by Merja Pyykkönen
A short time after the outbreak of World War II, the United States started to reconsider the usage of biological warfare as somewhat of a threat. Before Camp Detrick (later Fort Detrick) was established in the early months of 1943, an increasing amount of attention was remarked towards it. Previous perceptions of the ‘poor effects’ that BW weapons would cause begin to shift quite soon once the war started. At least, the focus turned a bit more into trying to re-evaluate any possible future threats of BW.
The Fox Doctrine of 1933 maintained its strong position in the idea of BW’s lack of ability to reach devastation in the U.S. civilians and military troops almost for ten years since its making. Similar to Major Fox, director of the Medical Corps, G.C. Dunham reported in his September 1939 memorandum about the unsatisfactory, possible enemy use of BW. Despite acknowledging that an enemy could harm the food production animals and a few civilians, he applied that such measures would have to be intensively tied to environmental factors. If such “perfect” conditions were found, the diseases would take a long time to start to prosper. Unlike most of the previous judgments of the use of BW, Dunham nonetheless suggested that preparation against offensive use of biological warfare should be established — and such methodology could be expected from enemies during the war that had just started.
A while after Dunham’s letter, measures of BW studies were starting to slowly take place. The topic of biological warfare was brought up on several reports, and in the fall of 1940, discussions about establishing studies on the preventative side of BW were made. It was presumed, nevertheless, that any attempts towards the US would yet be failed ones due to its technical preparedness. Declaring the possible hazards biological warfare could present on the US population, it was decided to better start of its own study so that the US would be able to handle both offensive and defensive side BW.
During the years of 1941-45, the US was frequently reported about Japan’s BW activity — some of the news was provided by United States’ military departments, and some, as the US often described, “unreliable sources” such as the Chinese. During that time, as later observed, the Japanese were conducting various field tests upon Chinese and Soviet military troops and in countryside villages. In regards to base a level of trust into the sources, the US did not handle well the reports that were witnessed by the Chinese. Throughout the war and what was about take place after Japan surrendered, visual witnessing was deemed as “hear-say” and “not-proven” when it came from the Chinese: No proof was sufficient enough for the US authorities unless it came from its own troops or as a physical piece of evidence. After the war, some of the witnesses of the horrors of BW were never further interviewed, and the reports they voluntarily provided were dismissed.
Some settings of preparations were carried out due to the concern that was caused by US military intelligence G2’s reports in the spring of 1941, which were considered as reliable information. Immunization for US troops against yellow fewer was suggested and carried out, and follow-up research on biological warfare was strongly urged to be continued with. Meanwhile of reports of Japanese BW activity surfaced, similar news came considering the Nazi-Germany. In May 1941, American Military Attaché briefing brought up news about Nazi Germany’s BW testing site in Switzerland building up air-burst bombs. This, among others, caused increasing concern over the matter, and the War Bureau of Consultants (WBC) voiced that biological warfare was indeed a serious hazard to the United States.
Usage of some kind of BW had now become into US’s awareness, regarding two countries that were known to be militarily strong and forceful. Now, the US fully acknowledged the danger such weapons could bring on civilians — one that they had diminished earlier. Therefore, it was strongly highlighted that the United States would additionally and quickly strengthen its own BW research. After the US heard about the trained Japanese parachute troops and their alleged spreading of bacteria, the US no longer could have had denied the Japanese study on the topic.
National Archives and Records Administration.
Lebeda, Frank J., et al. “Yesterday and Today: The Impact of Research Conducted at Camp Detrick on Botulinum Toxin.” Military Medicine, vol. 183, no. 5/6, May 2018, pp. 85–95.
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