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Biological Warfare in Korea: A Review of the Literature

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Another pair of Brits, journalists Peter Williams and David Wallace produced a 1989 book, Unit 731: The Japanese Army's Secret of Secrets. 5454 Peter Williams and David Wallace, Unit 731: The Japanese Army's Secret of Secrets, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1989. View all notes This is a thorough telling of Japan's pursuit of both empire and bacteriological weapons. It begins with Shiro Ishii's medical school days in the 1920s, then follows the saga of the Kwangtung Army's invasion and occupation of Manchuria, the Sino/Japanese war, Ishii's patronage in the Kwangtung army, and the Unit 731Water Purification Plant and BW death factory at Ping Fan. The book details the gruesome experiments on prisoners with disease shrapnel bombs, toxin injections, frostbite, and live vivisection. It describes BW attacks on Chinese cities with germ bombs, insect vectors, the aerosol spraying of toxins, the poisoning of water supplies, and the hundreds of thousands of deaths and casualties. The depth of human savagery exposed is truly terrifying.

With the atomic bomb obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, Japan's war was lost. Ishii and Unit 731 staff killed and incinerated their remaining prisoners, dynamited the Ping Fan factory, and promptly headed south to Japan in front of the advancing Soviet Red Army. Williams and Wallace pick up the story in Tokyo where Ishii's longtime friend and colleague, Ryoichi Naito, attempts to ransom the freedom of Unit 731 with the American occupation victors. Naito and Murray Sanders meet, thus initiating the eventual war crimes amnesty deal.

Williams and Wallace next follow the BW trail into the Korean War allegations. They cover the Khabarovsk trial revelations of 1949, the first North Korean BW allegation of May 1951, the second North Korea charges of February 1952, and the Chinese allegation of March 1952. They discuss the international investigation led by Joseph Needham and the findings of the ISC, and they cover the international uproar followed by official censorship and denials. They discuss the Korean War dispatches of Wilfred Burchett, the case of James Endicott in Canada, and they investigate the Powell sedition trial in the US. And very interestingly, they discover and quote at length a British soldier who claimed to have eye-witnessed, during the November 1950 retreat from the Yalu River, a US Special Forces contingent including men dressed in "parkas" distributing chicken feathers into the abandoned homes of North Korean villagers. 5555 The significance of this 1950 chicken feather incident revelation is that chicken feathers as carriers of disease was a pet discovery of Shiro Ishii of which he was very proud. Independent invention by US bio-weaponers is possible, but direct exchange seems the more likely explanation. See John W.Powell," Japan's Biological Weapons: 19301945", op. cit., p. 51 and fn #9. View all notes

While the authors refrain from expressing their personal opinions, there remains little doubt from the evidence they present that the US was, in fact, guilty of germ warfare, and the authors believed it too. This highly incriminating evidence is discussed together in one 50-page chapter (Chapter 17). The book was published in 1989 in London by Hodder & Stoughton. The American edition was simultaneously published in New York by Free Press. The Free Press edition appeared without Chapter 17. No prior explanation was announced by the publisher. The version for American distribution had been privately censored. 5656 For a discussion of this private censorship see: Dave Chaddock, This Must Be the Place: How the US Waged Germ Warfare in the Korean War and Denied It Ever Since, Bennett and Hastings Publishing, Seattle, 2013, 6769. View all notes 5757 Another volume which deserves mention and which received little attention in the US is: Gavan McCormack, Cold War Hot War: An Australian Perspective on the Korean War, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1983. McCormack called for a complete and thorough reexamination of the evidence and the veracity of the conflicting claims. McCormack also argued that the question of which side started the war, North or South was not settled history. Contrary to US official claims, McCormack proposed that there was significant evidence to indicate that the South Korean Army (ROK) launched a pre-emptive invasion in the remote Ongjin peninsula and captured the regional city of Haeju, thus provoking the KPA to launch its massive counter invasion of the South. This topic will be investigated in a subsequent essay. View all notes

