Koreas Hailstorms Of Hexapods

The case presented by the North Koreans and Chinese in 1952 provides either irrefutable evidence that the United States engaged in the most comprehensive and systematic program of entomological warfare in modern times or compelling evidence that the communists had the most coordinated and insidious program of propaganda in memory. Or something intriguingly in-between. All that we know with absolute certainty is that the Korean War produced the most sensational accusations of the use of insects as weapons of war in the last half of the 20th century.

The nations of the world were bloodied and exhausted at the end of the Second World War, and neither the capitalists nor the communists were particularly anxious to start another shooting war. Although tensions ran high, an uneasy stalemate developed as the spoils of the beaten Axis powers were divided among the victors. In Germany, this meant splitting a nation into east and west portions. In Korea, the 38th Parallel separated the north and the south.

The United Nations appointed a commission to oversee the affairs of Korea, a political tinderbox.1 The UN commission was dominated by the United States and therefore lacked credibility in the eyes of the communists. American influence in the region was augmented by an increasingly cozy relationship with Japan, which became the west's "unsinkable aircraft carrier."

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union was under Stalin's iron-fisted authority and Mao Zedong was leading the Communist Party to control of China. The nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek was exiled to Taiwan, leaving the United States with a single beachhead on the Asian continent—Korea. Back home, Joseph McCarthy's communist witch hunts were unfolding, adding fuel to a political fire that had all the signs of becoming a military conflagration. And when the flashpoint came, the U.S. military had to be ready—with all the weaponry that might be needed to fight an ugly war against a godless enemy.

The possibility that the United States waged entomological warfare might have been summarily dismissed by military historians and political analysts if the Americans had not been so obviously pursuing the weaponization of insects. And whether or not a rain of insects fell from American planes, there is little doubt that western nations were laying the groundwork for entomological warfare in the years leading up to the Korean War.

The 406 Medical General Laboratory of the U.S. Army's Far East Medical Section became the linchpin for research and development of insect vectors.2 Spawned in a warehouse near the Agsugi Air Base in Yokohama in 1946, Unit 406 was originally tasked with providing health services to U.S. soldiers and fostering public health among civilians. But this seemingly benign, even laudable, purpose underwent "mission creep." The Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde transmogrification might have been predictable, given that the unit was the brainchild of Brigadier General James S. Simmons—the man who promoted biological warfare within the Army Medical Corps during World War II. But Simmons was by now too high ranking to actually head the venture.

Lieutenant Colonel W. D. Tigertt was an ideal first commander of Unit 406. He'd conducted extensive research on insect vectors of Japanese B encephalitis, the disease that planted an evil seed in the fertile mind of the young Ishii Shiro in 1924. Under Tigertt's direction, the laboratory grew into a full-scale R&D program with 309 personnel distributed among the departments of bacteriology, entomology, epidemiology, and virology.

The Americans sought expertise from all quarters, including associations with former Unit 731 personnel. Although the scope of their involvement is not fully known, Japanese scientists assisted the U.S. military during an outbreak of an arthropod-borne disease in Korea. Treating uniforms with insect repellent quashed the disease, but beneficiaries were far from thankful. Rather, they expressed their suspicions of Japanese-American collaboration by insinuating that the disease was new to their country.

When Colonel Richard P. Mason took over the helm of Unit 406 in 1951, entomological warfare became a major focus. To provide essential support for the scientific staff, enlisted personnel were given a course in medical entomology beyond that of most major universities. Research initially concentrated on mosquito-borne diseases, but the military scientists eagerly expanded their work to include ticks, mites, lice, fleas, and flies, with particular attention to the breeding and biting behaviors of black flies and midges found in Japan and Korea. The entomology department explained that these insects were of particular interest "because of the many reports of their biting humans and their great potentiality as vectors of disease."3 Soon, the research agenda outgrew the original facility, and Unit 406 set up a branch laboratory in Kyoto. With the entomological laboratories running at full throttle, the Americans had little choice but to employ Japanese nationals. This logistical necessity became a grievous political mistake.

Among these workers were a number of communist infiltrators, who were delighted to expose the nefarious work of the American military. In 1952, the Japan Peace Council, a leftist organization, distributed a pamphlet entitled "American Bacteriological Base Is Located in the Center of Tokyo." The awkwardly worded leaflet claimed that closely wrapped packages of insects laden with germs of infectious diseases such as plague, cholera, scarlet fever, dysentery and meningitis, are being regularly transported there [Unit 406] along with instructions for experiment from Deterric [sic] Research Center of the United States. Then Detachment [Unit] 406 immediately begins work of mass cultivation.4

The extent to which Unit 406 moved from defensive to offensive research is not clear, but this venture was only the beginning of the American entomological warfare efforts in the years leading up to the Korean War. Tigertt had led the Army Medical Unit at Camp Detrick, and he linked the flourishing biological warfare program in the United States with the nascent entomological warfare initiative in Japan. Under Mason, the flow of knowledge began to run in the other direction, with Unit 406 apparently catalyzing a keen interest in weaponizing insects back home. And the big guns of biological warfare on the home front were not to be outdone.

