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The Development and Control of Chemical and Biological Warfare

The year, 600 BC. Solon, the legislator of the Athenians, contaminated the River Pleisthenes with hellebores (skunk cabbage) to give the defenders of Kirrha violent diarrhea leading to their defeat. This is the first recorded use of plants as a source of chemicals for warfare. Although not very well known, chemical and biological warfare has been used for over 2000 years. Chemical and Biological warfare has made a vast change since 600 BC and has evolved into one of the most advance and destructive types of warfare known to man (Russell 1998).

There are many reasons why chemical and biological warfare is so effective. Throughout the medieval times, Cadavers were catapulted over castle and fortress walls. Disease would spread within the enclosed walls. Cadavers were also placed up stream and the inhabitants of the fortress would drink the deadly, microorganism infested water. Biological and Chemical weapons are very inexpensive. It does not take a very sophisticated industrial base to produce lethal chemicals. This makes it a viable means of warfare for Third World countries.

The use of chemical weapons by Iraq and Libya in 1988 reinforces the danger that these weapons will spread (Cass 1996). Not only are these weapons cheap, but they are very effective. Defense Secretary William S. Cohen held up a five-pound bag of sugar on national television last month to show how, with an equivalent amount of anthrax, Iraq could eliminate at least half the population of Washington. The US Law Enforcement Assistance Administration reported in March 1977 that a single ounce of anthrax introduced into the air-conditioning system of a domed stadium could infect 70-80,000 spectators within an hour (Hardy 1998).

In January 1998, the Center for Disease Control declared that an epidemic hit Miami, Florida. Doctors have not yet diagnosed the specific cause of the disease, but the illness initially resembled a chest cold that progresses into pneumonia-like symptoms. It then progressed rapidly into fever and shortness of breath. What is especially peculiar about this epidemic is that all the patients who have sought medical attention attended the Orange Bowl football game on New Year’s Day.

This could be an example of a terrorist attack on a dome stadium. And a 1972 study by the Advanced Concepts Research Corporation of Santa Barbara, California, postulated that an aerosol attack with anthrax spores on the New York City area would result in more than 600,000 deaths (Hardy 1998). Biological warfare agents include both living microorganisms (bacteria, protozoa, viruses, and fungi), and toxins (chemicals) produced by microorganisms, plants, or animals.

Writers on the subject have produced a long list of biological warfare agents that terrorists could potentially use. Among those mentioned have been: anthrax, escherichia coli, haemophilus influenzae, brucellosis (undulant fever), psittacosis (parrot fever), yersina pestis (the Black Death of the 14th Century), tularemia (rabbit fever), malaria, cholera, typhoid, bubonic plague, cobra venom, shellfish toxin, botulinal toxin, saxitoxin, ricin, smallpox, shigella flexneri, s. senteriae (Shiga bacillus), salmonella, staphylococcus enterotoxin B, hemorrhagic fever, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, histoplasma capsulatum, pneumonic plague, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, dengue fever, Rift Valley fever, diphtheria, melioidosis, glanders, tuberculosis, infectious hepatitis, encephalitides, blastomycosis, nocardiosis, yellow fever, typhus, tricothecene mycotoxin, aflatoxin, and Q fever (Hardy 1998). As you can very well see, the list is endless, and this is one reason that biological warfare is so dangerous. Some of these agents are highly lethal; others would serve mainly in an incapacitating role.

Some authors have also speculated about the possible terrorist use of new, genetically engineered agents. These agents are designed to take out certain people such as a certain race for example. World War 1 marked the first time that there was a large-scale use of gas in warfare. The Germans dispersed 168 tons of Chlorine gas from cylinders against the French Salient at Ypres. Total surprise was achieved, but the success of this attack was not very good (Graham 1998). This attack resulted in over 5,000 allied casualties, the loss or 60 guns and huge quantities of supplies.

The Germans attacked the northeast part of the Ypres Slient where the French and British lines met. The French area to the right was held by a group of Algerians while the Canadians held the British area to the left. An excellent eyewitness account of this attack was documented in Maj. Gen. Amos Fries book, Chemical Warfare: “Try to imagine the feelings and the condition of the colored troops as they saw the vast cloud of greenish-yellow gas spring out of the ground and slowly move down wind towards them, the vapor clinging to the earth, seeking out every hole and hollow and filling the trenches and shell holes as it came.

