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An Integrated Look at the Chronology of Biological Warfare

Updated on October 21, 2014

Introduction to a Fear Felt in Recent Memory

It’s January 3rd 1943 and The Manhattan Project is an exclusive society of nations that is developing a new form of weapon…Several nations were desperate to find a new form of weapon power to fight against the Germans. They feared the Germans were in the process of creating something as destructive as well. Starting out as a small project, it will later grow to become a huge undertaking that will employ nearly 130,000 workers and cost up to nearly $2 billion dollars to fund. Leading the Manhattan Project is Robert Oppenheimer, an American theoretical physicist. With the completion of the project, J. Robert Oppenheimer will earn the elusive title of “father of the atomic bomb.” His accomplishment brought him great fame because he has developed a way to control atomic energy. In 1943, being able to control atoms was a prevailing and treacherous talent because it was certainly advantageous to the user; however, simultaneously dangerous to the user as well.

His new development has given man a new view of power. Before the discovery of splitting atoms, power was earned through very harsh conditions and the results were often very flaccid. However, with the new form of technology, power can be achieved with ease and the results are infinite. But, it did come with a very heavy price. This new power required a very huge input and had a very unstable and ambiguous output. Oppenheimer knew the results of his research. He knew the sheer power of the weapon and the many effects it could cause; however, he did now count on the other effects that will follow after the detonation of the bomb. The first test detonation named “Trinity” on July 16th, 1945 would change Oppenheimer’s perspective on man forever. Upon the detonation, he felt a bit or remorse because he didn’t know what to feel and how to confront what he is witnessing. He felt, in a way, sympathy to mankind because he knew that:

"We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, theBhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that one way or another."(Oppenheimer)


He fears because he understands what he has created and the many forms of repercussions that will follow. And the inevitable will come…Two dates will substantiate Oppenheimer’s statement about humankind. The dates August 6th, 1945 and August 9th, 1945 will forever be inscribed into Oppenheimer’s memory and soul because these dates are the dates that two bombs were dropped on two cities with one reason, war. The main promise of the bomb was total obliteration and unconditional surrender of the enemy. However, there was more to the main promise than proposed. The bomb will level the ground and will cause major damage to the ecology that surrounds the drop zone. Radiation will claim the lives of many humans, animals and countless acres of rich and habitable land. Surviving humans will live shortly or permanently with sever burns and ever lasting tormenting memories of the bombing. Other than raising human morality rates, the bomb will bring an onslaught of new problems and side effects that will bring mankind to his knees in mercy.

The first kind of potentially lethal side effect is Nuclear Winter. It is a term that is used to describe the aftermath of bomb detonating on the surface of the Earth. Upon detonation the bomb will push and release soot high into the atmosphere to the point that the soot will stay. Soot is considered to be much more absorbent of light than any other natural material found on the surface. This can cause major problems because with more and more explosions we can push so much soot into the sky that we will blacken our sky and it will cause major temperature changes and sunlight exposure. More deadly, “the high temperatures of the nuclear fireball, followed by rapid expansion and cooling, cause large amounts of nitrogen oxides to form from the oxygen and nitrogen in the atmosphere (very similar to what happens in combustion engines). Each megaton of yield will produce some 5000 tons of nitrogen oxides. The rising fireball of a high kiloton or megaton range warhead will carry these nitric oxides well up into the stratosphere, where they can reach the ozone layer. A series of large atmospheric explosions could significantly deplete the ozone layer. The high yield tests in the fifties and sixties probably did cause significant depletion, but the ozone measurements made at the time were too limited to pick up the expected changes out of natural variations” (Sublette).

The effects of the atomic bomb are no doubt devastating to both sides. Rather, it is potentially devastating to every single being on Earth, because the consequences are so great and distressing. However, have man learned from their mistakes? Unfortunately, no; man now have an even greater arsenal of weapons to their disposal. Having this instrument of destruction will guarantee fear and attention from around the globe. This is a very serious problem because if every nation in the world were to own 1 nuke, and if we were to enter war with each other, the Earth and it’s natural state will cease to exist. Many fear and know as a fact that we have enough in man’s arsenal to completely destroy the Earth in one single round of detonations.

