Bio Weapons Spurned by Hitler Were Tested on Adventists: TV
By Dave Shiflett
Jan. 31 (Bloomberg) -- In 1969, a year after he was elected U.S. president, Richard Nixon renounced the ``use of any form of deadly biological weapons that either kill or incapacitate.''
Nixon's declaration is one of the few cheerful spots in ``The Living Weapon,'' a PBS program that airs Feb. 5 at 9 p.m. New York time.
The U.S. got into the germ-warfare business in 1942 at the request of Britain, which feared that Adolf Hitler was cooking up world-class pestilence in his labs.
While FDR found the weapons ``inhumane,'' he went along with their development, the show says. He was certainly right about the nature of the weapon. As the show explains, ``a biological weapon is alive. What it wants to do is reproduce itself inside a human body.''
Eventually, the guest kills the host, who suffers hideously. Another victim is science itself, which has been used ``not strictly for the benefits it can bring'' but for purely destructive purposes, according to Jeanne Guillemin, senior adviser to MIT's Security Studies Program.
From the start the U.S. program was cloaked in secrecy: Leakers were promised 40 years in jail, with a $10,000 fine thrown in for good measure.
As it turns out, Hitler early on ordered that ``there was to be no offensive biological weapons research.'' His benevolence may have been the result of having been gassed in World War I, the show suggests.
Japan, however, more than made up for the German restraint. A lengthy segment of the hour-long program takes a close and horrifying look at the Japanese program and its mastermind, Shiro Ishii.
The Japanese did their dirty work in occupied China and didn't confine their experiments to monkeys and lab rats. Their guinea pigs were human beings.
In one ghastly scene, which appears to be archived film, a victim is strapped inside a glass booth. An old-fashioned insect- repellent spray can is pointed through a hole and he is doused with deadly bacteria.
The victim writhes and expires, as did some 10,000 unfortunate Chinese killed in the labs. The Japanese also sprayed Chinese cities with plague-infected fleas. Thousands were sickened, though no death toll is given.
Ishii was captured and cut a deal with the U.S. to supply his deadly data in exchange for immunity from war-crimes prosecution. He got immunity for himself and his staff, though it turned out his information was of no use to the U.S.
The U.S. program, headquartered at Fort Detrick, Maryland, also used human subjects, though many were volunteers.
Most were Seventh-Day Adventists, who as conscientious objectors refused to bear arms. About 2,200 of them agreed to inhale various non-lethal agents that made them, as one expert says, ``pig sick.'' The idea behind the experiment, the show says, was that a sick soldier in the field creates a much greater strain on an army than a dead one.
The government also bombarded several U.S. cities with simulants -- non-infectious bacteria -- to assess how biological agents spread. Targets in that super-secret program included San Francisco, St. Louis and Minneapolis.
The end to the U.S. development program may have been partly the result of a 1969 Utah incident in which an ``errant cloud'' of nerve gas was held responsible for killing some 6,000 sheep.
Political pressure to reveal the program's secrets began to build and, after a review, the Nixon administration determined that biological weapons ``were redundant with nuclear weapons and easier for poor countries to make.''
In announcing the end of the U.S. program, Nixon said, ``Mankind already holds in its hand too many of the seeds of its own destruction.''
Unfortunately, as historian Brian Balmer concludes, the U.S. research ``bequeathed on the world this knowledge and we now have to control it and contain it and make sure biological weapons are never used.''
Much easier said than done.
(Dave Shiflett is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer of this story: Dave Shiflett at firstname.lastname@example.org
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