Theodor Rosebury, the director of the Research and Development Department at Camp Detrick in the late 1940s, published a lengthy report on various delivery systems for pathogens. He rated insect vectors as highly effective carriers and noted that "technical developments discussed as possibilities in this paper have already become realities"5—perhaps an allusion to the early work of Unit 406. But the scientists at Camp Detrick did not depend solely on the research from this upstart, outpost laboratory. Preparing for entomological warfare with the communists would require putting the nation's best minds and finest facilities into the effort.

A clear, overall picture of the program is difficult to reconstruct, but glimpses into the workings of Camp Detrick reveal a pattern of research in which entomology was being taken very seriously.6 Such evidence includes a

"Research and Development Project Listing" of the Chemical Corps dated October 30, 1951, which revealed that $160,000 had been devoted to studies of "arthropod dissemination," and Project No. 411-02-041, which allocated $380,000 to Johns Hopkins University for investigating mosquito vectors of encephalomyelitis viruses. Even Projects that appeared to be defensive in nature turned out, in at least some cases, to have a darker side. For example, by its title, Project No. 465-20-001, "Mechanism of Entry and Action of Insecticidal Compounds and Insect Repellents," would seem to have been concerned with pest management. However, the research synopsis revealed another agenda:

Information on the mechanism of action of insecticides is applicable directly to problems involved in both the offensive application of and protection against insect dissemination of biological agents. Under project 465-20-001, insect strains resistant to insecticides are being developed. These represent a potentially more effective vehicle for the offensive use in BW of insect borne pathogens.7

Nor was the United States the only western nation interested in conscripting insects to defeat the communist menace; the Canadians were every bit as aggressive in their pursuit of the perfect entomological weapon. Dr. G. B. Reed was in charge of the Defense Research Laboratory at Queen's University in Ontario, and by the late 1940s he had devised a remarkably simple means of using insects as weapons.8 Earlier work in collaboration with U.S. scientists had provided methods for mass-producing vectors, but Reed understood that rearing enough insects to wage a war would be an enormous challenge. Although the Canadians had devised a 500-pound bomb capable of delivering 200,000 infected flies to a target, nobody had figured out how to stockpile millions of live insects.

Reed's breakthrough originated in his laboratory's "media unit," a group of researchers dedicated to producing insect foods that could be laced with various pathogens to infect a range of vectors, including house flies, fruit flies, various biting flies, mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, and fleas. The most efficient substrate for producing infected flies was found to be canned salmon, which served as both a nutrient-rich environment for the pathogens and a savory diet for the insects. The Canadians took the first step toward Reed's ultimate innovation in arming experimental bombs with live flies and contaminated salmon. When the device ruptured, this dual payload allowed the containerized flies, along with any of their wild brethren who might be buzzing about, to avail themselves of the smelly bait.

Reed realized, as had Ishii, that scientists can be too clever in trying to engineer what nature already provides. The Canadian scientist found that most habitats supported plenty of naturally occurring flies, so the laboratory-reared insects could be eliminated, along with the problems of production and stockpiling. Soon he was developing payloads of house-fly baits laced with pathogens and enhanced with chemical attractants—perhaps synthetic goat dung had not been so absurd after all!

With entomological weapons rapidly becoming viable, western governments had to develop policies and guidelines for the conditions under which such unconventional warfare would be waged. If the Cold War became hot, the difference between having a weapon and using a weapon would be vitally important to the United States and the rest of the world.

At the start of 1950, the United States' position on biological warfare was deeply conflicted. If the Berlin Blockade had led to all-out war a year earlier, the Americans intended to use unconventional weapons. And the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff still maintained biological warfare in their emergency war plans. Perhaps limiting the military's option was the National Security Council Directive that stated that "chemical, biological and radiological weapons will not be used by the United States except in retaliation."9 Yet others maintained that biological warfare would adhere to the established practice concerning the use of nuclear arms: presidential discretion. Whether the U.S. policy was one of militarily constrained retaliation or presidentially ordered first use, the Americans were certainly getting ready.

