Originating in China, the Black Death hit Europe in 1347 after it had
devastated India and the Middle East. At least 20 million Europeans
died. It was the greatest catastrophe ever recorded. The cause of death?
Bubonic plague spread by flea-infested rats.
In the autumn of 1347 Genoese ships arrived in Messina, Sicily, from
the Black Sea port of Caffa. Many of the sailors from these ships had
black swellings, the size of an apple. The swellings were usually near
the armpits or groin. They oozed with blood and pus. It was the plague.
To give a concrete example of the rapidity and lethality of the Black
Death, consider the city of Avignon. A single graveyard admitted 11,000
corpses in six weeks. After that there was no room. The bodies had to be
thrown in the river until pits were dug. Avignon was a town of 50,000.
Within five months half the town was dead.
The lethality of bubonic plague in the 14th century might seem
unimportant now. But to the twentieth century’s most evil visionaries,
it was an inspiration. In the 1930s, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin
thought of using bubonic plague as a weapon of war. In 1941 the Soviet
biological warfare experiments on political prisoners in Ulan Bator and
other parts of Mongolia. They placed the prisoners in tents which
contained infected rats. In one incident, political prisoners escaped
after being infected. Because of this an epidemic occurred in Mongolia.
Thousands died before it could be contained.
There is evidence and testimony that the Allies — the Soviets, the
British, and the Americans — used biological weapons against Germany
during World War II. The first Soviet biological attack took place on
the Eastern Front, using specially designed artillery shells laced with
lethal bacteria. The attack was considered a failure. The targeted
German troops suffered no ill effects.
Less is known about British and American biological warfare in World
War II, except that large epidemics overtook Central Europe in 1945,
affecting millions of people. Earlier in the war, the British had
proposed dropping anthrax on German cities, but the United States
Anthrax is probably the most talked-about and most lethal biological
warfare agent. It is a bacterium. If anthrax is eaten, it can cause an
intestinal infection called Siberian ulcer — which is 30 percent fatal.
The less common form of infection is from airborne spores. This rarely
occurs in nature. If approximately 8,000 spores are inhaled, a lung
infection can result. This is known as pulmonary anthrax, or
woolsorter’s disease. If delivered in weaponized form, this infection is
said to have a 97 percent lethality rate. Typically, an infected person
is dead within three to four
In the 1960s the most effective method for using anthrax against the
United States was called “polar outbreak.” In fall and winter months
Arctic cold air masses form in Canada. These are hundreds of miles long
and several thousand feet thick. In a typical attack, a small number of
planes would disperse the anthrax into the cold air mass. This could be
accomplished by aerial spraying. Ideally, an anthrax spore should be one
to five microns in diameter. By spraying the anthrax through pressurized
hoses, the size of the spores could be regulated during dispersal.
The cold air mass, once filled with anthrax, would move south at
about twenty miles per hour. It would enter the United States with 6,000
feet of thickness. Being cold, the air mass would gradually sink as it
advanced, dumping spores along the way. Sweeping across the Midwest, the
Arctic air mass would turn east and exit the country along the New
England coast with 3,000 feet of thickness remaining. A leading U.S.
military authority in the 1960s estimated that one-third of those in the
path of this cold air mass would become infected.
Confirming this estimate, Major General Marshal Stubbs, one-time head
of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps, stated that an attack of “dry
biological material,” delivered by no more than ten aircraft, could kill
or incapacitate 30 percent of our population.
In April 1979, several years after agreeing to a treaty which
prohibited the production and stockpiling of biological weapons, a
Soviet anthrax factory on the outskirts of Sverdlovsk suffered an
accident. A large cloud of anthrax was released. Luckily, the wind was
blowing away from the city. Instead of 100,000 dead, only a few thousand
lives were lost.
Despite treaty obligations, Russian anthrax production continued
after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In his 1992 Barbara Walter’s
interview, President Yeltsin promised to correct the problem, saying he
would enforce the 1972 Geneva Protocol on the prohibition of biological
weapons. But Yeltsin did nothing. Later that year, top Russian military
officials admitted that violations were still taking place. In recent
months Ken Alibek (a.k.a., Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov), a top defector from
within Russia’s biological warfare project, has also testified on
Russia’s continued violations. In this context, the Soviet collapse did
not put an end to Russian cheating.
Many Americans do not realize that President Nixon unilaterally
ordered the destruction of America’s biological weapons in 1969. The
1972 Geneva Protocol does allow the U.S. to retain small quantities of
biological weapons material, so that vaccines and countermeasures can be
developed. Aside from this, the United States cannot — by law –
develop, stockpile, or otherwise maintain lethal biological organisms in
a quantity sufficient for military operations.
In this context, the significance of America’s unilateral bioweapon
disarmament has not been appreciated. According to some experts,
biological weapons are deadlier than nuclear weapons. More importantly,
biological weapons are cheaper and easier to make than nuclear weapons.
In fact, according to a study done by Joseph D. Douglass and Neil
Livingston (“America the Vulnerable: the Threat of Chemical/Biological
Warfare”), the acquisition of lethal biological agents for military
purposes is “as complicated as manufacturing beer and less dangerous
than refining heroin.”
Today, with recent advances in biotechnology the threat becomes even
more serious. The new and most promising biological weapons are no
longer bacteria. They are viruses.
According to Sunday’s New York Times, it appears that Russia, Iraq
and North Korea have large stockpiles of a certain deadly virus.
According to the Times they have retained a type of smallpox for
military use. According to a secret U.S. government study, blood samples
from North Korean defectors show that they’ve been given special
smallpox vaccinations in recent months. It is also known that Iraq has
acquired its own smallpox vaccine.
The probable source for this weapon?
The United States military has a small quantity of this virus. We
maintain this small stockpile so that we can make a vaccine. The
Russians also admit to having this virus. But according to U.S.
intelligence sources, Russia is probably hiding large quantities of the
virus at military sites.
In other words, they aren’t keeping a small amount for self-defense, but
a large amount for future military operations.
Smallpox causes high fever, nausea and a rash. Rumors have persisted
about a weaponized strain of smallpox that infects the intestines,
causing them to bleed out. This particular strain would kill most who
became infected with it. The great advantage of this weapon, is that
immunization offers a high degree of protection.
Although we hear about biological weapons on TV and other media, few
Americans know what biological weapons can do. Even fewer Americans know
how these weapons would be delivered. Given that our enemies in Iraq and
North Korea possess such weapons, given that Russia has been violating
the 1972 Geneva Protocol, we ought to know a great deal more.
The U.S. government needs to begin a program in the public schools.
It should be a requirement for graduation. They ought to call the course
“Biological Warfare 101.”