The next book to follow, in 1994, was Sheldon Harris's much acclaimed Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 19321945, and the American Cover-up. 5858 Sheldon H. Harris , Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 19321945, and the American Cover-up, Routledge, New York, 2002. View all notes Harris retells the same story Bill Powell laid out 14 years earlier. His contribution to the historical record is the mountain of detail he adds. But historians are not journalists, and unlike Wallace and Williams before him, Harris does not advance the BW story past his subtitle the Unit 731history in China, and the amnesty/collaboration deal. The elephant in the room remains the Korean War allegations. Harris waits until the end of his book to tip-toe into the subject. In three brief pages he lamely suggests that the evidence supporting the allegations is not conclusive. Perhaps he really meant "not exhaustive," like his own scholarship. In truth, Harris hasn't examined the Korean War BW evidence in Factories of Death because chronologically in time these events occurred after his abbreviated topic.

Factories of Death propelled Harris to international historian celebrity status, and he was much feted. By claiming from a lofty perch of academic authority that the evidence of US BW war crimes in Korea was inconclusive, without bothering to review any of the evidence on its individual merits, Harris replays the same tactic of wholesale dismissal that US BW deniers have relied upon right from the very beginning.

The next volume in the debate was Stephen Endicott 5959 Stephen Endicott is the son of James Endicott. View all notes and Edward Hagerman's 1998 indictment, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea. 6060 Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War and Korea. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, IN. 1998. View all notes Endicott and Hagerman take up Harris's challenge of proof. Their exploration begins with early pro and con BW position papers undertaken by Army Chemical Corp staff in 1933 and 1941. 6161 Ibid., Fox, 1933, p. 25 & fn1, Simmons, 1941, pp. 2526 & fn4. View all notes Subsequent higher-level WWII policy debates covering practical, ethical, and propaganda concerns were shepherded through committee channels by Harvey H. Bundy, special assistant to Secretary of War Henry Stimson. While neither Roosevelt nor Stimson liked the idea of germ warfare, they were persuaded by pragmatism other countries already had BW programs; the US must stay abreast.

Endicott and Hagerman then walk the reader through a concise step by step history of the creation of America's BW war machine in the midst of WWII. We learn of the civilian Chemical and Biological Warfare Committee (CBW), chaired by George W Merck, the pharmaceutical executive. We also meet Ira Baldwin, Ft. Detrick's first science director, whose story we will return to later. We are told of the founding of Camp Detrick, later Ft. Detrick, the testing facilities set up at Horn Island, Mississippi and Dugway Proving Ground, Utah. We learn of the British and Canadian collaborative BW projects and the British anthrax bomb experiments on Gruinard Island, Scotland, which left the island toxic and quarantined for 40 years. And we hear again of the British military's order for 500,000 anthrax bomblets, irrefutable evidence of US preparedness to wage offensive BW by 1945.

The authors also walk us through two seminal policy papers which established wartime and post-war US BW strategy. The secret 1946 Merck Report 6262 The Merck Report was declassified and printed in abridged form in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, Oct. 1, 1946, pp. 1618. View all notes first made the cost/benefit analysis that BW was inexpensive to make, and then, the utility pitch that bacteriological weapons were highly effective. Merck pounded again the pragmatic argument (competitor states already had BW) and the fear hook (the US could not afford to lag). The Merck Report further proposed an ethical calculus that a bacteriological weapons system was not a morally distinct system from any other weapon system of mass annihilation. Merck suggested the public could be persuaded to accept BW through effective propaganda campaigns. Lastly, the report claimed BW research would produce beneficial breakthroughs in immunology and medicine. Merck was an accomplished pitchman.