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The Stage Set

This was history’s greatest moment, it was neither for the good or the bad but was considered to be great. It shows how man can blindly create greatness and have absolutely no idea of the consequences that will follow. This moment wasn’t the first time that man has used such a tactic to fight wars. The first time that such an idea came about in the olden days of knights and castles. In the days of old, microorganisms were considered to be quite a mystery. They did not understand why milk would go sour and become cheese. They didn’t understand why grapes would ferment and become wine. It was later on that man discovered that there were smaller organisms that were doing the work of fermentation. The first man to make the connection was Anton van Leeuwenhoek. He claimed that through experimentation, mediums that were exposed to air attracted the bacteria and this proved to him that there were indeed microorganisms that were breaking down unused food. However, Leeuwenhoek also found that the microorganisms can cause disease as well. He proved this by examining the blood of the cattle that was infected with anthrax. Upon inspecting the blood he found that the blood was abundant with Bacillus anthracis, the remnants of the germ anthrax. Therefore it was concluded that microbes had the potential to be very helpful but also to be very potentially deadly.

Anton Leeuwenhoek
Anton Leeuwenhoek

Origins of the Trade

The very first emergence of biological terrorism, which can also be used to describe an unconventional warfare tactic, came about in the 14th century. People knew very little about germs and how it came about. All they knew was that dead decaying bodies can potentially cause serious illnesses. Armed with that basic knowledge, “Attackers hurled dead horses and other animals by catapult at the castles of Thun L’Eveque in Hainault, in what is now northern France. The defenders reported that ‘the stink and the air was so abominable…they could not long endure’ and negotiated a truce” (Lewis). There were other cases in “Bohemia, attacking forces launched the decaying cadavers of men killed in battle over the castle walls. They also stockpiled animal manure in the hope of spreading illness. Yet the defense held fast and the siege was abandoned after five months” (Lewis). This is probably one of the classic cases where attackers would use either their own dead or the opposing side’s dead as a biological-tactical weapon.

Ever since, in wars, man has used this tactic to contaminate the defender’s morality and health and wellbeing of the soldiers. However, biological warfare goes on with a fierce some overdrive. Smallpox is considered to be a very lethal illness because of its highly contagious outreach. Smallpox is caused by either two viruses: Variola Major and Varola minor. The symptoms of the illness are acute because it has a similar resemblance to another illness, chicken pox. “Smallpox is highly infectious, although less so than chickenpox. Unlike chickenpox, smallpox is not notably infectious in the prodromal period—viral shedding is usually delayed until the appearance of the rash. Smallpox is transmitted primarily through prolonged social contact or direct contact with infected body fluids or contaminated objects such as bedding or clothes. Infection in the natural disease will be via the lungs” (Wikipedia). It is fact that this illness has claimed 300-500 million deaths in the 20th century. Luckily, the World Health Organization has devised a plan to eradicate the illness once and for all. The World Health Organization, also known as, WHO is a well established organization located all across the world. By working together WHO has joined nation to nation and ensuring that the public will be introduced to the vaccine and promise to make sure that everyone will be vaccinated. In 1979, WHO publicly announces to the world that they have completely eradicated the smallpox disease. However, the germs are still kept for research reasons. They were sentenced to be destroyed but the Russian government has decided on not destroying the germ for private reasons.

The Employment of Germs

Biological-terrorist warfare does continue after the 14th century. The most documented case happened on 1772 during the American Revolution. It will take 207 years before the cure is applied to a world wide cause and smallpox eradicated. However, people used the illness to their advantage. “While the first true vaccine for smallpox was not invited until 1796 the practice of deliberately inoculating people with a mild form of the disease was established decades earlier. The British military likely employed such deliberate infection to spread smallpox among forces of the Continental Army” (Lewis). This was a very devastating tactical move because smallpox is usually fatal. The start of the illness may not be as serious, after 15 days the illness will start to severely worsen. It gets to the point where the pox will start to generate into vesicles where it will merge together and detach the outer layers of skin from the underlying flesh. At this point the infected will likely have died. This was a very serious illness because the vaccine was not popular because it sparse and expensive. Therefore, this infectious illness was treated with severe quarantine of the diseased.

The American Revolution was the mark of the end of the age of ignorance. This is considered to be a milestone as well because till this point most of the biological acts of terrorism/war has been insignificant compared to future attacks. Up till this point almost all of the acts of biological terror/war are simple in design and primitive and had little influence to the ecology because the acts were not intense enough to really cause real damage. However, it is a good thing in a sense because in the years beyond the American Revolution, biological warfare will evolve into an enormous threat to mankind as well as to the ecology.

