An Imaginary Menagerie

Despite the efforts of the communists to portray the International Scientific Commission as a team of objective scientists, the Americans weren't buying it for a minute.1 The commission had been formulated by the World Peace Council, an organization that the West saw as a communist front. Its members had made little effort to disguise their anti-Americanism and the chair of the commission, Joseph Needham, was an avowed Marxist (see Figure 16.1).

According to western analysts, the report was simply political tit-for-tat. The communists were getting even for the Americans' having shielded Ishii and his ilk from war-crimes prosecution. Such propaganda had even been worked into putatively scientific outlets, such as the Chinese Medical Journal. In an issue of the journal published at the same time as the commission's report, Chen Wen-Kuei reviewed the outbreaks of insect-borne diseases during the Second World War and concluded with a political accusation:

The fact that the U.S. Government has sheltered and employed Japanese and German "bacteriological warfare experts" should also be mentioned. With regard to this . . . Japanese bacteriological war criminals, such as Shiro Ishii, Jiro Wakamatsu, and Masajo Kitano, are today still at large, and what is more, they are fostered and utilised by the U.S. generals.2

Given what they suffered, the Chinese might be forgiven their efforts to paint the Americans as immoral, but the West had no tolerance for what was considered to be a deplorable lack of integrity on the part of the commission. When the press asked what sort of independent corroboration had been applied to the assertions in the report, the Swedish commissioner replied that "delegates implicitly believed the Chinese and North Korean accusations and evidence."3 And when Needham was asked what evidence he had that the

Figure 16.1. Joseph Needham meeting Zhou Enlai, who was the premier of the People's Republic of China and served as the foreign minister during the existence of the International Scientific Commission for Investigating the Facts Concerning Bacteriological Warfare in Korea and China. Needham, a British scientist and avowed Marxist, chaired the commission, much to the consternation of the United States. (Photo courtesy of The Needham Research Institute)

Figure 16.1. Joseph Needham meeting Zhou Enlai, who was the premier of the People's Republic of China and served as the foreign minister during the existence of the International Scientific Commission for Investigating the Facts Concerning Bacteriological Warfare in Korea and China. Needham, a British scientist and avowed Marxist, chaired the commission, much to the consternation of the United States. (Photo courtesy of The Needham Research Institute)

plague bacilli shown in microphotographs had actually come from the voles scampering around Kan-Nan, he blithely answered, "None. We accepted the word of the Chinese scientists."4 But what really set off the Americans was not the political bias of the World Peace Council, nor the gullibility of the International Scientific Commission. What really outraged the Americans was the purported testimony of the POWs.

The fiercest political battle concerning the charges of biological warfare was waged over the confessions of the downed airmen. To get a flavor of the acrimony, consider the stinging refutation given by the U.S. representative to the UN: "The so-called 'germ warfare' confessions were not simply a sudden bright idea on the part of the Communists, but were an integral part of a tremendous and calculated campaign of lies."5 With the diplomatic gloves off, the West started landing some solid blows.

The Americans stipulated that while the written statements included plenty of technical detail that could have come from the POWs, the confessions were rife with communist rhetoric that echoed favored lines from the Chinese press. Consider the wording used in the confession of First Lieutenant John Quinn:

How I was forced to take part in the inhume [sic] bacteriological warfare launched by the U.S. Wall Street . . . brought up as I was on the propaganda lies of the Wall Street imperialists. . . . It was a crime against all the peace-loving peoples of the world.6

With the other confessions repeatedly alluding to "capitalistic Wall Street war mongers" and the like, the statements appeared to be entirely—and badly—contrived. Moreover, the American airmen all recanted their confessions once they returned to the United States, claiming that the statements had been made under relentless psychological pressure and physical duress. But having mounted a vigorous assault on the veracity of the confessions, the U.S. government overreached, leaving themselves open to an effective counterpunch.

