Sunday, January 30, 2011

Plague: Weapon of choice?

The bubonic plague has an interesting history of being used in certain acts of biological warfare.

The Tartars were a Muslim tribe that lived by the Black Sea in the Middle Ages. In 1346, they were infected with the plague virus, and many of their people died. The Tartars then decided that their best course of action would be to launch an attack on the Christian Genoese who had control of the city of Caffa in what is now a rather dry, depressing area of Ukraine. Of course, the Tartar army lost tens of thousands of men who became infected with the plague. Not wanting to be selfish, they decided to share the plague with the Genoese and lay siege to the city of Caffa by:

The Tartars decided to share their suffering with the Genoese. They used huge catapults to lob the infected corpses of plague victims over the walls of Caffa. As the Tartars had intended, the rotting corpses littered the streets, and the plague quickly spread throughout the besieged city.

The Genoese then packed their bags and took the plague back with them to Italy.

It only gets crazier. In World War II, the Japanese Unit 731, a military research operation charged with the task of creating biological weapons out of numerous diseases, weaponized the bubonic plague into a bomb they called the "flea bomb". Its design was simple: A large ceramic container filled with plague infested fleas and flour. When the bomb was dropped (as it was on a severely unlucky test village in Manchuria), it burst open and flour got everywhere, which attracted rats. The fleas would then mount the rats, and the rats would scurry away with their deadly cargo. A plan was made to drop these bombs on San Diego in September of 1945. The atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima a month earlier.

On a much smaller scale, Larry W. Harris, who was identified as a white supremacist and card carrying member of the Aryan Nation, was found to have purchased bubonic plague from a Maryland medical company using a phony identity. He was charged only with fraud, as he claims he was merely obtaining the material to promote awareness of the threat of biological warfare. The FBI clearly thought he had ulterior motives, possibly because they found guns, smoke bombs, and white supremacist paraphernilia inside of his house. Reports indicate he purchased about $300 worth of bubonic plague (I'm sure he made sure he could find the best deal possible on plague bacteria before purchasing).

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