Sheldon Harris (1928-2002)
Ronald Schaffer, November 2002
Sheldon H. Harris, professor emeritus of history at California State University, died suddenly on August 31, 2002, at UCLA Medical Center of a blood infection. He was 74 and lived in Granada Hills, California.
Harris was best known for his contributions to the history of medical and military ethics. He was the author of Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare 1932–45 and the American Cover-up (1994, rev. ed. 2002). Based on extensive fieldwork, including 12 visits to China, and on information in U.S. and KGB archives, this work helped expose to a world audience the operations of Unit 731 and other Japanese army units that conducted germ warfare experiments on living captives during the 1930s and 1940s. It explained why the perpetrators were never prosecuted—essentially because the United States hoped to use the results of their investigations for its own biological warfare program. Harris wrote scholarly articles, addressed numerous conferences, and spoke through radio and television in several countries about the Japanese experiments and about epidemics that swept through areas where the experiments were conducted. Four days before his death, in a case supported by evidence Harris had gathered, a Japanese court for the first time acknowledged the existence of these crimes.
Professor Harris was born in Brooklyn, NY, on August 22, 1928, received his undergraduate degree at Brooklyn College, a master's degree at Harvard, and the PhD in 1958 at Columbia University. His dissertation subject was John Louis O'Sullivan, the jingoist editor to whom the phrase "Manifest Destiny" was attributed. He was also author of Paul Cuffe: Black America and the African Return (1972). He taught at the University of Massachusetts from 1958 to 1963 when he joined the history department of California State University, Northridge. During his years there he was active on leading university committees. Among students, he was probably best known for one of the earliest and most innovative film-and-history courses, "Hollywood in U.S. History," in which, for example, he brought Mel Brooks to class as commentator on Blazing Saddles.
Harris retired from teaching in 1991. He is survived by his wife Sheila, and by his daughter Robin and his son David, both of San Francisco.
—Ronald Schaffer, Professor of History Emeritus
California State University at Northridge