Saturday, August 17, 2019

Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War Essay

Each and every day, everyone is exposed to germs. Despite our distaste for germs, nature has assured us that many, perhaps most of the germs we encounter are not harmful, but many are not just harmful, but deadly. Perhaps man spent most of his existence without any first hand knowledge about germs, but man almost certainly has recognized that unseen germs have undesirable effects. In ancient times, people thought that germs came from demons or the gods. In ancient history, Hypocrites acknowledged that this was not true. From ancient times to the Black Death of the fourteenth century and on to the arrival of Columbus to the New World, germs killed millions of people. During the Plague of the fourteenth century, known as the Black Death, fully one third of all Europeans are thought to have perished. Invisible at the time, germs such as bacteria were first seen when Anton Van Leeuwenhoek noticed them with the invention of the microscope. Even then, some germs are so small that they could not be seen until the electron microscope was invented in the 1930s. Although seen for the first time, no defense against them was readily available until Dr. Edward Jenner created the first vaccine in 1796. In the nineteenth century, medical professionals realized that taking precautions as simple as washing one’s hands could reduce the likelihood of being infected by germs. In 1928, Alexander Flemming discovered that penicillin kills bacteria, a discovery that might have helped the world a decade earlier when an estimated 20 million people world wide died from influenza. This staggering figure demonstrates just how deadly germs can be, and vividly drives home the dangers of germs and their potential for use in warfare. Recent events also demonstrate the cause for concern about the spread of germs and the possible dangers of widespread germ warfare. In 2003, fully two decades after the world first grew alarmed about the spread of the human immunovirus (HIV) and the dangers AIDS that result, a Chinese man living in China became ill with an unusual type of pneumonia labeled SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). Although initially localized to China, SARS quickly spread throughout the world in just three months, another vivid illustration of the dangers of germ warfare. Those who might use germ weapons targeted at a particular enemy are not endangering their enemy. Germs do not recognize boundaries. This is one of the central concerns the authors express in their book. Germs are bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa. Although the vast majority of germs are probably harmless, some can invade plants and animals and make them sick and many are deadly. However, not all are harmful and some can be beneficial. For example, some bacteria grow in our intestines and help us to incorporate nutrients in our bodies from the foods we eat. Such bacteria are not cause for concern and not the subject of the authors’ book. Rather, authors Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg and William Broad focus on biological warfare and the deadly germs used in and/or developed for biological warfare. This book is a revealing look at the biological weapons programs that have existed in the US and Russia in the past and might exist today. In Russia, for example, the program was â€Å"Known to the Soviets as ‘the Concern,’ Biopreparat [the laboratories and plants that supposedly manufactured vaccines and other civilian pharmaceutical products] was in fact a hub of Moscow’s germ effort, a vast network of secret cities, production plants, and centers that studied and perfected germs as weapons. † (p. 135) While nuclear energy and the potential to develop and use nuclear power for military purposes was the novel weapon of the 20th century, the comparable weapon of this century may be germ bombs and the threat of germ warfare. Germs are less costly to cultivate and develop than nuclear power, easier to develop and available to anyone with adequate expertise and laboratory facilities. Unlike the millions of dollars required to develop and design nuclear weapons, biological weapons are relatively inexpensive to develop and use. Developing an efficient delivery system to use with biological weapons may be more difficult than developing or cultivating deadly germs, but the tendency of people to move among themselves and the propensity of germs to quickly spread from one individual to another make germs and germ warfare a cause for concern. Of course, protective gear is required for their development so as to avoid contamination during research or use and to protect from accidents and wastes, but developing germ weapons is relatively easy and available. What are the effects of viral infection? Despite their minute size, germs are among the most deadly things in the kingdom of living things. The authors provide an example. In their scenario, the victims contracted the virus after eating in a restaurant. â€Å"The stomach cramps began later that day†¦ Two days later,(they) started getting ill†¦ by week’s end, thirteen of †¦ twenty-eight employees were sick. And dozens (more) called to complain that they had gotten violently ill†¦. † (p. 18) Germs are or can be the cause of great illness and biological destruction and can cause death in numerous painful and undesirable ways. The spectrum of effects that can be attributed to germs ranges