While the Americans argued that the POWs' confessions were coerced, the communists contended that the same could be said of the recantations. The U.S. attorney general sent the returning airmen a blunt warning: "United States prisoners of war who collaborated with their Communist captors in Korea may face charges of treason."7 And if there was any doubt as to what was expected of the POWs, the secretary of defense told the press, "My views may be extreme, but I believe those who collaborated and the signers of false confessions should be immediately separated from the services under conditions other than hon-orable."8 Having been duly warned, the returnees were handed pen and paper and given the opportunity to write retractions. Perhaps they would have done so by their own free will, but the hardball tactics of the U.S. military had some analysts wondering if the Americans hadn't protested a bit too loudly.

In 1998, Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman—a pair of Canadian historians with a penchant for unearthing troublesome documents—revealed that the technical substance of the confessions, if not the choice of political phrasing, might have been embarrassingly close to the mark.9 They came across records from the Office of Special Services of the Inspector General of the U.S. Air Force revealing that lectures on germ warfare had been delivered to the 3rd Bomb Wing at Kunsan air base in 1951—a place and time that coincided with the service of two of the downed officers. To make matters worse, the American records also included enough dots to allow the historians to connect them in some very damning, if somewhat speculative, ways.

The U.S. military's Operations Orders describing the logistics of air raids, along with schedules of attacks on Korean targets in 1952, reveal a curious sequence of events. Some of the Operations Orders called for dropping con ventional ordnance, followed by bombs with delayed-action fuses (to dissuade the enemy from attempting to repair the damage), capped off with two M-105 leaflet bombs (see Figure 16.2). According to military sources, these leaflets were intended to "warn non-combatants in the areas adjacent to military targets that those targets were subject to attacks by USAF, thus enabling civilian personnel to avail themselves of an opportunity to escape injury and fatalities."10

Giving folks a heads-up sounds compassionate, but one has to wonder about the efficacy of warning folks of an impending attack using leaflet bombs that were scheduled to fall after the conventional ordnance had been dropped. Of course, if the leaflet bombs contained something other than thoughtful brochures—say, a load of flies coated with anthrax—the timing made perfect sense. However, circumstantial evidence will get one only so far in making or rebutting an accusation. So American analysts turned their attention to the science at the heart of the commission's report.

The western critics threw a two-punch combination. One line of argument simply maintained that the U.S. military would never have relied on vectors. But the Americans overreached again. Dr. Dale W. Jenkins claimed that the United States had "never investigated the potential of using arthropods for BW [biological warfare]"11—a rather remarkable assertion, given that he was the chief of the Entomological Division of the Army Biological Laboratory at

Figure 16.2. A soldier loading an M-16-A1 bomb, capable of holding 22,500 eight-by-five-inch leaflets. During the Korean War, a B-29 would normally carry 32 of these bombs, each of which weighed 170 pounds, and drop them from an altitude of about 20,000 feet. At 1,000 feet above the ground, a fuse opened the device and spread the leaflets. By early December 1950, the Far Eastern Air Force had disseminated 147 million leaflets—or millions of insects—using these devices. (Courtesy of Ed Rouse)

Fort Detrick (formerly Camp Detrick). But Jenkins was supported by Robin Clarke, a science journalist, who maintained that certainly they [U.S. forces] would not have relied upon animal carriers or vectors to spread disease for even in the early 1950s it was realized that this was an unreliable method of dissemination and that the spraying of biological aerosols would be a more effective means of waging biological warfare.12

This seems to be a plausible argument, except that records from Fort Detrick indicate that aerosol dissemination methods were still under development in 1952.13 Although the U.S. military was headed in that direction, there is significant doubt that the Americans could have fielded this technology during the Korean War.

The defendants' second line of argument was more potent. Given the absurdity of the entomological weapons, the world would have to conclude either that the Americans were biological buffoons or that the communists were ludicrous liars. No competent entomologist would even consider using ptinid beetles, springtails, stoneflies, and spiders to carry diseases or grouse locusts and crickets to assail crops. The communists were engaged in rank, pseudoscientific propaganda or perhaps a kind of reverse psychology. That is, no real scientist would ever try something as inane as dusting tarantulas with anthrax spores and dropping them by aircraft during the winter, so the accusation had to be true.

