Biological (germ) warfare
is the use of the
toxins or agents of living, infectious organisms such as bacteria,
viruses, and fungi as a weapon to kill or incapacitate opponents (humans
|Biological Warfare Symbol|
There is an overlap between biological
warfare and chemical warfare as defined by the Biological Weapons
Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention
(non-living) toxins produced by living organisms are used. Toxins,
considered mid-spectrum agents, do not reproduce in their host (as would a bacterium
or virus) and often react more rapidly.
The history of human 'civilization' is
pock-marked with conflict and war and human beings have used nearly every
option on the planet for new ways of destroying one another. Scorch and burn
campaigns have leveled forests and farmland. Philosophy, religion, science and
art have all been usurped by demagogues (see post: Demagogues Who
Usurp Religious Belief) to fuel the quest for power and
bloodshed. Nature itself has been weaponized and transformed into some of
mankind's most formidable tools of war.
|Scorch and Burn Warfare-Kuwait 1990|
The use of biological weapons is
not a new concept and dates back to the ancient world. The Hittites
Asia Minor recognized the power of contagions as early as 1500 BCE,
sending plague victims into enemy lands. Entire armies have have
catapulted diseased corpses into besieged fortresses and poisoned enemy wells.
Some historians believe that the ten
biblical plagues of Egypt, called down by Moses
against the Egyptians may have
been a concentrated campaign of biological warfare rather than the acts of a
used rye ergot
to poison enemy wells
in 600 BC, resulting in hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, seizures and
cardiovascular problems leading to death in those who drank the water (see
post: Drugs Used in Religion-The Old World)
|The Ten Biblical Plagues of Egypt|
In 590 BC, Solon
law-maker and statesman) used the roots of the purgative herb hellebore (skunk
cabbage), to poison the water in an aqueduct leading from the Pleistrus
River during the Siege of Krissa
(Cirrha-the port of Delphi). In that same era and region,
the Spartans used toxic smoke generated by burning wood dipped in a
mixture of tar and sulfur during one of its wars with Athens.
Chinese writings contain hundreds of
recipes for the production of poisonous or irritating smokes for use in wars,
and many reports of their actual use, dating back as far as 400 BC.
They created and used an irritating 'five-league
fog' made out of slow-burning gunpowder to which a variety of ingredient were
added including the excrement of wolves.
Writings of the Mohist
Chinese philosophy developed by the followers of Mo Tzu
(470 BC) in
China tell of the use of ox-hide bellows to pump smoke from furnaces in
which balls of mustard and other toxic vegetable matter were being
burnt into tunnels to discourage the besieging army from digging. The use of
a toxic cacodyl
) smoke is also mentioned in early
As far back as 400 BC, Scythian
archers shot infected arrows at their enemy, dipping the arrow tips in
decomposing bodies or in blood mixed with manure. Ancient Persian, Greek, and
Roman literature from quotes examples of dead animals used to contaminate wells
Between 300 and 100 BC, the Romans
used bees and hornets as weapons by catapulting them at their
enemies. Some historians blame this practice for a shortage of hives during the
waning years of the Roman Empire.
In 190 BC, Hannibal
, in the Battle
, won a naval victory over King Eumenes II
of Pergamon by
firing earthen vessels full of poisonous snakes into the enemy ships.
Between 82 and 72 BC,
the Romans used toxic smoke against the Charakitanes
in Spain causing
pulmonary problems and blindness, leading to their defeat in 2 days.
From the 12th to the 17th century, the spread of disease by
means of germs was still not understood and often thought to be due to the foul
smell of rotting bodies (bad air or mal aria
During the later 17th century the impact
of biological weapons was already obvious to military leaders, who usually
found disease would often kill more men in the course of a campaign than would
During the Battle of Tortona
the 12th century AD, Frederick I Barbarossa, German Roman
Emperor used the bodies of dead and decomposing soldiers to poison
During the Hundred Years War, in
1340, siege engines were used as platforms to fling putrefying animal carcasses
into the besieged castle in Thun l'Eveque
, northern France.
In 1346, at the Siege of Kaffa
Genoese-controlled seaport now called Feodosia
in Ukraine in the
Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea), Khan Janibeg
, the commanding officer
of Tatar ordered plague-infected corpses to be hurled into the city.
The Kaffa incident was described in 1349
by Gabriel de Mussis
who noted that plague was transmitted to the
citizens of Kaffa by the hurling of diseased cadavers into the besieged city
and Italians fleeing from the city brought the plague into the Mediterranean
These ships carrying plague-infected
refugees (and rats) sailed to Constantinople, Genoa, Venice, and other
Mediterranean seaports and are thought to have contributed to the second plague
pandemic. The siege of Kaffa remains a powerful reminder of the terrible
consequences when diseases are used as weapons.
This technique of throwing the infected
dead onto the enemy was used again in 1422 when the bodies of dead
soldiers were catapulted into the ranks of the enemy in the city of Karolstein, Bohemia
the same time, 2,000 cartloads of excrement were piled up near the walls in the
attempt to spread illness.