The second policy paper came out in June 1950 following initiatives from the Defense Department to rekindle Congressional interest in the Army Chemical Corps BW program which had experienced a funding rollback in the demobilization of the immediate post-war years. 6363 The Stevenson Report was released to Congress on June 30, 1950, 5 days after the start of the Korean War. The Defense Department immediately increased Ft. Detrick's budget from $5.3 million in 1950, to $345 million for the next three years. Jeffrey A. Lockwood, Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects to Wage War, Oxford University Press, 2009, p. 163. View all notes The Stevenson Committee, comprised of familiar interests in the private sector pharmaceutical industry, defense contracting, academia, and military brass, produced a report which introduced into BW literature the concept of "total war":

From the time that wars became total struggles between peoples, wars have gone on until the suffering and losses of the people on one side or the other have been sufficient to produce surrender or collapse.""" Whatever methods of weapons are used, wars between peoples are terrible wars, and if the people, whether from wisdom or ignorance, firmly embrace a cause, the ensuing war will be one of total destruction""

Neither the people who defend liberty nor those who would destroy it can limit their efforts or their weapons in the contest; nor, as a matter of fact, have they. 6464 From the Stevenson Report, quoted in Endicott and Hagerman, op. cit., pp. 4546. View all notes

This formulation of why nations go to war is as insidious as it is fraudulent. It is not "the people" of any nation who desire war; war is only desired by a ruling cabal of militarists, opportunists and war profiteers, who have grabbed power, and who lead a nation to war through demagoguery, fear-mongering, and repression a cabal not unlike the composition of the Stevenson Committee. 6565 The membership of the Stevenson committee is listed in: Endicott and Hagerman, op. cit., p. 45. View all notes

Endicott and Hagerman uncover many incriminating documents through FOIA. One stunning discovery was the official, classified History of the Air Force Participation in the Biological Warfare Program, 19441954, vol. 1 (1952) and vol. 2 (1957) written by military historian Dorothy Miller. 6666 Dorothy Miller, History of the Air Force Participation in the Biological Warfare Program, 19441954, v1 (1952) and v2 (1957), US Air Force, Air Material Command, Historical Division, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. View all notes Miller's history reveals the rapid tool-up of the US BW program in 1950 following the Stevenson Report. BW became a rapid growth industry. Government funding skyrocketed as literally hundreds of new contracts for BW research from Ft. Detrick and the military service branches were quickly awarded to private biotech labs, pharmaceutical corporations, and public university research labs. Miller described the various bombs and aerosol methods adapted and developed for BW delivery, and the competition between the Air Force, Navy, and Army Chemical Corps to develop operational BW first.

Germ warfare was the newest secret WMD system, and while there was high-level military enthusiasm for it, there was simultaneously an undercurrent of revulsion at the Pentagon towards killing soldiers and civilians with germs. Repugnance from both professional soldiers and the general public, and international law had not prevented modern CBW technologies from military use in combat in the past, but such broad popular antipathy and the fear of in-kind reprisal had served to some extent as a moral restraining leash on the use of these weapons by their proponents.

However, when the former colonized state of China entered the war in October 1950, the US Army suffered its most humiliating rout ever (until Viet Nam), and the racist psychology of American military interventionism greatly intensified. 6767 For a concise discussion of racism as a causal factor of American imperialism and military interventionism see, Victor Wallis, Democracy Denied: Five Lectures on US Politics, Africa World Press, Trenton NJ, 2019. View all notes When napalm and carpet bombing became ineffectual by mid-1951, and the war had become stalemated at the 38th Parallel, Truman authorized BW deployment to begin. Moral qualms gave way to pragmatic strategy, and the pathological need (voiced by John Foster Dulles) to "teach the Chinese a lesson." However, the adversary and the battlefield conditions were very different from those of Axis Germany in 1944, and the Vigo production facility by then had been decommissioned. Endicott and Hagerman argue that due to the urgency of the war situation, the entire BW program was rushed into combat.

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Tom is a founding member of the Bioweapon Truth Commission (BWTC). You should access its Global Online Library (GOL) to learn more about how Western empire conducts "business" at home and abroad ( (more...)
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Biological Warfare in Korea: A Review of the Literature

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