Biological and Chemical Terror History
Chemical and biological warfare isn't new. Even in ancient
times, war wasn't all swords and longbows. Some examples:
- 1000 BC. Arsenic smoke used by the Chinese.
- 600 BC. During a siege of the city, Solon of Athens poisoned the drinking
water of Kirrha.
- 184 BC: In a sea battle, Hannibal of Carthage hurled clay pots full of
vipers onto the decks of enemy ships.
- Dating back to at least the 1100s, there are many examples of hurling the
bodies of plague or smallpox victims over city walls.
- 1400s: Leonardo da Vinci proposed an arsenic-based anti-ship weapon.
- 1495: The Spanish offered wine spiked with the blood of leprosy patients to
the French near Naples.
- 1650: Polish artillery general Siemenowics fired spheres filled with the
saliva of rabid dogs at his enemies.
Lessons learned: Even crude chemical and biological
weapons create fear and panic.
U.S. History Before World War I
Biological and chemical warfare is no stranger to American
soil. Examples include:
- In 1763, British officers came up with a plan to distribute
smallpox-infected blankets to Native Americans at Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania.
- During the Civil War, future Kentucky governor Luke Blackburn, MD, sold
Union troops clothing contaminated with smallpox and yellow fever.
- Near the end of the Civil War, Grant's army was stalled outside Richmond
during the siege of Petersburg, Virginia. There was a plan -- not acted upon --
to attack the Confederate trenches with a cloud of hydrochloric and sulfuric
Lessons learned: Not all bioterror comes from
World War I
Unrestricted use of chemical agents caused 1 million of the 26
million casualties suffered by all sides in WWI. It started with the French and
British use of tear gas, but soon escalated to more toxic poisons. Some deadly
- October 1914: German artillery fire 3,000 shells filled with dianisidine
chlorosulfate, a lung irritant, at British troops. The shells contained too
much TNT and apparently destroyed the chemical.
- In late 1914, German scientist Fritz Haber came up with the idea of
creating a cloud of poison gas by using thousands of cylinders filled with
chlorine. Deployed in April 1915 during the battle for Ypres, France, the
attack might have broken the Allied lines if German troops understood how to
follow up the gas attack.
- By 1915, Allied troops made their own chorine gas attacks. It led to a race
for more and more toxic chemicals. Germany came up with diphosgene gas; the
French tried cyanide gas.
- In July 1917, Germany introduced mustard gas, which burned the skin as well
as the lungs.
- Biological warfare was generally less successful. Most of these efforts
focused on infecting enemy livestock with anthrax or glanders.
Lessons learned: The horror of chemical weapons left the
world reeling. The Geneva Convention made an attempt to severely limit their
future use in warfare.