In the year 1495, in Italy, near Naples,
the Spanish provided their French enemies with wine tainted with the blood
During the conquest of the Incan Empire
in Peru (1528), Pizarro was said to have purposefully given South
American natives some clothing contaminated with smallpox. The British did
the same, distributing blankets from smallpox patients to Native Americans in
|Frederick I Barbarossa|
There was even an early 'Geneva
' against the use of bioweapons in 1645 when German and French
forces agree to not use 'poisonous bullets'.
During his siege of the city of
(1672), the Bishop of Munster, Christoph Bernhard van Galen
the nickname 'Bombing Berend
' ( 'Bommen Berend') because of his use of
artillery. Among the explosive and incendiary devices he used were some filled
with belladonna, intended to produce toxic fumes.
In 1650, Polish artillery General Siemenowics
spheres filled with the saliva of rabid dogs at his enemies.
During this century, more was understood
in medical science about disease processes. In Europe, experiments began into
ways to prevent diseases.
In the early 1700s, it became clear that
biological weapons could kill indiscriminately and military strategists
began to explore the possibilities of using preventive measures to protect
their own troops.
In the eighteenth century, the use of
biological weapons was still crude and rudimentary. The same strategy as
had been used at the Siege of Kaffa in 1346, using infected bodies as vehicles
of disease, was carried by the Russians in 1710 when they catapulted
plague-infested corpses, as laid siege against Swedish forces at Reval
In 1785, Tunisian Moslem forces
catapulted plague-infested clothing into the city during the siege of the city
of La Calle
, held by Christian forces.
In 1797, Napoleon attempted to infect
the inhabitants of Mantua
, Italy with swamp fever (malaria), flooding he plains
which surrounded the city.
Little good can be said about the use of
biological weapons but the threat of injury or death can often inspire new
ideas and techniques (usually designed to save your own skin).
In 1714, an article appeared in the
(English) Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions
which contained a
description of a technique used by a physician in Smyrna
), to confer some degree of protection from smallpox. The
technique was called variolation
and involved taking some of the
liquid from a person with a mild case of smallpox and rubbing it into a small
scratch made on the person to be protected.
|Christoph Bernhard van Galen (Bombing Berend')|
This often resulted in a mild case of
the disease but would then transfer immunity to further infection on recovery.
The risk of death from variolation was estimated at 2 to 3%. This 'discovery'
led to the Royal Experiment
in which six condemned prisoners were
variolated and promised full pardons if they survived. When the prisoners did,
indeed, survive (and received their pardons), further experiments were done on
The safety of the procedure thus being
deemed adequately established (these 'controlled trials' would likely not be
acceptable today). In 1801, Edward Jenner published Origin of
the Vaccine Inoculation
, describing the same effectiveness as variolation but
without the higher risks using cowpox vaccination.
Military strategists seized upon this
idea, realizing that the commander of an army made up of individuals already
exposed to smallpox, either naturally occurring or through variolation, would
stand to gain if smallpox could be introduced to an opposing army which was not
In addition, having access to persons afflicted with
smallpox, the commander could thus acquire materials that could be used to
expose an immunologically naive enemy to the ravages of the disease.
In 1763, during the French and
(1754-1763), British forces at Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania under
the direction of Sir Jeffrey Amherst
gave two blankets and a
handkerchief that had been used by smallpox victims to the Native
Americans threatening the settlement in a plan to spread the disease. This
is one of the first and the best-documented incident of biological warfare in
the New World in the 18th century.
In April, 1775, during the American
, the British in Boston found themselves facing both the Continental
Army and a smallpox epidemic. The British began to variolate their troops.
However, they also began to variolate colonial civilians who were fleeing the
General George Washington
|The French and Indian War|
, commander-in-chief of the
Continental Army, realized the infectious nature of the people leaving the city
and delayed his attack on Boston until he felt the danger was past. In
1776, Washington saw his attack on Quebec fail, in large part because many of
his own soldiers were affected by an outbreak of smallpox.
Records show the use of biological
warfare by confederate troops between 1860 and 1863. General W.T. Sherman
memoirs describe Confederates' poisoning of ponds by tossing carcasses of dead
animals in them. In 1863, confederate soldiers under General Johnson
retreating in Mississippi, placed animal carcasses in Union wells.
In that same year, Dr. Luke
arranged for the sale of smallpox-contaminated clothing to
unsuspecting Union officers. Although records indicate that there were numerous
deaths from smallpox among Union troops during the Civil War.
|General W.T. Sherman|
Dr. Blackburn also attempted to use the contaminated
clothing scheme to spread yellow fever to Union troops (until 1900, no one knew
that yellow fever could be transmitted only through mosquito bites).
In 1863, the Union side officially banned this early use of
Smoke, snakes and disease-ridden corpses
- biological warfare has gradually grown more 'sophisticated' and precise since
human beings decided that they needed to kill one another.
In more modern times, the intention of
creating pain, suffering and death on the enemy has not changed but the
techniques to achieve these goals have proliferated and become more easily