Although the historic and prospective use of insects as weapons is not the sort of topic that tends to lull one into a sense of well-being, I would like to put the reader's mind at ease with regard to a few important considerations.
This book is, in large part, about history and science. And I am of the studied opinion that neither venture is particularly objective. As such, I cannot claim neutrality without abject hypocrisy. So in the spirit of honest disclosure, the reader should know the following. Despite claims to the contrary by early readers and reviewers, I am neither antireligious nor un-American. In fact, I attend church (Unitarian Universalist) almost every Sunday, and I vote in every election (being a registered Independent with Democratic leanings, although I increasingly struggle to discern the difference between the parties). I am, however, a skeptic with a sense of humor, a quality that might seem irreverent when I doubt the veracity of a particular reader's favored institution.
It is my sense that human organizations—including universities, religious associations, corporate enterprises, government laboratories, federal agencies, and international bodies—have as their primary goal the acquisition and maintenance of power, not the search for and reporting of the truth. That said, I am not equally dubious of all sources. For example, I would believe an account provided by the U.S. government over one provided by the North Korean government, all other things being equal. But, of course, things are not often equal, and during times of hot and Cold Wars the honesty of both sides must be questioned. Historical and political accounts most often provide a complex set of partial truths from which one must attempt to assemble a best guess of what actually transpired.
In this light, my interpretation of historical events in which insects have been used as weapons—with or without the knowledge of the combatants—may not accord with the cultural, religious, or political sensitivities of all readers. It is not my intention to be insulting, but neither is it my goal to be politically correct. Rather than stepping on nobody's toes, I suppose that I've probably managed to offend almost every reader in some way. After all, in thousands of years of human history across the face of the earth, it seems all but certain that some group with which we feel an affinity was up to something nefarious.
And so I am a patriotic (but not a jingoistic) and faithful (but not dogmatic) skeptic of human institutions that are, by and large, our primary sources of information about the world (individuals can be more reliable but they often represent institutional, or at least social and cultural, views). I think that smart people—like those who read books—can differ in their interpretations of events. Those readers who have confidence in western governments will find that I've put too much stock in the veracity of some alternative accounts (e.g., the communists' claim that the U.S. military used entomological weapons during the Korean War) while those with greater distrust of American politicians will find that I've not taken other reports seriously enough (e.g., the Cuban accusations of the United States' dropping insect vectors of disease and crop pests on the island nation).
By way of further disclosure, I am not a military historian. For that matter I'm not any kind of a professional historian, although I might fall among those who consider themselves impassioned amateurs. I am an entomologist and a writer, and it is from this background that I undertook the research for this book. As such, I relied heavily on secondary sources—books and articles produced by historians. Where possible, I sought to acquire primary sources, although for many of the events recounted in this book accessing these materials was not possible. To facilitate the reader's further engagement with this topic, I've provided a list at the end of this preface of the top 10 books that one should explore for further understanding of the people, times, places, and events of entomological (and biological) warfare.
Given my limitations—and I suppose that a historian writing such a book would have had to acknowledge his or her reliance on others' entomological expertise—the reader with an affinity for a particular historical period may find some of my descriptions overly simplified. Keep in mind that even with a focus on the last few centuries, the book covers 100,000 years of human history and there's only so much detail that can be included. Moreover, warfare, especially when covert, is a complicated, confused, and often controversial human endeavor. My interest, however, is in the role that insects and their relatives played in these conflicts. As such, the perspective of the book is one in which war, terror, and torture are viewed from the perspective of ento mology. This is, admittedly, an odd point of view, but therein lies both the uniqueness and (I hope) your fascination with the subject of the book. This particular take on biological warfare has not been systematically undertaken by previous writers. That said, I've attempted to provide enough social, political, and cultural context for the entomological events to be both meaningfully related to one another and to the grand sweep of human history. Although the book is not about epidemiology, political theory, or sociology, to make sense of how we've conscripted insects in our efforts to harm one another it is important to have some understanding of disease, agriculture, foreign policy, and cultural values.
The reader may be rightfully dubious of various accounts in this book. I know that I am. In this regard, I should hasten to note that I've consciously chosen to be inclusive in my research, allowing all plausible—even if hard to believe—claims their place in the story. At least sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction. In many instances, particularly with regard to early human history, I've included events in which the role of insects is not established with certainty or the antagonists may not have been aware that these creatures were the agents of suffering and death. I intentionally cast a wide net because these incidents often played an important role in the larger narrative of warfare, serving as examples that prompted military tacticians to pursue various lines of development with respect to entomological and biological weapons.
Given my approach to this topic, I've tried to phrase various accounts and explanations with appropriate caution, and the reader may find my careful wording (e.g., the qualification of claims with probably, possibly, presumably, and perhaps) makes the narrative less convincing or authoritative. Had I been an expert—or wished to appear as one—on all of the subjects and events addressed in this book, I might have written in confident tones whether or not my knowledge justified such academic aplomb. But people who claim to know what happened with regard to most of these historical events are making themselves into false authorities—the information simply precludes anyone from speaking with certainty (except those who were there, and for the most part, they aren't talking, and when they do their veracity is often questionable).