from very beneficial to mildly beneficial to mildly harmful and all the way to deadly. Once germs invade a body, they consume nutrients and energy and produce toxic wastes that act as poisons leading to any number of health problems. The beneficial germs are not what concern the authors. The authors’ message is that germs can be deadly and that governments have and probably still are developing germs specifically for use as weapons in military situations, and while that is of concern, the authors point out that other concerns are just as worrisome or of more concern. What if biological weapons developed by the military were to fall into the hands of terrorists? Even though the means to deliver biological weapons is difficult, in a terrorist act or even in a military situation, even an inefficient means of delivery can be sufficiently effective to be frightening and cause the rapid spread of germs. The germs can be spread by human interaction and contact. In situations of terrorism, germs can be sprayed or merely distributed by means of tiny vials. Once the spread begins, the germs can be more difficult to eradicate than they were to deliver even if only distributed in a small area. The problem then becomes how to contain the germs and prevent their spread. General focus of the book Although the authors focus on the biological weapons program in the US, they also consider other elements of concern as regards biological weapons and biological warfare. They point out that research into the development and use of biological weapons has grown despite the deadly nature of the weapons and the reality that such weapons, like the gases used during World War I, are just as deadly and harmful to those who would use the weapons as to those who are the intended victims. It may be impossible to protect victim or victimizer from the effects of biological weapons. The authors are concerned that on numerous occasions, the U. S. has considered using biological weapons despite the dangers they pose. But the U. S. is not the only culprit. Other countries have biological weapons programs and some biological weapons have been used in the past. These weapons pose a threat for the future. During the Gulf War, for example, biological weapons developed by Iraq posed a threat and they might, in fact still pose a threat. While U. S. went in search of nuclear weapons and found none, the threat of biological weapons posed just as great a danger. The authors consider and compare chemical and biological weapons and outline the relative dangers of each. Author’s view and why author feels this is important The authors make clear that everyone is playing with germs for use in warfare. During World War I, the combatants used mustard gas to kill the enemy, but they learned that a temporary shift in the wind direction could result in deaths on both sides. While it is perhaps only a value judgment that germs are worse than nuclear weapons, nobody can deny that germs might be at least as bad. If the radiation pollution and effects of nuclear weapons can last for hundreds or thousands of years, how long could the effects of a living virus last and how are we to combat them: perhaps not as long as nuclear radiation and perhaps not forever; perhaps longer and even forever. Who can predict? What is to stop them from infecting all parties? Of course, conventional warfare is not the only reason for concern as regards biological weapons. Of particular concern are terrorists. The authors of this book review the problems associated with the creation and existence of biological weapons manufactured by countries around the world. They point out that the biological weapons prepared for use in war are just as deadly and just as much of concern for their value to terrorist for use in acts of terror. Unlike nuclear weapons, both chemical and biological weapons can be easy and inconspicuously transported from one location to another by anyone. Even if the countries that have germ weapons have no intention of using them, who can prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorists. Terrorists have a death wish of sorts. Perhaps they don’t want to die, but they are willing to die for their cause, and while no one can object to a person being willing to die for a cause, not all causes are for the benefit of humankind. In the hands of terrorists who don’t care about anyone or anything but their cause, biological weapons pose an equal danger to everyone. Germs do not recognize boundaries, race, nationality or cause. Terrorists can but biological weapons just as they buy other weapons or manufacture them on their own. The authors describe biological weapons as â€Å"the poor man’s hydrogen bomb. † Often, they are simple to make in a laboratory. Sociological consequences from author’s perspective Biological weapons are more than merely a military concern. They are a sociological concern and a concern to society in general. Perhaps the only reason biological weapons might not be of as great a concern as the concern surrounding nuclear weapons is that most terrorists might not have a proper means to spread contamination by biological microbes, but even with the limited use of a biological weapon, stopping the spread of germs is complicated. Even limited use of such weapons can cause widespread contamination, especially during the initial period before anyone becomes aware that a biological weapon has been used and action can be taken to stop the spread of the