As ridiculous as some of the entomological weapons were, the image of parachuting voles was difficult to trump. If the attackers were going to scatter flea-ridden rodents, why would anyone use meadow-loving voles rather than rats that would seek out human habitations? The argument is awfully persuasive, but there is evidence that the Americans had amassed considerable data on rodents other than rats. In early August 1952, the U.S. military field-tested brucellosis bombs at Dugway Proving Grounds by building a mock city and populating it with guinea pigs.14 The test was repeated three times, with 11,628 of the furry creatures giving their all. The value of the rodent research was not entirely appreciated by the military, as evidenced by an Army Chemical Corps general's wry assessment: "Now we know what to do if we ever go to war against guinea pigs."15 Such studies notwithstanding, airborne voles seemed rather unlikely. However, refuting the commission's reports of insects not previously known to occur in Asia required a different line of argument.

The Americans maintained that the communists' discovery of new species during the war was the result of two factors. The North Koreans and Chinese had a poor understanding of their countries' insect faunae, and a governmental decree during the war had initiated an unprecedented flurry of entomological collecting. Together, these circumstances resulted in finding various creatures that had been living in obscurity.16 This rebuttal took care of many suspicious species, but the U.S. government needed to account for the disease-laden native insects appearing in large numbers at unusual times.

The Americans contended that the incidents involving naturally occurring insects and diseases were just that—natural events. Canadian scientists corroborated their allies' alibi, providing ecological explanations for the various accounts in the commission's report. Wartime conditions were well known to foster a panoply of pests and pathogens—and the Korean War was no exception. If every case of pestilence during armed conflict was proof of biological warfare, then every army in history must have used these weapons. And as for the early appearances by the insects, if the communists didn't even know what species lived in their midst, it was unlikely that they had reliable records of insect life histories. Moreover, the claim that the winter and spring of 1952 were normal was belied by the Chinese press. The February 21 edition of the People's World newspaper reported epidemics among humans and animals as a consequence of unusually dry, warm weather.

But the entomologists were not the only scientists to take a swing at the commission's report; western epidemiologists also stepped into the ring. The WHO repudiated the charges of biological warfare using seemingly impeccable logic. The medical experts argued that had U.S. planes actually made nearly a thousand airdrops of infected vectors across North Korea and China, the result would have been widespread epidemics with millions of victims. Although the International Scientific Commission was rather circumspect as to the death toll, even the most liberal reading of their report suggests that mortality from disease was probably within the expected norms for wartime conditions.

Washington issued a series of flat denials that the purported devices for disseminating insects would have worked, even if they had been used—which, of course, they hadn't been. Pentagon officials insisted that the bomb casings the communists recovered as evidence of biological warfare were merely those of 500-pound leaflet bombs. And these devices had holes to equalize the pressure, which would have meant sure death for any living organism within. But this neat argument was undermined by Major General E. T. Bullene, who later told a House Appropriations Sub-Committee in unrelated testimony that actually, retaliatory bacteriological warfare does not involve some complicated super weapon. The means of delivering germs to enemy territory are simple and involve equipment of the type with which the services are already well stocked . . . such as the containers used currently for dropping propaganda leaflets.17

There were, however, some inexplicable devices described in the commission's report. For example, the North Koreans claimed to have found the remains of a bombshell that was less than 0.04 inches thick; any such casing would have immediately fractured and disintegrated upon release from an aircraft. Although the Americans eagerly attacked every questionable detail in the report, the most compelling rebuttal pertained to military tactics and the essential nature of biological warfare.

