Biological Weapons Throughout History
Biological weapons have been around for hundreds of years. One of the earliest known uses of biological weapons dates back to the 1300’s during the Mongol siege of Caffa. The Mongol army catapulted dead plague-infested bodies into the port of Caffa. This war tactic didn’t just frighten enemy troops; it infected them too.
Most of us are familiar with the British army’s use of the smallpox virus against the Native Americans during the French and Indian War. In the mid-1700’s, British troops gave the Native Americans blankets infected with smallpox, which ultimately caused a full scale epidemic. Immunization prevented similar attacks, though we’ll see that the smallpox virus may once again become a legitimate threat.
During World War I, chemical weapons were used against enemy troops. Germany had no qualms about chemical weapon use, but the mere handling of chemicals killed many of their own soldiers. To avoid these losses, the Germans turned to biological weapons. They infected rats with deadly diseases and, using rotting cheese, sent them to British, French, and Russian trenches. Troops bitten by the rats died painful deaths as the virus overran their bodies.
The horrifying method in which World War I was fought inspired the signing of the 1925 Geneva Protocol. This international agreement banned the use of chemical and biological weapons, though the prohibition didn’t quite stick. Countries still researched and developed chemical and biological weapons during World War II, but these weapons weren’t used on the battlefield. Large scale R&D programs were created during the Cold War, as tensions between the US and Soviets escalated. These programs were halted, however, with the signing of the Biological Weapons Convention. Unfortunately, biological weapons still remain a threat.
Modern Biological Weapons
Do you remember the anthrax-laced letters in the early 2000’s? Acts of bio-terrorism, like those which Al-Qaeda committed following 9/11, are easy and relatively cheap to perform. Information detailing how to develop biological weapons is available on the internet. Not only are biological weapon cleanups costly, the fear they induce is wider spread than the contamination. I remember shortly after the anthrax terror attacks, a student had sent a letter with harmless white powder to the principal of my school. Cops were called, the school was temporarily shut down, and parents’ of the students were scared to consider their kids could be exposed to anthrax. The student just wanted a day off, but, at the end of the day, he wasn’t the only one celebrating. Al-Qaeda won a major battle against America on a very tight budget.
Breakthroughs in genetic engineering offer the promise of curing formerly incurable diseases. That said, genetic engineering could unleash a superbug on society. Superbugs are antibiotic-resistant bacteria. We’re already seeing the spread of superbugs due to our society’s irresponsible consumption of antibiotics. Most of the superbugs our society contends with today are sexually transmitted. This method of transmission constrains the infected population. Genetically engineered superbugs pose a far more troubling threat. They can be designed to spread via airborne transmission, which could lead to an epidemic.
How Can We Protect Ourselves?
The most effective biological weapons are aerosols. Aerosols are spread through the air, which makes their transmission rapid and widespread. Should a weaponized aerosol be developed, we can protect ourselves in the following ways:
1. Protective Masks
Protective masks are critical to your survival following the deployment of a weaponized aerosol. Weaponized aerosols can be designed to disperse without clumping. Naturally occurring anthrax, as an example, is relatively harmless because the spores clump together. Weaponized aerosols, though, don’t clump. They spread further, faster, and can be inhaled into the lungs more deeply. Therefore, a protective mask is the most important piece of biological weapon survival equipment.
2. Sensors to Detect Biological Aerosols
It’s critical to know in advance whether a biological weapon has been released. You’re screwed if you learn about the presence of a biological weapon only after inhaling it. There are commercialized sensors like the Polaron F10 that detect the presence of biological aerosols. Advanced detection could make the difference between life and death.
3. Protective Shelter
While masks and sensors are essential to your safety, protective shelters are important as well. A secure location that is insulated from compromised air will prevent your exposure to deadly aerosols. An air filtration system like the one NWSS offers will keep you and your family safe.
As I mentioned above, the smallpox vaccine eliminated the threat of a deadly biological weapon. However, genetic engineering could lead to the emergence of a drug-resistant form of smallpox. While this possibility exists, it’s important that research and development of long term vaccinations continues. We know that funding is going into the research and development of biological weapons, so funding is needed to combat these threats as well. It takes a super vaccine to render a superbug harmless, so efforts to develop such vaccines are critical to our long term security.
The Future of Biological Weapons
Biological weapons are often viewed to be less of a threat than are nuclear weapons. However, they are relatively inexpensive and less difficult to make. With the advent of genetic engineering, we may see new and more lethal biological weapons deployed. By taking proactive measures to prepare yourself, you can mitigate the risk of exposure to biological weapons.
Do you want to discuss biological weapons? Leave a comment below, or contact me directly.