microbes. Once released, stopping the subsequent spread of the biological germs is both a medical and a sociological problem. Sociology involves how people interact with people, and the widespread use of biological weapons would dramatically alter and restrict human interactions. Typical human interactions from one day to the next, from one moment to the next dictate that germs will spread quickly and rapidly become a global concern as was demonstrated with the SARS outbreak in 2003. Weaknesses and strengths of the book Perhaps the book’s greatest weakness is adequately addressing what can be done to prevent the further development and spread of such weapons. How can we prevent similar situations in other countries? Even if we could persuade the U. S. and Russia to abandon research and development of biological weapons, what can be done to prevent the spread and use of such weapons throughout smaller countries of the developing world? The authors do not pose viable solutions for that problem and, sadly, there may be none. Signing treaties may alleviate fear, but treaties signed in public are broken in secret. No one realizes they have been broken until it is too late. That, perhaps, is among the greatest concerns connected with this issue. While the book is well written and adequately considers a number of important issues, the question as to how to prevent biological weapons from spreading is not adequately considered, perhaps because, in my view, openly signing treaties is no guarantee that anyone will adhere to what has been signed. That, therefore, is a concern, at least my concern. Yes, Americans could put pressure on U. S. politicians to stop research in and development of germ weapons and germ warfare, but that wouldn’t necessary stop such research among terrorists. How can we really prevent germ weapons from falling into the hands of rogue countries and terrorists? The book addresses the issue, but no viable solutions are presented. Another concern, perhaps a major one, is the manner in which the authors pose or form their conclusions. For example, they ask, â€Å"Is the threat of germ weapons real or exaggerated? Our answer is both. † This leaves the reader wondering what to conclude, or at the least leads the reader to wonder what message the authors are trying to relay. Fortunately, this book is not designed to be an alarmist book, but rather to point out the threat currently posed by biological weapons and what can be done to minimize their impact in the event of a biological attack. Author’s biases Of course, everyone has a bias and slant on everything. The authors slant their work on the dangers of germ weapons and ignore the benefits. Considering the true dangers, one might ask, â€Å"Do germ weapons present any benefits in the long run? † Certainly, no rational person could blame the authors for ignoring the assumed benefits of germ warfare. For example, is it possible that just the threat that these weapons exist might serve as a deterrent to war? From my perspect, that question, although it seems logical, is foolish to the point of being ridiculous. Any weapon that is so deadly and dangerous that it cannot be used is useless because it leaves no rational options. Fail to use it and be destroyed. Use it and be destroyed. Those seem to be the options and, as you can see, they do not constitute an option at all. The final outcome is destruction. The authors explain, â€Å"Once the rod-shaped bacteria entered a victim’s body, the invaders multiplied wildly over hours and days, damaging tissues and overwhelming rival bacteria. Their main weapons were toxins and sticky hairs†¦ The toxins caused the intestines to exude waves of watery fluid. † (p. 19) By the end of the outbreak, nearly 1,000 people had been infected, medical facilities and staff had been overwhelmed and infected individuals had moved around so as to spread infection. This is how viruses act on everyone, victim and victimizer alike. They create situations that overwhelm facilities, medical professionals and staff alike. On the other hand, if situations never come to the point where such issues need be considered, then the weapons and their creation were needless in the first place. So, the bottom line is not to develop such weapons at all. They pose many serious dangers and no real advantages. Personal experiences with Germs Like most people perhaps, my personal experiences and perspective on this issue involve no more than the common colds I occasionally get. Some are worse than others, but I am well away that people, me included, tend to take colds for granted. We assume that colds are things that generally come unexpectedly, last briefly and then go away. Most people fail to realize that colds kill and most people today cannot fathom the seriousness of the global influenza epidemic of 1918. It is said that so many American men being sent to war in Europe died from influenza that the virus actually posed as great or greater threat of death than the war. My personal experiences with colds make it difficult to fathom this situation, but it also emphasizes the point that viruses kill and that even apparently simple and common viruses are of greater concern than we realize. Further research needed If further research were pursued, where should we place most of our research emphasis? Certainly, much research should be devoted to finding ways and means to cope with the effects of the viruses most likely to be used in biological warfare. Providing