History of Biological Warfare

Biological warfare is defined as the use of bacteria or viruses or toxins to destroy men, animals or food. It is also known as germ warfare. It is used when an army, at war decides to bring sickness or disease to battle to give them an advantage and kill the opposing army without going to battle. In this paper I will explain different types of biological warfare that have been used over time and how it has changed or hasn’t changed.

The first documented instance of biological warfare or BW is in Sophocleses’ play Philoctetes when the main character is hit with a poisonous arrow that was made from a dead soldiers blood and other bacterial items not named. Another known story of BW in the early years was during the siege of the city-state of Athens by the Spartans in the Peloponnesian War. A devastating epidemic broke out which killed thousands of Athenians. They were killed when the Spartans collected and began throwing dead soldiers bodies over the castle wall. The strategy was to drive the Athenians out of the protected castle and to attack them when they opened the gates. However, the Athenians did not leave the security of their fortress and all died from the exposure of the diseases brought forth from the dead bodies.
Another great story of BW is when Hannibal won a great naval battle over his opponent by using a new kind of BW. Back then when ships battled they got really close so Hannibal devised a plan to attack his enemies. Hannibal collected a bunch of venomous snakes and put them in glass bottles. When they got close enough to attack, they threw the containers holding snakes onto their ships. They easily won the battle because the snakes did most of the work.
Later on in time when two armies were battling the army catapulted the dead bodies over their walls along with rats because this would help spread the awful bubonic plague. This exposure killed every single resident that lived in the city they were attacking, called Kaffa. This strategy was also used at a later date in another war when the Russians were attacking the Swedes. The Russians catapulted soldiers that had died from the bubonic plague or other injures while infected at the Swedes. They smashed their opponent and eventually took over their city.

As you can see Biological warfare up until this time in history was pretty much the same and had not changed much. However, more advanced military planning and perceived higher stakes resulted in drastic changes.

A more modern technique was planned in the French and Indian War. The plan was well documented, however it is unclear whether or not it was ever carried out. The plan was for a British captain to offer blankets and towels as gifts to the Indians. However, these blankets and towels would first have been used by infected soldiers to wipe off the pus and scabs from small pox.

In World War I the Germans made anthrax and put it in the Romanian horse feed because these horses were being shipped out to the USA and many other places and they wanted to try and kill as many people as possible. As you can see BW changed, so instead of just exposing their opponent to an immediate danger, new techniques were planned and much more sneaky and effective because the victims didn’t know where the exposure or threat was coming from.

Current risks of biological warfare are very scary as laboratories with known viruses are targeted, and no one looks at white powder quite the same. In addition, the risk of exposure in a society that travels easily without knowing they are doing damage and exposing everyone at every stop creates an on-going risk. The World Health Organization as well as the United Nations have taken hard lines against BW, but as history has shown us, the creative minds of men prevail.