On the last day of June 1950, the report of the Stevenson Committee was delivered to the power brokers in Washington, D.C. Earl P. Stevenson, the well-connected president of a major engineering firm, had chaired a group of scientists, industrialists, and bureaucrats who had been commissioned to assess American preparedness for biological warfare.10 The committee's recommendations were unambiguous, if not entirely unbiased. (Stevenson's firm had received lucrative military contracts for developing bacteriological delivery systems.) The experts excoriated the government for having allowed such an important element of the military arsenal to dwindle to near impotency after the Second World War.

In response to the report, the U.S. Department of Defense increased funding for biological weapons development from $5.3 million to $345 million over the next three years.11 The phoenix of biological warfare began its rise from the ashes on June 30, 1950—and the timing could not have been more suspicious for those who would accuse the United States of using entomological weapons. Just five days earlier, the Korean peninsula had become the stage on which communist and western nations would play out their ideological conflicts in terms of blood.

The Korean War began on June 25,1950, when 38,000 North Koreans, with the support of 50 Soviet tanks, crossed over the 38th Parallel and advanced on Seoul, the capital of South Korea.12 The next day, the UN Security Council branded North Korea as the aggressor and called on member nations to unite in repulsing the invaders. President Harry S. Truman, already stinging from the communist successes in Eastern Europe, vowed that he would not lose Korea and ordered American forces to join with the South Koreans under the UN banner.

For months the war seesawed, until the two sides settled into a brutal stalemate. The Americans achieved air superiority while the North Koreans constructed impregnable fortifications. As the deadlock wore on, the western forces initiated "Operation Strangle" to sever the communists' supply lines and break the enemy's will to fight. The war was becoming very ugly.

By the end of 1950, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff expressed their support of the president's stand to consider nuclear warfare, if this tactic was deemed necessary to avoid defeat in Korea. With the atomic bomb on the table, the door was presumably open for other unconventional arms, such as biological weapons. That fall, Camp Detrick had deemed five living agents feasible for military use, including three pathogens deliverable by insect vectors. But it is abundantly clear that the Americans were not the only ones thinking about biological warfare.

With the spring thaw of 1951, both the North and South Koreans found themselves battling microbes as well as each other. Smallpox and typhus irrupted throughout the region, and the Chinese media alluded to the possible role of the Americans in these outbreaks. Newspaper and radio reports reminded people of the biological warfare program that Ishii had masterminded and of the dastardly association between the Japanese war criminals and the American military. In March, Peking radio charged UN forces with manufacturing biological weapons, thereby either expressing a genuine concern for their soldiers and allies or building the foundation for a propaganda campaign—or both.13

The North Koreans also began testing the war-crime waters. On May 8, the minister of foreign affairs, Pak Hen Yen, sent an official cable to the president of the UN Security Council alleging that U.S. forces operating in concert with the United Nations had spread smallpox virus in and around Pyongyang.14 The UN commander adamantly denied the charge, and the Security Council accepted that naturally occurring diseases worsen during the course of a war without there being anything evil afoot. With the international community dismissing the charges, the U.S. military took their game to the next level.

In September, a top secret memo sent by the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff hinted that the frustration of being stymied by the North Koreans was eroding the military's traditional reticence to use unconventional weapons:

National security demands that the United States acquire a strong offensive BW [biological warfare] capability without delay. A sound military program requires the development of all effective means of waging war without regard for precedent as to their use. . . . The adoption of a positive military policy to the effect that the United States will be prepared to employ BW whenever it is militarily advantageous would serve to stimulate Service interest in the BW field and accelerate its development.15

American strategists figured that disease could create panic among the Chinese and North Korean populace supporting the front-line troops. Moreover, insect vectors had the ability to find their way into tunnels, caves, and fortifications that had proved resistant to conventional bombing. The position of the Joint Chiefs swayed the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Robert Lovett, who ordered the military to devote the resources necessary to ensure readiness for waging biological warfare at the "earliest practicable time."16

Who could order the use of these weapons and under what conditions remained equivocal. This ambiguity may have been designed to allow American leaders to plausibly deny responsibility for biological warfare. And if the pathogenic cat got out of the diplomatic bag, then the U.S. government could always fall back on not having ratified the 1925 Geneva Protocol. Although the rationale behind the United States' nonpolicy on biological warfare is murky, the American government would need diplomatic bulwarks. For the upcoming political battle over entomological warfare proved to be unprecedented in its ferocity and tenacity.

