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7. Implications of Biological Warfare

By George W. Merck

Former Consultant for Biological Warfare to the Secretary of War

President of Merck & Co., Inc.
E. B. Fred
Former Chairman of Special Committee for Biological Warfare,

National Academy of Sciences
President of the University of Wisconsin
1. L. Baldwin
Former Technical Director of Special Projects Division, Chemical

Warfare Service
Professor of Bacteriology and Dean of the School of Agriculture,

University of Wisconsin
W. B. Sarles
Former Technical Aide on Biological Warfare in the Office of the

Secretary of War
Professor of Agricultural Bacteriology of the University of Wis-


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A type of warfare that might have been employed in World War II—a potential avenue of attack by our enemies—was biological warfare. Biological warfare may be defined as the use of bacteria, fungi, viruses, rickettsias, and toxic agents derived from living organisms (as distinguished from synthetic chemicals used as gases or poisons) to produce death or disease in men, animals, or plants. It may be directed against military or naval forces, civilian populations, livestock, or crops. Employed against personnel, it may cause fatalities, or only incapacitate; the duration of illness may be brief or protracted; the causative agents used may be persistent or non-persistent; they may spread readily from infected to healthy persons, or they may be of a type which produces non-contagious disease.

This type of warfare was not unknown in World War I, although it was employed only on a very limited scale. There is incontrovertible evidence, for example, that in 1915 German agents inoculated, with disease-producing bacteria, horses and cattle which were being shipped from the United States to the Allies.

In the years between World War I and World War II a general interest in the possibilities of biological warfare was maintained by scientists and military men in many countries, several of whom came to believe that this type of warfare was possible or even probable in the future.

In the fall of 1941, opinion in the United States as to the possibilities of biological warfare was by no means united, but common prudence dictated to those responsible for the nation's defense that they give serious consideration to the dangers of possible attack. The counsel of scientists alert to the possible dangers of biological warfare was made known to the Office of the Secretary of War, whereupon Secretary Stimson promptly requested the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council to give him the benefit of the best scientific advice available concerning this problem.

After an intensive and thorough study by a special committee of biological scientists, the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council advised the Secretary of War that biological warfare appeared distinctly feasible, and urged that appropriate steps be taken for defense of the nation against its use. The report stated in part:

"The value of biological warfare will be a debatable question until it has been clearly proven or disproven by experience. The wise assumption is that any method which appears to offer advantages to a nation at war will be vigorously employed by that nation. There is but one logical course to pursue, namely, to study the possibilities of such warfare from every angle, make every preparation for reducing its effectiveness, and thereby reduce the likelihood of its use".

This advice, coupled with reports of enemy activities in this field, prompted Secretary Stimson and President Roosevelt to direct the initiation of intensive, large-scale investigation of the possibilities and potentialities of biological warfare in the United States, and the establishment of active collaboration in this field with our British and Canadian allies.

The activities of the United States in the field of biological warfare were thus undertaken under the goad of necessity and were aimed primarily toward securing for this nation, and its armed forces in the field, adequate protection against the possible use of biological warfare by our enemies. Our investigations were carried on by teamwork in which Army, Navy and civilian scientists, universities, private research institutions, industries, and several Departments of the Government all worked together in a most effective manner to achieve a common goal. This was a matter of great urgency, and many of the problems encountered were unique and most complex.

The objective was attained; defenses against a potentially dangerous method of warfare were devised, and the possibility of surprise from this quarter was forestalled.

While it is true that biological warfare is still in the realm of theory rather than fact, in the sense that it has not actually been used in military operations, the findings of the United States in this field, along with the findings of groups engaged in similar work in the United Kingdom and Canada, have shown that this type of warfare must continue to receive serious consideration by those of this nation who are responsible for national security.

Our endeavors during the war provided means of defending the nation against biological warfare in terms of its presently known potentialities, and explored means of retaliation which might have been used, had such a course been necessary. Although remarkable achievements can be recorded, the metes and bounds of this type of warfare have by no means been completely measured. Work in this field, born of the necessity of war, cannot be ignored in time of peace; it must be continued on a sufficient scale to provide adequate defenses.

Achievements of War-Time Work on Biological Warfare

During World War II unique facilities were built by the Chemical Warfare Service, by the Federal Security Agency, and by the Navy for experimentation on pathogenic agents on a scale never before possible. These facilities will be of inestimable value to future military and civilian biological investigations. But facilities, however excellent, do not assure the success of scientific investigation. Such facilities must be staffed with experienced workers who possess the knowledge and the desire to investigate and to learn.