First wonder, then fear; then, as the first fringes of the cloud enveloped them and left them choking and agonized in the fight for breath-panic. Those who could move broke and ran, generally in vain, to outstrip the cloud which followed inexorably after them (Fries 55). ” After the attack at Ypres, the Germans used chemical and biological weapons many other times. At the Battle of Loos, the British first used the 4″ Stokes mortar to deliver smoke and gas. The Stokes Mortar was a smoothbore, muzzle-loaded weapon capable of firing 20 rounds per minute for short bursts or a sustained rate of 5 rounds per minute.

It had a high angle of fire with a maximum range of 1,075 yards and a minimum range of 200 yards (Russell 1998). In April 1917 the Germans unveiled their Livens projector. The first large-scale use of the Livens projector took place at the Battle of Arras. Cylinders were projected at the enemy so they would burst and set up a high concentration of gas. The Livens projector lacked mobility, accuracy and range but the capacity of its projectiles was four times that of the Stokes mortar.

During the war projectors were supplied in two sizes: one 2 ft. 9 in. in length, weighing 100 lbs. d having a maximum range of 1,375 yd. : and the other 4 ft. in length, weighing 150 lbs. , and having a range of 1,700 yd (Graham 1998). Both sizes used the same base plate and the shells were identical. Projectors were installed in the ground and fired electrically in batteries of 25, any number of batteries being fired together. The largest simultaneous discharge took place Mar. 21, 1918, when the British Special Brigade (Gas Troops) fired 3,730 shells into Lens and its outskirts. After World War 1 and up to today there have been some major advances in chemical and biological warfare.

Recently, there have been many attempts of terrorism that use biological and chemical warfare. The arrest in 1972 in Chicago of members of a group known as the “Order of the Rising Sun,” dedicated to creating a new master race, who possessed 30 to 40 kilograms of typhoid bacteria cultures for use against water supplies in Chicago, St. Louis, and other Midwestern cities (Hardy 1998). According to one source, the two men, charged with conspiracy to commit murder, were college students, one of whom, a 19-year-old had apparently developed the culture in a school laboratory, where a quantity was found.

The two arrested members of this neo-Nazi organization, one of whom was a local hospital worker, had in their possession detailed plans for dumping the deadly germs into the water supplies. The two had recruited six or seven members who were to be helping them with the disease, but two of the recruits panicked and tipped off the police. Many other terrorist attempts were made in the late 20th century. Most of these terrorists were caught before they could carry out their plan.

Biological and Chemical warfare started to become a primary method of war, and there were many attempts to cut back on the use of Biological Weapons. The Hague Conference of 1899 made an attempt to outlaw weapons carrying poison gases; the agreement to this lasted only until World War I. In Geneva in 1925 a League of Nations agreement against chemical and biological war was signed; it was not, however, ratified by the United States until 1975 (Cass 1996). The treaty outlaws the first use of such weapons in warfare, but nations generally reserve the right to use them in retaliation.

Agreements totally banning chemical warfare have proved difficult to achieve. A treaty totally banning biological warfare was drawn up by the Geneva Disarmament Conference in 1971 and approved by the United Nations General Assembly. Some 80 nations signed the Biological Weapons Convention, which the United States ratified in 1974. This treaty is unique because it outlaws a whole class of weapons by most of the world. Its effectiveness, however, is still questionable; progress in genetic engineering has also complicated this issue.

At the Bush-Gorbachev meeting in June 1990, a treaty was signed providing for both the United States and USSR to reduce supplies of chemical weapons. In May 1991, 19 industrial nationsincluding the United Statescommitted to adopt controls on the export of 50 common chemicals used to manufacture these weapons (Cass 1996). Chemical and Biological weapons have changed our modern society. With their great power, and their low cost, Biological and Chemical weapons are very effective and deadly. The development of these weapons has had a long lasting effect on todays society.

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