Biological Weapons: The 'Living' and Pervasive Weapons of Mass Destruction
The 'art' and methods of war have indeed gone a long way; from subsisting to crude metals and guns, human society has learned to manipulate Nature by using as one of its weapons of mass destruction organisms that create balance within the planet's ecosystem. Nuclear warheads, guns, and other artilleries and weaponry are no longer feasible arsenals of war, mainly because they are not energy- and economically-efficient, as biological weapons are. Biological weapons, is identified as a destructive medium which "consist of living, infectious microorganisms that are disseminated as aerosols through the atmosphere... are generally invisible, odorless, and tasteless" (Falkenrath, 1998). These characteristics of biological weapons make it a feasible medium for destruction, especially between warring nations/societies.
This paper traces the origins and history of biological weapons, especially in the United States. In knowing its history, this research also looks into the development of technology as one of the precursors that helped 'develop' and proliferate the creation of microorganisms that can destroy not only the human body, but the Earth's physical environment as well. Furthermore, the use of biological weapons as an alternative for weapons in the act of terrorism and as a means to destroy another nation or society is also studied and analyzed, thereby putting the production of biological weapons in its socio-political context. Classifications of biological weapons presently produced are also identified. Lastly, measures and policies formulated that aim to encourage and promote non-proliferation of biological weapons, a socio-political issue, is also tackled, providing tentative solutions to the increased use of biological weapons, thereby increasing the probability of its adverse effects to plague human society and the physical environment for years to come.
The origin and history of biological weapons can be traced as far back as the 14th century, where plague epidemics become biological weapons used by conquerors in order to easily overpower other nations/societies. In American history, biological weapons use is evident in the use of the smallpox disease as a way for the French and British forces to defeat the Native Americans, original inhabitants of the U.S. territory, in the 18th century (Lederberg, 1999:18-9). Biological weaponry has become more developed in the 20th century, during the First World War, when Germany used "wind-blown chlorine" as a weapon to physically weaken the enemy's army forces. Germany's use of chlorine later developed to phosgene to mustard gas, attacking the skin and lungs of its victims, proving itself to be a pervasive form of biological weapon, since gas masks proved to be "ineffective" protection to this biological weapon (Falkenrath, 1998).
After WWI, United States has become actively involved with the production of microorganisms that can be used as biological weapons. In 1942, U.S. launched an offensive biological program, producing cultured varieties of "numerous bacterial pathogens, toxins, and fungal plant pathogens that could be directed against crops to induce crop failure and famine... weapons for covert use utilizing cobra venom, saxitoxin, and other toxins... developed for use by the CIA..." (Lederberg, 1999:25). Although U.S. is now a staunch supporter of the non-proliferation programs on biological weapons, its production of microorganisms that has deadly effects on the human body and physical environment served as the catalyst for other nations to escalate production of biological weapons. In the race for political dominance and power, biological weapons served as a symbol of power and influence, where governments and leaderships' influence are gauged.
Classification of these biological weapons can be identified into three: skin-damaging agents, toxins, and nerve agents. Skin-damaging agents are chemical compounds that prove to be not only skin-damaging, but has effects that include, among others, "eye damage at low levels, pulmonary injury, systemic illness." A popular example of skin-damaging agents is the mustard gas, so-called because of the mustard-like smell that it emits. Initially used by the Germans, and later by the Allies, in World War I, mustard gas is hard to detect, and can produce physical disabilities for "short and long periods," as well as psychological ailments, which include "exhaustion, chronic anxiety, and poor morale," and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (Augerson, 2000:51-2).
Toxins, on the other hand, are "natural poisons naturally produced by living organisms such as "bacteria, fungi, dinoflagellates, algae, plants, and animals (corals, snails, frogs, arachnids, and snakes)" (53). Originally used by India and China in 14th…