The major problem with the report of the International Scientific Commission was not that the evidence was too weak but that it was incomprehensibly strong. The case was lavish beyond belief, with the accusers wallowing in insects, bomb fragments, microbial slides, autopsy reports, eyewitness testimonies, and POW confessions. One of the prime virtues of biological warfare is its covert potential. The Americans claimed that had they waged biological warfare, they would not have engaged in entomological carpet bombing. For years leading up to the Korean War, the U.S. military had treated biological weapons with the utmost security. Was it really plausible that a country developing a weapon under conditions of the highest secrecy would then launch hundreds of daylight attacks in full view of the enemy? The Americans might tolerate being called criminals, but they couldn't abide being called stupid.

With the nations in the left corner and those in the right corner of the political boxing ring having flailed away at one another for months, the political title fight came down to a decision. The international community could believe either that the Americans had launched the most conspicuous and ill-conceived series of insect-vectored biological attacks in the history of the world or that the communists had mounted the most foolishly composed and resource-draining propagandistic conspiracy plot in living memory. The majority of nations favored the latter judgment, unable to swallow the findings of a commission that possessed scientific credibility but lacked political objectivity. However, it is probably fair to say that some, perhaps many, governments harbored a nagging suspicion that where there is smoke there is fire18—maybe not a conflagration of overt biological warfare but perhaps the flame of covert field testing.

Back at the UN, the Americans tried to take one final, parting shot.19 At the 1953 session, the United States submitted a resolution calling for a neutral— as if such existed—commission to render a decision concerning the Soviets' charges. In what western diplomats took as a tacit admission that the case against the U.S. military was a sham, the Russians offered a deal. They would withdraw their allegations if the United States would withdraw its resolution. Three months after the two nations struck the deal, an armistice was signed at Panmunjom. Open hostilities on the Korean peninsula might have ended on July 27, 1953, but the entomological embers continued to smolder.

In the heat of political battle, combatants can become entrenched and unwilling to give ground. Neither side can afford to show weakness in the midst of bombastic tirades and inflammatory accusations. But in the years that follow the conflict, when hindsight provides perspective, the erstwhile enemies often have moderated their positions—and sometimes they have dug in deeper.

Many of the accusers continue to stick to their guns. Joseph Needham, the chairman and lightning rod for the International Scientific Commission, was even more convinced of American duplicity three decades after the investigation. He wrote that based on "everything that has been published in the last few years. . . . I am 100 percent sure."20 The three surviving members of the commission remain confident of their charges but less certain of the scope of the attacks. In a 1994 interview, one of the representatives maintained that "I am still convinced that the U.S. conducted biological warfare, but not on a massive scale."21

The certainty of Americans as to their country's innocence also has diminished with the passage of time. A decade after the Korean War, Dale Jenkins, chief of the Entomological Division at Fort Detrick, acknowledged that the U.S. military had the capacity to use insect vectors.22 He further admitted that entomological weapons would likely have been a part of a biological offensive, but did not go so far as to state that his country had engaged in such attacks. And in 1979, Professor George Wald, a Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine, said that "as for the allegation that the U.S. used germ warfare in the Korean War, I can only say with dismay and some shame that what I dismissed as incredible then seems altogether credible to me now."23

Others remain steadfastly undecided. The prestigious Stockholm International Peace Research Institute waffled in the early 1970s, deeming some of the charges to be plausible, ascribing others to natural phenomena, and considering the rest as fabrications.24 Western scientists seem to harbor similar ambivalence, typically concluding along the lines expressed by Sean Murphy, Alastair Hay, and Steve Rose, a trio of British biologists who concluded that although the Americans suffered some political damage over the tribunal's conclusions the case still remains one which is essentially unproven. It must be said, however, that there was a good deal of circumstantial evidence to support the tribunal's findings.25

Not surprisingly, U.S. military historians tend to stand by their nation's denial. Moreover, contemporary analyses also offer sound reasons for why the communists might have implemented a systematic program of deceit.26 One theory proposes that accusing the Americans of biological warfare was a savvy tactic to motivate and mobilize the Chinese and North Korean people during a genuine public health crisis brought on by the war. Another theory suggests that the communists, knowing that the U.S. military had biological weapons, made the accusations to attract the world's attention to an impending crime—something like screaming "Help!" before the mugger takes the gun out of his pocket.

