Lessons from History About Biological and Chemical Terrorism

One of the reasons that we are prepared is that we are familiar with these poisons. Unfortunately, we've dealt with them before. Biological and chemical agents have been used as weapons throughout history. Historical perspective helps us to understand how biological and chemical agents have evolved from being used as weapons against soldiers in war to emerging as weapons of mass threat to civilians:

  • Biological and chemical agents have been used as unconventional warfare agents since the sixth century BC.
  • In Medieval times, soldiers catapulted contaminated animal carcasses over fortress battlement walls to infect defending forces.
  • During the French and Indian War, ruthless British soldiers supplied smallpox-laden blankets to Native Americans who were sympathetic to the French. The resulting smallpox epidemic spread rapidly among the Native American population with devastating effects.
  • The horror of proactive, institutionalized chemical warfare emerged as a large-scale nightmare during World War I. Tens of thousands of unsuspecting troops were injured or killed after exposure to tons of corrosive and deadly battlefield chemicals such as chlorine, mustard, and phosgene.

Today, these weapons still pose a threat on the battlefield, but may also menace civilian populations. However, it is important to place the actual risk of exposure to these agents in perspective.​


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