on the Montauk legends--allegations about US government experiments on unwitting human subjects, carried out at Camp Hero, a now-abandoned military base on Montauk, Long Island.

It wasn't a topic I knew much about, and I doubted we'd be able to prove or disprove the legends, which range from the completely believable (mind-control experiments like MKUltra) to the way-out-there (time travel and aliens). But I was curious about what it would be like to make a television special, and intrigued by the opportunity to co-host with independent filmmaker Christoper Garentano, writer and director of The Montauk Chronicles, and with investigative reporter Steve Volk, author of Fringeology: How I Tried to Explain Away the Unexplainable--And Couldn't. Most of all, I was attracted by the opportunity to use the Montauk legends as a vehicle to explore the hidden history of human experimentation in America.

What's that, you say? Human experimentation? In America?

The question itself reveals the problem. Most Americans would have difficulty believing that our own government could behave in ways we exclusively associate with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan's infamous Unit 731. But if we allow ourselves to be seduced by this comforting--and false--belief, we increase the likelihood that our own society could engage in such barbarities in the future, as we have in the past.

Because yes, the US government has allowed syphilis to proceed unchecked in hundreds of poor black men it told were receiving treatment, to see what happens when the disease is untreated. It has subjected prisoners to gruesome dermatological agents and hallucinogens, to study the effects chemical warfare agents. It has fed radioactive material to mentally handicapped children to learn about the impact of nuclear fallout.

And these are just a few examples. There is much, much more.

One of the things I find most disturbing about the history of human experimentation in America is that the experimenters are always the cream of American academia and science--people who doubtless look in the mirror and see only paragons of morality looking back. And their victims are always helpless and marginalized: Prisoners. Children in orphanages. The poorest minorities. The mentally ill.

So the question about Montauk isn't whether human experimentation happened. The question is whether human experimentation also happened there.

If America's dark chapters prove anything, they prove that when no one is looking, the wealthy and powerful will prey on the poor and powerless. These experiments were always conducted in secret, after all. Meaning whatever their own rationalizations, the people who carried them out understood intuitively that the wider society would not approve.

It follows that our best defense against a recrudescence of these horrors is to shine a light on the darker truths of our own history--and our own humanity. I hope The Dark Filespremiering tonight on the History Channel at 10:00 eastern time, will be an important contribution to that effort.