New York Times
Jan. 13, 1946, p. E9
(also see NYT Jan. 12, 1946, p. 14)
SCIENCE IN REVIEW Bacterial Warfare Poses a Problem as Hard
To Solve as That of the Atomic Bomb
By WALDEMAR KAEMPFFERT
If the atomic bomb made the whole world shudder at what may happen in another war, what of the recent Army and Navy announcements that bacteria must now be added to a list of deadly weapons already much too long? For the atomic bomb it must be said that in an instant it snuffs out thousands of lives and sweeps away buildings over a wide area. But disease germs? They pass from person to person; they give rise to epidemics which necessitate quarantines and which may well last for years. The horror of this new development is clearly something that cannot be ignored by the United Nations Organization when it begins the work of shaping our social future.
Disease has always killed more soldiers than bullets have. If there is a third World War, we must face not only atomic bombs but bacteria which will breed epidemics of long duration. The danger was pointed out by Maj. Gen. G. B. Chisholm, director general of the medical services of the Canadian Army, in an address which he delivered last October in Washington. "What of an invasion of a country by a few thousand immunized tourists loaded with anthrax or the toxin of botulinus or typhoid or influenza or perhaps some new bacterium or filterable virus especially developed for the purpose, or the spreading of such materials without warning?" he asked. "Any country could be paralyzed and destroyed at leisure by a well-organized attack of this typeand without any development of heavy industries.
Many Study Subject
Some 4,000 scientists, it appears, explored the possibilities of bacterial warfaremore than were engaged even in developing the atomic bomb. In laboratories maintained in Maryland, Mississippi, Utah and Indiana, research was secretly carried on. There, we are told, methods were devised to use "bacteria, fungi, viruses, rickettsiae and toxic agents from living organisms to produce death or disease in men, animals or plants." This is hardly specific enough to arouse the fear and resentment of peace-loving peoples the world over.
There are apologies for the work done by the 4,000 scientists. "Under the goad of necessity and aimed primarily at securing for this nation and its troops in the field adequate protection against the possible use by our enemies of biological warfare agents," we are assured, "adequate defenses were devised and the possibility of surprise from this quarter was forestalled." It is also stated that much benefit will be derived from the discoveries made.
The more important benefits are these:
Diseases can be produced and controlled in plants with a new facility.
New photographic methods of studying air-transmitted microbes have been devised and also methods of protecting laboratory technicians.
Advances have been made in treating unnamed infections and in developing protective clothing.
Important knowledge about immunity against some infectious disease has been acquired.
An effective toxoid can be produced on a large scale but for what specific purpose is not disclosed.
For the first time in scientific history a crystalline bacterial toxin has been isolated and produced, so that a purer immunizing toxoid may be expected.
New ways of controlling airborne diseases have been discovered.
Micro-organisms and their products can be obtained in large quantities.
Germans and Japanese
According to the report made to the Secretary of War by George W. Merck, special consultant for biological warfare, "there is incontrovertible evidence that in 1915 German agents inoculated horses and cattle leaving the United States ports for shipment to the Allies with disease-producing bacteria." The Japanese were accused in this war of having dropped plague germs on one Chinese town, but the evidence was not very convincing, since plague is endemic in China.
Bacterial warfare was considered by the Conference of Limitation of Armaments held in Washington in 1922. A commission appointed by the League of Nations reported that the possibility of waging bacterial warfare cannot be dismissed, though there are difficulties. Much was made by the commission of the fact that deliberately induced infections can do as much harm to the attacker as to the attacked. The opinion was also expressed that the danger from typhoid was not great, considering the effectiveness of modern water-purification and other sanitary methods.
The official announcements state that the scientists who worked in various laboratories discovered sixty cases of verified infection caused by accidental exposure to germs, with no fatalities. Also 159 accidental exposures were so promptly treated that infection did not develop, except in one case which had not been reported. Even that case ended with recovery.
The report says "the development of biological warfare could very well proceed in many countries, perhaps under the guise of legitimate medical or bacteriological research." So the UNO is presented with a problem which may be even harder to solve than that of the bomb.