Biological technologies on the path of war and destruction

Biological technologies on the path of war and destruction
2000 years ago, the Roman writer Valerius Maximus wrote: “War is fought with weapons, not poison.” From then on, the most common exceptions were “contaminating the enemy’s water wells with animal carcasses” or “leaving the remains of plague victims at the entrances of cities”; Like what happened during the conquest of Feodosia = (a city on the Crimean Peninsula and in the territory of the Roman Empire) in 1346 AD. In a more infamous and modern example of this practice, in 1763 the British army used some contaminated blankets to start an outbreak of smallpox among American Indian tribes.

World War I, toxins and microorganisms

The opening of poisons to military conflicts
In the years leading to the contemporary history of the world, “poison” and “infectious disease” were apparently indistinguishable from each other, until the theory of the criminality of the disease was proposed and proved at the end of the nineteenth century. Unlike state-sponsored programs, pre-industrial societies were only successful in the deceptive and periodic use of poison by their armies. In the 19th century, researchers began to study the pathogenesis of microorganisms and toxins, such as botulinum toxin (a highly toxic substance produced by bacteria). They intended first and only to prevent the spread of disease and treat pollution.

Prohibition of chemical weapons
In 1874, the use of microbiology for military purposes had rarely occurred to anyone until the governments present at the Brussels Conference (The Brussels International Declaration) to determine the rules and customs of war, agreed to prohibit the use of poisons or toxic weapons in war. ban However, awareness and awareness of the increasing importance of chemical science and industry caused concerns about a completely new type of weapons: “toxic clouds”. In 1899, European delegates at the First International Peace Conference in The Hague agreed not to use rockets and devices that cause suffocation or release harmful gases. The Hague Treaty of 1907, which was signed by France, Germany, England and most other European powers, strengthened the previous prohibitions. (Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907) This prohibition and simple limitations did not have any guarantee of solid implementation, so it was completely useless. In World War I, both sides used a lot of chemical weapons; including chlorine gas, phosgene, mustard gas, tear gas and other chemicals.

British chemical weapons

A picture of a British chemical bomb in World War I
In the first widespread use of gas, in Belgium in 1915, chlorine gas was released by the German forces using thousands of cylinders, which were dispersed by the wind on the battlefield of the allied forces. The forces present in the field, which were mostly French, were completely destroyed due to the lack of a proper defense system and being surprised. The German forces apparently did not expect such a victory. Because of this, they could not take advantage of the temporary opportunity and the allied forces quickly took a similar action. One of the important aspects of chemical weapons that reduced their value on the battlefield was that it was possible to create individual defense lines easily. As the war progressed, highly effective masks and suitable uniforms were designed and manufactured, and the troops learned how to use them and when to use them. Although protective and educational devices prevented gases from playing a serious role in the war, chemical weapons in many cases caused heavy losses to unprepared people.

American military mustard gas chemical weapons

155 mm mustard gas mortars of the US Army at the Pueblo Chemical Weapons Storage Center in the state of Colorado

The terrible experience of the First World War did not prevent the end of the use of chemical weapons
After World War I, general chemical weapons were among the most terrifying tools on the battlefield. The English poet Wilfred Owen (Wilfred Owen) describes this fear in the battlefield well and writes; As soldiers floundered “drowning in a yellow sea” of chlorine gas, war-torn veterans and their families, as well as politicians, felt the fear with all their heart. Further, the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 prohibited the use of poisons or other asphyxiating gases and all other similar liquids, materials or equipment. Although the US Senate agreed to this treaty, the 1922 treaty was not implemented because France opposed its provisions regarding submarine warfare. However, the provisions of the Washington Treaty became the basis for the 1925 Geneva Protocol. This treaty, which was signed on June 17, 1925, came into force on February 8, 1928, and now 132 countries, including all the major countries of the world, are members of it. The Geneva Protocol prohibits the use of chemical weapons and extends this prohibition to “the use of bacteriological methods in warfare.”

The blinding of soldiers by poison gas in World War I / 1918
America signed the Geneva Protocol, but failed to ratify it. In the 1920s, the isolationist leadership of the Senate and the American chemical industry managed to create a successful opposition front against the protocol. The Senate failed to take any action to confirm it. Instead, the United States showed itself to adhere to the principles of the treaty, but over time it implemented its own interpretations of the Geneva Protocol. In later years, biological weapons were not used in modern warfare, with two exceptions. Japan, which did not ratify the Geneva Protocol, ran a biological program in Manchuria from 1934 to 1945, equipping its military with the means of deliberately spreading infectious diseases. Using crude methods, such as “plague infected fleas” and “contaminating food and water”, the Imperial Japanese Army caused widespread diseases among the Chinese people and was successful in carrying out destructive operations against the Soviet forces following the war on one of the northern borders. . The Japanese wanted to show that these diseases and epidemics occurred as a result of natural and seasonal issues, and therefore, the truth of the matter remained hidden for many years.

Chemical weapons research

Chemical and biological weapons research on live human victims
Another exception, which is more difficult to document, is the use of biological agents in special covert operations. Germany’s attempt to infect animals with anthrax and farcy during the First World War is perhaps the best example of this type of destructive operation. More importantly, advanced government programs in the West and the Soviet Union were technically far more advanced than the Japanese and led to the production of bombs and other aerial delivery systems and the production of more destructive agents. Although all advanced programs have the ability to be stealthy, each one gives more priority to the strategic scale of this method.

Dealing with chemical weapons in World War I

Half-way protocols and the threat of proliferation of biological weapons
The Geneva Protocol forbids the first use of biological weapons, but is silent on the preparation of this type of weapon. This legal loophole allows each member state to prepare to retaliate against a state that attacks with chemical or biological weapons. Meanwhile, the concept of reciprocity is very controversial. Apparently, this claim means allowing limited or symmetrical use of prohibited weapons; If it is supposed to convince the enemy not to use it. Can this confrontation be against civilians? If the people of a country are attacked, is there a license to retaliate against the people of the enemy country?

The use of chemical weapons in World War I

A symbolic painting of soldiers being blinded by a mustard gas attack in the First World War; Author: John Singer Sargent
In this way, the boundary between defensive and offensive use can be easily removed. Since the extent of an enemy’s capacity is probably unknown, it seems wise to increase your capacity to deal with a surprise attack; Of course, on the condition that the enemy’s masks, clothes and drugs as technical defense lines, will make this plan fail. Most member states of the Geneva Protocol have declared that they will not abide by the treaty if they are the first to be attacked by chemical or biological weapons. Therefore, in order to take defensive measures, they recognized the right to counterattack. These countries also emphasized that if the allied forces of the enemy country – and not only the enemy – attack them, they will have the right to counterattack. Therefore, such conditions caused countries to ignore many obstacles under the pretext of self-defense.

Painting of the use of chemical weapons in the First World War
In the field of chemical weapons, the construction of an equipped arsenal can deter the initial attack of the enemy. Some available documents show that this happened exactly in World War II; When the British and the Americans threatened the Germans with a chemical counterattack on every possible front. In the case of biological weapons, no government has yet openly revealed its countervailing capacity. The existence of biological weapons programs is generally secret and their technical difficulties are much more serious than chemical weapons. Suspicion plays an important role in justifying defensive programs that quickly become offensive capabilities, then covertly become an advantage for preemptive strikes. The threat of the enemy’s biological weapons always leads to the production and expansion of larger programs.


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