On February 22, 1952, the curtain rose on what was to become an international tragicomedy of epic proportions. Bak Hun Yung, North Korea's foreign minister, issued an official statement to the UN Secretariat alleging that the United States had engaged in entomological warfare. The North Koreans charged that the American imperialist invaders, since January 23 this year [1952], have been systematically scattering large quantities of bacteria-carrying insects by aircraft in order to disseminate infectious diseases over our front line positions and rear. Bacteriological tests show that these insects scattered by the aggressors on the positions of our troops and in our rear are infected with plague, cholera and the germs of other infectious diseases. This is irrefutable proof that the enemy is employing bacteria on a large scale and in a well-planned manner to slaughter the men of the [Korean] People's Army, the Chinese People's Volunteers, and peaceful Korean civilians.17

Two days later, the foreign minister of the People's Republic of China not only lent his country's support to the charges but also expanded the accusations. Zhou Enlai claimed that during a one-week period, the United States had sent 448 aircraft on at least 68 occasions into northeast China to airdrop contaminated insects.

The Chinese rapidly assembled the People's Commission for Investigating Germ Warfare Crimes of the American Imperialists to report on the extent and nature of the raids.18 If the Chinese and North Koreans had simply conducted their investigation and taken no further action, the charges could have been interpreted as mere propaganda. But whether it was part of an enormous charade or whether the communists were sincere in their fears, they not only "talked the talk" of having been attacked, they "walked the walk."

The Chinese and North Koreans initiated a massive defensive response to the reported biological attacks. A telegram from the Central Epidemic Prevention Committee in Beijing in March 1952 stated, "the enemy has furiously employed continuous bacterial warfare in Korea and in our Northeast and Qingdao areas, dropping flies, mosquitoes, spiders, ants, bed bugs, fleas . . . thirty-odd species of bacteria-carrying insects . . . in a wide area."19 The Central Military directed the Chinese army in Korea to undertake a sweeping epidemic-prevention campaign to protect troops and civilians.20 Within days, medics administered the first of what would eventually grow to 3 million doses of plague vaccine. Reports of a U.S. entomological Blitzkrieg motivated the citizenry to participate in a massive public health campaign. To deprive the insect and rodent vectors of harborage, the people began clearing away 3 million tons of trash and rubble. By April, some 20,000 medical workers had been organized into 120 "prevention brigades" capable of inoculating more than 100,000 people per day.

Although the crusade was complicated by false alarms from the panicked populace, by May the Chinese and North Koreans were able to claim victory. The authorities pointed out that there had been no major epidemics in North Korea or northeast China—the areas over which American planes had purportedly distributed millions of infected insects. From all appearances, the communists had won the war against disease and gained the upper hand in terms of propaganda. But the U.S. and UN leaders were mounting a political counteroffensive.

The first official response to the North Korean accusations came from the Americans on March 4,1952. Addressing the U.S. Congress, General Matthew Ridgeway, commander of the UN forces in Korea, flatly denied the allegations and offered a scathing rebuttal: "These charges are evidently designed to conceal the Communists' inability to cope with the spread of epidemics which occur annually throughout China and North Korea and to care properly for the many victims."21 In his estimation, the whole sordid affair simply revealed the dishonesty and ineptitude of the communist system. Soon, the secretary general of the UN and the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff were echoing Ridgeway's denial. With this political counterpunch, the entomological warfare charges turned into a diplomat slugfest, and the communists were ready to answer the bell at the next round.

In the spring of 1952, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, a leftist organization based in New York City, conducted an inquiry into the United States' actions in North Korea. Based on three weeks of interviewing witnesses and reading files, the investigators issued two reports from Beijing. The titles reveal the unequivocal findings: "Report on U.S. Crimes in Korea" and "Report on the Use of Bacterial Weapons in Chinese Territory by the Armed Forces of the United States."

In the midst of the investigation, a well-timed news story from the Peiping People's Daily included eyewitness accounts along with a series of grainy photographs showing objects that supposedly had been dropped by American planes. The captions did little to establish the veracity of the report, describing the entomological culprits in such simplistic terms as a "tiny black insect" and "poisonous insects" and the microbiological agents using pseudoscientific terms of "meningitis double globular bacteria" and "consecutive-globular bacteria." Having dropped their scientific guard, the Chinese were sure to take a hard shot from the American experts.

On April 3, the New York Times carried a front-page story mocking the laughably naive "evidence" that the communists were touting (see Figure 14.1). The chief curator of insects and spiders at the American Museum of Natural History and a bacteriologist at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research were asked to evaluate the photographs and captions. The entomologist identified the "tiny black insect" as a marsh springtail (Isotomurus palustris), an utterly benign, flightless insect occurring naturally throughout Europe and Asia and not known to carry any disease. Even more ridiculous were the iden-

Figure 14.1. The April 3, 1952, front-page article from the New York Times refuting the communist charges that the United States was waging biological warfare during the Korean War. The second row of images (left to right) are photographs of a mosquito with its wings having been removed, the formidable silhouette of a springtail, and the remains of a leaflet bomb that the Chinese reported as being loaded with "germ-carrying insects."