These efforts to explain away the communists' charges have not convinced two of the nation's military experts with the greatest knowledge and experience of biological warfare. When asked whether the United States waged some sort of entomological warfare in Korea, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kadlec—a medical doctor who was a member of the Homeland Security Council and serves as the staff director for the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Bioterrorism and Public Health—was cautious but forthright: "I would say more likely than not, particularly in the context of that conflict and where we were in the evolution our offensive capabilities."27 His sentiments are echoed by Colonel Charles Bailey—who has a Ph.D. in medical entomology and is now director of research at the National Center for Biodefense at George Mason University. Concerning the claims of entomological attacks, Bailey asserts that it's not outside the realm of possibility that something was done. During that time there was a very active offensive program ongoing at Fort Detrick [Bailey was commander of Fort Detrick in the early 1990s]. . . . The Americans had a big vector program, so they obviously must have tested it somehow or another. What would have stopped them? They tested all the others, including simulants offshore. I doubt that they would have used a live pathogen because they never did so to my knowledge in the other tests. I can certainly envision them dropping vectors to test their distribution and survival. But actually infecting them? I doubt that.28

To many, the Americans were vindicated in January 1998, when a Moscow-based Japanese newspaper reporter acquired documents from the Russian Presidential Archives that strongly suggested that the North Koreans, Chinese, and Russians conspired to falsely accuse their common enemy of waging biological warfare.29 Although the plot is not entirely clear, glimpses into the workings of the respective governments provide a series of damning snapshots. Among the communiqués was a memo from the Soviet chief of the secret police, Lavrenti P. Beria, to Soviet Premier Georgi Malenkov and the Presidium of the Central Committee stating that two false regions of infection were simulated for the purpose of accusing the Americans of using bacteriological weapons in Korea and China. Two Koreans who had been sentenced to death and were being held in a hut were infected. One of them was later poisoned.30

Another memo sent from the Soviet leadership to the Chinese was remarkably—perhaps suspiciously—explicit in exonerating the Americans:

For Mao Zedong

The Soviet Government and the Central Committee of the CPSU were misled. The spread in the press of information about the use by the Americans of bacteriological weapons in Korea was based on false information. The accusations against the Americans were fictitious.31

One might think that the coconspirators would be repentant, but being caught red-handed is a matter of perspective. Nothing about the Korean War was simple, including the interpretation of these documents. Skeptics point out that all but one of the documents date from 1953, a full year after charges were brought against the Americans. Thus, it could be that the communiqués refer to events after the first round of (actual) attacks. While the Soviets and North Koreans evidently collaborated to fake a crime scene, this only shows that there was a single act of deceit, not that every incident was a sham. And so the two sides continue the 50-year political slugfest.

The old wounds linger, in large part because the Cold War relied on creating psychological distance between "us" and "them." During the Korean War, the communists vilified the West and the Americans dehumanized the "Reds." The U.S. soldiers referred to the enemy as "gooks," while General Ridgeway's famous message entitled "Why We Are Here" established the moral certitude of the American position:

To me the issues are clear. It is not a question of this or that Korean town or village. Real estate is, here, incidental. It is not restricted to the issue of freedom for our South Korean Allies, whose fidelity and valor under the severest stresses of battle we recognize; though that freedom is a symbol of the wider issues, and included among them.

The real issues are whether the power of Western civilization, as God has permitted it to flower in our beloved lands, shall defy and defeat Communism; whether the rule of men who shoot their prisoners, enslave their citizens, and deride the dignity of man, shall displace the rule of those to whom the individual and his individual rights are sacred; whether we are to survive with God's hand to guide and lead us, or to perish in the dead existence of a Godless world.32

The Cold War was about the very survival of western culture, indeed of God. When the stakes are cosmic, the development and use of almost any weapon could be rationalized. And cold-blooded tactics called for coldblooded warriors.

0 0

Post a comment