When our research program was started early in 1942, the workers selected to do the job could not find in any textbook or published research paper much of the information which they needed. They had to "start from scratch" and to write a new chapter in biological science as their work progressed.

It should be emphasized that while the main objective in all these endeavors was to develop methods for defending ourselves against possible enemy use of biological warfare, it was necessary to investigate offensive possibilities in order to learn what measures could be used for defense. Accordingly the problems of offense and defense were closely interwoven in all the investigations conducted. Consideration of the problem from an offensive point of view necessitated numerous new developments and concepts.

At the height of its development, the Special Projects Division of the Chemical Warfare Service of the Army, which carried the main responsibility for the biological warfare program, had a total personnel of 3900, of which some 2800 were Army personnel, approximately 1000 Navy, and about 100 civilian. In addition, the Navy had a separate group of nearly 100 at work on a special phase of the problem. The work of these groups, and that done in the universities, research institutes, and industries of the nation, represented a truly combined operation in which Army, Navy, and civilian personnel worked together in the closest cooperation. They worked under high pressure and under the strictest secrecy. Their achievements were most remarkable.

In general terms, the following were some of the outstanding accomplishments of their work: 1. The development of methods and facilities for the mass pro

duction of pathogenic microorganisms and their products. 2. The selection and cultivation of highly virulent varieties of

pathogenic microorganisms. 3. Development of methods for the rapid and accurate detection

of minute quantities of disease-producing agents. 4. Significant contributions to knowledge of the properties and

behavior of air-borne, disease-producing agents. 5. Important advances in the treatment of certain infectious dis.

eases of men and of animals. 6. Extensive studies on the production and control of diseases which

might affect crops of economic importance. 7. Information was obtained on the effects of more than 1000 dif

ferent chemical agents on living plants. Many of the detailed results of the research performed are now in process of publication in scientific journals which represent every phase of biological science. These papers will serve as concrete evidence of a job well done-a job which was accomplished by magnificent combined effort and teamwork.

Potentialities of Biological Warfare

Some of the potentialities of biological warfare and the development of defensive measures against it can best be illustrated by recounting briefly the accomplishments of the American-Canadian team which worked during World War II to develop defenses against rinderpest of cattle.

In 1941, when considering the diseases of livestock which might be introduced on this continent, either through accident attributable to rapid air traffic or by deliberate enemy action during the War, rinderpest, an exceedingly contagious malady of cattle with a very high mortality rate, stood out as one disease against which every possible precaution should be taken. With a one hundred per cent sus


ceptible cattle population on the North American Continent, it would have been catastrophic had this rapidly spreading virus disease appeared among our cattle. In the Orient and other places where this disease occurs it has always been a plague of the first magnitude.

Our Canadian allies had arrived at the same conclusions with regard to rinderpest and were in full agreement with us as to the importance of promptly undertaking measures to place us in the best position possible to defend our vast and critically essential cattle population against this possible threat. Therefore, it was decided to make the undertaking a joint one. Accordingly, a joint United States-Canadian Commission, consisting of four members appointed by the Secretary of War of the United States and four by the Canadian Minister of National Defense, was constituted for the purpose of planning and supervising the project.

A suitable, isolated location in Canada, Grosse Isle in the St. Lawrence River, was agreed upon as the place to carry on the work. A highly qualified project director was obtained, and a very proficient group of United States and Canadian scientists and technicians was assembled to accomplish the mission, which was of a two-fold character. In the first place, it called for the prompt development of ways and means for the safe production and stocking of a type of rinderpest vaccine which it was known could be produced, and which some years previously had been successfully used in eradicating the disease from the Philippine Islands. This type of vaccine, however, had to

, be made from the tissues of calves or adult cattle artificially infected with the disease and then sacrificed at the height of the disease to provide the necessary virus-containing tissue. Vaccine of this type, besides being expensive, presented a number of technical difficulties when the possible necessity of production on a vast scale was contemplated. It was realized that if huge quantities of such vaccine had to be produced it would involve the procurement and handling of thousands of cattle, and the proper disposition of their carcasses after collection of the virus-containing tissues used in the production of vaccine. Thus, while under the circumstances it was considered necessary to provide for the production of this type of vaccine, irrespective of difficulties, it was likewise highly important to initiate research studies to determine whether an effective vaccine could be produced without having to utilize cattle as the source of virus. This latter constituted the second phase of the mission.

In the light of knowledge developed in recent years with regard to the cultivation of filtrable viruses in developing chick embryos, studies were inaugurated for the purpose of determining whether the virus of rinderpest could be cultivated by such a procedure. After a number of attempts, success was attained in establishing the virus in

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