Figure 14.1. The April 3, 1952, front-page article from the New York Times refuting the communist charges that the United States was waging biological warfare during the Korean War. The second row of images (left to right) are photographs of a mosquito with its wings having been removed, the formidable silhouette of a springtail, and the remains of a leaflet bomb that the Chinese reported as being loaded with "germ-carrying insects."

tities of the "poisonous insects." The photographs revealed two different creatures: stoneflies (order Plecoptera), which are harmless, weak flying insects devoid of known diseases, and mosquitoes, which for some reason had their wings removed. As for the putative pathogens, an American expert asserted that the supposed meningitis bacteria were misidentified and the "consecutive-globular bacteria" were harmless microbes found commonly in the human throat. Having bloodied the nose of their accusers, the Americans sensed a shift of momentum and tried throwing a diplomatic haymaker.

The United States requested that the United Nations conduct a full inquiry into the North Korean and Chinese charges. The Americans proposed that either the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) serve as the investigators.22 Who could object to having a third party serve as the referee?

The communists objected strenuously, claiming that both of these bodies were squarely in the Americans' corner. But because neither the People's Republic of China nor North Korea was a member of the United Nations, it was up to the Soviets to climb into the ring. The Russians first took a swing at the ICRC, arguing that this organization had compromised its integrity by protecting fascist war criminals. (In fact, the Red Cross had known of Hitler's extermination camps and remained deplorably silent.) The Chinese jeered from outside the ring, calling the ICRC a "lackey of American imperialism."23 As for the WHO, not even the Americans could have believed that this agency was unbiased. After all, the Korean War pitted the North Koreans (with their communist neighbors) against the UN forces (dominated by the Americans). The WHO was a branch of the United Nations, so the Americans were essentially proposing that their personal physician should be the referee.

A ringside announcer might have speculated that the American strategy was to throw out two options in the name of apparent fairness, with one of the possibilities being so absurd that the other would seem to be the pinnacle of propriety by comparison. If so, the U.S. feint-and-jab worked; the United Nations tasked the ICRC with conducting the investigation. But with the referee named, the communists simply refused to fight. The ICRC was denied access to the areas of North Korea and China where the American transgressions were said to have occurred.

Meanwhile, the Soviets landed a solid blow, pointing out that the United States was the only member of the UN Security Council that had failed to ratify the Geneva Protocol prohibiting biological warfare (the Americans finally did so in 1975). The Soviets argued that this was tantamount to the Americans declaring their intent to use such weapons. However, America managed to bob and weave its way out of trouble. The U.S. delegate argued that the accord was an obsolete and impotent paper promise that failed to restrain the Japanese in World War II. The Soviets countered that the U.S. government had granted immunity to the Japanese war criminals of Unit 731, further demonstrating that the Americans could not be trusted. Stung by this shot, the Americans tried to cover up, contending that when the Geneva Protocol was submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification in the 1920s, the country did not want to risk its neutrality by aligning with the League of Nations. The Soviets scoffed at such a lame excuse, but these rhetorical tactics kept the Americans in the diplomatic fight while the ICRC investigation was ongoing.

After nearly two months of the cold shoulder, the ICRC told the United Nations that the investigation was fruitless and the effort was abandoned. The Americans figured that if their opponents wouldn't come out their corner, then it was time to declare a technical knockout. In July, the U.S. delegation drafted a resolution stating that "the Security Council would conclude, from the refusal of the governments and authorities making the charges to permit impartial investigation, that these charges must be presumed to be without substance and false and would condemn the practice of fabricating and disseminating false charges."24 Such decisions have to be unanimous in the UN Security Council, and the Soviets were only too pleased to veto the resolution. The diplomatic boxing match of 1952 had ended in a "no decision," with both sides bloodied but neither able to claim victory. But if politics couldn't resolve the issue, then perhaps science could. And when it came to science, the west had the upper hand—at least initially.

The United States asserted that ten Nobel Prize laureates evinced deep reservations concerning the charges. With the scientific heavyweights having backed the Americans, western nations began to fall into line. The Canadians and British expressed their disbelief, citing a lack of scientific evidence. If data were what the world community demanded, then the Chinese and North Koreans would produce records—nearly 700 pages of the stuff.

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