by Adam Jue
This primary source is situated inside a folder that is labeled, “TOP SECRET.” Inside the folder is a duo of letters dating back to 1944 from Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, and a follow-up from President Franklin Roosevelt. There is also a summary of the new responsibilities given to the War Department after Roosevelt’s authorization. So what do these top-secret responsibilities entail? Biological warfare.
With the threat of the Japanese using biological agents during World War II, the United States military took steps in centralizing the research and development of its own biological weapons. In the first letter from Stimson to Roosevelt, Stimson requests that the War Research Service be transferred from a primarily civilian agency to one of military development, planning, and preparation. Stimson justified this recommendation on the grounds of defense and deterrence. With evidence of the Japanese using biological warfare via agents such as rinderpest (a viral biological agent used by the Japanese in the Philippines to attack livestock), the U.S. War Department deemed it necessary to centralize the development of counter and retaliatory techniques to combat biological agents the Japanese could potentially use.
Two notable biological agents that Stimson emphasized were agent X (not related to the X-Men) and agent N. Agent X is the codename for botulinus toxin, a toxin described as extremely lethal but non-persistent. Agent N, or anthrax, is touted as “very lethal with and persistent with no satisfactory defense.”
The summary after Roosevelt’s full authorization describes how the War Department will streamline the development of biological weapons. An example is the creation of committees, one to oversee policies with other governments regarding biological warfare, and another headed by civilian scientists who assist in research and development. Another interesting snippet is the different facilities the War Department planned to create for specific purposes. This included Horn Island in Pascagoula, Mississippi, a 1,969-acre piece of land used primarily for field tests.
This series of government sources reveal the swiftness the government acted in centralizing key aspects of warfare they deemed necessary to defeat the Japanese. The president approved the military takeover of biological research in less than a month. Just five months later, the War Department had already established five major facilities to develop biological weapons. It goes to show how wartime can streamline the effectiveness of government action.