The Emergence of the First Uses of Biological Warfare in the Modern Era

Starting with World War I, the sheer terror of biological terrorism will fully rear its ugly head. The Germans have made extensive research on germs and how it can affect the opposing side. People require livestock to survive because they require the meat to feed the people. However, the Germans had an ingenious idea and their target was to sabotage their livestock. They figured that livestock such as “the horses, mules, sheep, and cattle being shipped from neutral countries to the Allies. The diseases they cultivated as weapons were glanders and anthrax, both known to ravage populations of grazing animals in natural epidemics. By infecting just a few animals, through needle injection and pouring bacteria cultures on animal feed, German operatives hoped to spark devastating epidemics” (Lewis) The promise of this attack is that once the illness becomes established, their livestock will significantly diminish. However, there was much more to that than just killing livestock. To the Germans any more repercussions of the attack will only aide their. The main promise will be fulfilled, livestock will be sabotaged; but, there is a chance that the feed that was infected will spread beyond the livestock stables. Many other animals like squirrels and ground rodents can scavenge the feed and bring them back to their laying grounds. This will trigger a bigger spread of the poison because instead of infecting the livestock, woodland animals will be affected as well. For example, if the land rodents, such as rabbits, squirrels, gophers, and rats are infected they will carry with them the disease and when eaten, the hunter of the ground rodents will then be infected as well. The other effect is that if one species die out completely then the food chain will be knocked out of balance and that will cause mass havoc in the ecosystem. One species of animal depend on another to survive. Because one species is completely wiped out they will have nothing to eat and that will cause mass deaths in the animal world.

Livestock sabotage is a very effective way to cause great harm to the ecology but during World War II, the attacks are more honed onto humans. However, they still affect the ecology but man is main focus. The Japanese was responsible for the death of almost 10,000 people during the war. Because they were at war, the Japanese wanted a surefire way to attack the main source of their opposition. To take out the many soldiers and civilians, Japan conducted germ research on live human beings. The Japanese needed test subjects and they weren’t going to use their own to conduct such an atrocious experiment on. Instead, in 1936 Japan occupied Manchuria, China, and they were the unfortunate subjects the Japanese were going to experiment on. They “used scores of human subjects to test the lethality of various disease agents, including anthrax, cholera, typhoid, and plague” (Lewis). This was a necessity to their research because through their experiments they devised many new weapons that carried diseases. They were able to use their research in the field because “In October 1940, the Japanese dropped paper bags filled with plague-infested fleas over the cities of Ningbo and Quzhou in Zhejiang province. Other attacks involved contaminating wells and distributing poisoned foods” (Lewis). Like the German sabotage of livestock, this was very similar because there are wild animals that can be infected by the attacks and they will carry the disease back to their burrows and then proceed to infecting more and more of woodland creatures.

Culture of Anthrax
Culture of Anthrax

Biological Warfare in Recent Memory

There are far worse to come…During the Cold War, the Soviets had successfully created a disease so deadly that there was no cure for it. The Russians were neck and neck with the Americans in the Cold War trying to create new weapons and technology. The Russians have reached an all time high in their biological research program. However, one day “In 1979, a rare outbreak of anthrax diseased the city of Sverdlovsk and killed nearly 70 people. The Soviet government publicly blamed contaminated meat, but U.S. intelligence sources suspected the outbreak was linked to secret weapons work at a nearby army lab” (Lewis). However, later reports show that it was no contamination of meat that killed the people. Rather, it was an accidental leak of anthrax in a factory laboratory research facility. U.S. investigators were allowed the authority to check the town’s disease and they came to the conclusion that it was no meat infection. They found that the victims were induced with high levels of concentrated anthrax and that was the agent that killed them. However, the most disturbing part of the discovery wasn’t the truth of the incident. The disturbing thing was the discovery of the anthrax it self. They discovered that the agent was a “genetically altered ‘super-plague,’ antibiotic-resistant anthrax, and long-range missiles designed to spread disease -- were confirmed by later defectors like Ken Alibek and Sergei Popov” (Lewis). This is a very dangerous agent if it were to be released completely as a full scale attack. The ramifications would be dire. If it were released the agent can contaminate water and air over a vast area. This time land, sea, and air will be contaminated and that would make the entire area completely hazardous to live in. The water will no longer be potable, the land will no longer be audible, and the livestock will no longer be eatable. Because there is no resistance to the disease, the agent will roam free and it will continue to spread unless serious actions are taken to quarantine the infected.

Fearful Conclusion

Ever since the first naïve employment of germs, mankind has learned and studied the small workers of disease and death. Through the years, mankind as a generous employer, promoted the reckless germ through the various ranks and used it, often times, senselessly. Unfortunately the future is unlikely to see an end to biological warfare. However, as globalization is fast closing to all corners of the planet, nations are rallying to create a pact to ratify and outlaw biological uses in warfare. In 2013, 170 countries around the world has signed the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) treaty of 1972 to prevent the destruction of human lives and societal infrastructure. There seems to be hope in the future with the ratified treaty of 1972; however, that is only a portion of the countries we have on earth who agree with the ban of biological agents. It is up to the 170 to uphold and be the enforcers to prevent outbreaks of biological destruction on a global scale.

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