medical assistance after a biological attach may be useless since viruses can exert their lethal effect so quickly that many would die long before any effective treatment could be delivered. Perhaps a research focus on preventing the spread of such weapons would be of greater value although certainly treatment should not be ignored. What treatment would there be, or could there be for newly developed biological weapons? While we cannot develop treatment for deadly viruses not yet developed, perhaps we can pursue research that would head off the development of such viruses. I feel that this is impossible because you cannot head off what you cannot even vaguely predict or foresee. Even as I consider this issue, it seems the possibilities of pursuing research that would provide medical cures for biological germs not yet developed is rather preposterous. In my view, research is not the answer to any of the problems except possibly treating the victims of the potential biological weapons we already have and the germs we already know exist, but what about protecting people from newly developed germs? Ultimately, the real solution appears to be finding a way to stop the development and use of such weapons. Certainly, that might be much easier said than done, but it might mean that the most effective â€Å"medical† research is â€Å"sociological† in nature. I don’t like to view anything as being hopeless, but in this case, it seems to me that the greatest hope lays not so much in any type of research, but in finding ways for human beings to get along better. If further research were pursued, where should we place most of our research emphasis? Certainly, much research should be devoted to finding ways and means to cope with the effects of the viruses most likely to be used in biological warfare. Providing medical assistance after a biological attack may be useless since viruses become resistant to any attack. In a sense, they are perfect fighting machines. This topic is of sociological concern because it indicates how important it is to find ways to address and deal with the social situations and problems we encounter as individuals and as countries. For example, not mentioned in the book is that naive individuals might use viruses to vent grudges against other individuals. Personally, I am just as happy that this idea is not presented in the book because I would not want to give anyone foolish and dangerous ideas that would go far beyond affecting the intended victim, and perhaps that is a central message the book tries to convey as well. Germ warfare is not a strategy that assures national security but a dangerous idea that serves no valid purpose and assures danger, mayhem and widespread death. Book’s Relationship to Sociology its Value in Class Lectures. This topic has value in the class, but in my view, its value lies only in bringing the issue to our attention and allowing us to address the research and development of such weapons in America and perhaps Russia, China and the European countries. There is little we can do about terrorists or rogue countries and certainly, showing too much concern for the creation of such weapons only increases the likelihood that terrorists might be foolish enough to use them. So, the question as to the value of this topic in class is questionable. Certainly, we need to be aware of the dangers of germs and take measures to protect against them and to prevent their spread, but that is mainly a health issue and it remains a health issue whether or not viewed from the perspective of sociology or medicine. Personally, I don’t like calling undue attention to things we cannot control because it alarms people in a manner that leads to a feeling of helplessness. Summary and conclusion In conclusion, this book vividly presents the dangers and concerns that surround germ warfare. While the book focuses on the biological weapons program in the US it points out that many countries are playing with this deadly idea and that developing countries view it as a poor man’s nuclear bomb. Even so, from the author’s perspective at least, biological weapons are much worse than nuclear weapons. In my view, perhaps that is not true. While the methods (nuclear vs. biological) are different, in the final analysis, both cause great illness and (different types of) global pollution that will affect the world for decades, centuries, possibly millennia. In my personal view, I believe that surviving a biological war is more likely than surviving a nuclear war, but I find the idea of choosing between one or the other ludicrous. I feel that more people might die quickly and painfully with biological weapons than with nuclear weapons, but ultimately, I feel that the global pollution with nuclear weapons would be worse. It is a question of seeing a glass as half empty or half full. The idea that there is a difference or distinction is more or less an illusion. In the end, the only viable alternative is to completely avoid both. Choosing between the value judgment as to which is worse is a decision I would rather never take and it is also one that I wish no one else in the world had the opportunity to make. Yes, perhaps that is a naive view, but in the end, isn’t that what you would probably prefer as well. Reference Miller, Judith, Stephen Engelberg and William Broad. (2002). Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War. Simon and Schuster, New York, NY.

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