Scientists can be frustratingly circumspect in their writing such that we sound like we're speculating. Often we are, although we prefer to call it "reasoned inference from available evidence to the best explanation." Perhaps this has infused my narrative, but this is not the full explanation of my approach. Rather, I don't take it as my role to convince the reader of how or if particular events transpired. My goal is to clearly present and critically evaluate the various incidents in entomological and historical terms. I presume that the reader is an intelligent and informed individual who will bring to bear his or her knowledge and experiences to my accounts in determining the believ-ability of the stories.
In all cases, I've attempted to provide as even-handed and objective an analysis as possible. However, there are two problems in writing about the use of insects as weapons. First, biological warfare is, for the most part, poorly documented. In early human history there were not many detailed accounts of the roles played by insects per se, so one must draw conclusions based on circumstantial evidence from sometimes disparate sources. And as we approach modern times, humans' use of living organisms to kill other humans becomes increasingly proscribed. In light of these moral reservations, political and military leaders are less than forthcoming about their development and use of insects as agents of war—let alone terror.
Second, given the unsavory nature of using insects as weapons, entomological warfare is a tempting topic for propaganda. As such, nations are prone to make claims regarding their enemies' use of such tactics—and their enemies are motivated to strenuously deny such accusations. All of this makes it difficult for a historian or scientist to sort out exactly what happened. The use of propaganda and the back-and-forth charges of governments are part and parcel of the history of biological/entomological warfare. The point is that in many instances, indeed most cases, we simply do not know who is telling the truth. So I have attempted to recount the events, through the lens of my entomological background and skeptical proclivities, in an engaging manner and allow the reader to decide what happened.
Finally, various people who have seen early drafts of this book have expressed concern that it could be a "how to" guide for terrorists or others who intend to do us harm. Although I shared this apprehension early in my research, I would like to assuage the concern with a few observations.
First, I don't believe that terrorists and rogue nations are as uninformed and inept as we might think or hope. At least, I don't think that the obvious and simple methods that I describe have not occurred to them. The evidence in support of this position is that we've already seen them use chemical and biological weapons (e.g., the Tokyo subway attacks with sarin in 1995, the Oregon attacks on the public with salmonella in 1984, the California attacks on agriculture with Medflies in 1989).
Second, virtually all of the information in this book was extracted from publicly available resources. I don't reveal anything that a reasonably intelligent and educated individual would not be able to find from a library and the Internet. Indeed, I would be disappointed if any student graduating with a master's degree in entomology could not conceive of and execute any of the entomological attacks that I've described.
Third, one might reasonably contend that various scenarios and threats should be communicated to government agencies, rather than the public (and potentially terrorists). However, the government has been informed of the risks (via a thorough study by the National Research Council) and their response was to shift agricultural border inspection from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where it is evident from testimony and a General Accounting Office report that we are more vulnerable than ever to pest introductions. It seems that for anything to change in our federal priorities, we need a reasonably informed and appropriately concerned citizenry.
Fourth, the experts on bioterrorism with whom I've spoken have not expressed any concern with regard to the nature of the material that I describe. Indeed, some of these individuals have provided even more extensive and detailed accounts of attack scenarios in widely available formats. Their concern is clearly focused on calling the attention of the government and the public to these risks in a proportional (not alarmist) manner—and I share this objective. While insects arriving through natural and accidental routes are far more likely to harm people and their economic interests than are organisms released by terrorists, this does not mean that the latter should be dismissed as a concern (more people die from accidental poisoning, falling, and drowning than were killed in the 9/11 attack, but surely this is no reason for ignoring the risks of terrorism). The experts seem to harbor little doubt that a terrorist organization would be able to mount such an attack, lacking neither the technical information nor the logistical capacity.
Recommended Reading on Entomological Warfare, Terror, and Torture
Barenblatt, Daniel. A Plague Upon Humanity: The Secret Genocide of Axis Japan's
Germ Warfare Operation. New York: HarperCollins, 2004. Croddy, Eric. Chemical and Biological Warfare: A Comprehensive Survey for the
Concerned Citizen. New York: Springer-Verlag, 2002. Endicott, Stephen, and Edward Hagerman. The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea. Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University, 1998.
Engelberg, Stephen, Judith Miller, and William Broad. Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.
Gold, Hal. Unit731 Testimony. Singapore: Yen Books, 1996.
Harris, Robert, and Jeremy Paxman. A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare. New York: Random House, 2002.
Harris, Sheldon. Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932—1945, and the American Cover-Up. New York: Routledge, 2002.
Mayor, Adrienne. Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World. New York: Overlook Duckworth, 2003.
National Research Council. Countering Agricultural Bioterrorism. Washington, D.C.: National Academies, 2003.
Regis, Ed. The Biology of Doom: The History of America's Secret Germ Warfare Project. New York: Henry Holt, 2000.
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