What is a Biological Weapon?
A biological weapon is an infectious agent, such as a virus, bacteria, or toxin, that is deliberately used to cause bodily harm to humans, animals, or nature itself. They can be used to cause mass casualties, social disruption, economic loss, and environmental problems. Once released, they are extremely difficult to manage because they are infectious agents that spread uncontrollably and not just under controlled conditions.
Biochemical warfare can range from a simple hoax to the actual use of biological weapons, also known as agents. Several countries are attempting to acquire biological warfare agents, and there are concerns that terrorist groups or individuals may obtain the technologies.
History of Biological Warfare
Over the last century, more than 500 million people died as a result of infectious diseases. Several tens of thousands of these deaths were caused by the deliberate release of pathogens or toxins, mostly by the Japanese during their Second World War attacks on China. The use of biological weapons is not a new concept, and there are numerous examples throughout history.
Name the Most Deadly Biological Weapon
- A. Anthrax
- B. Smallpox
- C. Plague
- D. All the Above
- Mongol Empire – Black Death
Through the most mobile army ever seen, the Mongol Empire established commercial and political links between the Eastern and Western parts of the world. The armies, made up of the fastest travelers who had ever moved between the East Asian steppes, managed to keep the chain of infection intact until they reached, and infected, peoples and rodents who had never been infected before.
The ensuing Black Death may have killed up to 25 million people in total, including China and roughly a third of Europe’s population, and changed the course of Asian and European history over the next decades.
- Battle of Eurymedon – Snake Venom
Attempts to use biological warfare agents can be traced all the way back to antiquity. As early as 400 BC, Scythian archers infected their arrows by dipping them in decomposing bodies or blood mixed with manure. From 300 BC, Persian, Greek, and Roman literature cite examples of dead animals being used to contaminate wells and other sources of water. Hannibal won a naval victory over King Eumenes II of Pergamon in the Battle of Eurymedon in 190 BC by firing earthen vessels full of venomous snakes into the enemy ships.
- French Attack – Smallpox
During the Siege of Fort Pitt in June 1763, the British Army attempted to use smallpox against Native Americans. Captain Simeon Ecuyer gave representatives of the besieging Delaware two blankets and a handkerchief enclosed in small metal boxes that had been exposed to smallpox during a parley amid the siege on June 24, 1763, in an attempt to spread the disease to the Natives to end the siege.
- World War I – Anthrax
The German Army developed anthrax, glanders, cholera, and a wheat fungus specifically for use as biological weapons during World War I. They allegedly spread plague in St. Petersburg, Russia, infected mules with glanders in Mesopotamia, and attempted to infect French Cavalry horses with glanders.
- World War II – plague, anthrax, syphilis, and other agents
During WWII, Japanese forces in Manchuria ran a clandestine biological warfare research facility (Unit 731) that conducted human experiments on prisoners. In an attempt to develop and observe the disease, they exposed over 3,000 victims to plague, anthrax, syphilis, and other agents. Some victims were executed, while others died as a result of their infections. Autopsies were also carried out to gain a better understanding of the effects on the human body.
- Vietnam War
During the Vietnam War, Viet Cong guerrillas used sharp needle punji sticks dipped in feces to infect enemy soldiers after they had been stabbed.
- Accidental Release of Anthrax
At least 66 people were killed in 1979 when anthrax was accidentally released from a weapons facility in Sverdlovsk, USSR. The Russian government maintained that the deaths were caused by contaminated meat until 1992 when Russian President Boris Yeltsin finally admitted to the accident.