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Biological Warfare in Korea: A Review of the Literature

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The authors cite Miller to differentiate between "fully operational" and "immediately operational" BW. Fully operational BW is an integrated combat system requiring a large and sustained production of toxic agents, and repeated contamination of sites with hundreds of bombing sorties. Immediately operational BW is "covert or experimental" meaning a small-scale deployment which does not require such massive infrastructure. Again citing Miller, the authors claim a major weakness in the US BW deployment appeared in the delivery mode. The refrigeration units needed to optimally transport germs and vectors on long plane flights from Ft. Detrick to Tokyo were not available until August, 1952, months after the campaign had begun. 6868 Endicott and Hagerman, op. cit., p. 85. View all notes Multiple take offs and landings (California, Hawaii, Midway Island), temperature swings, atmospheric pressure, and turbulence may well have diminished the potency of agents.

Endicott and Hagerman devote an entire chapter on BW as a psychological weapon in addition to its lethal capacity. One of the noted benefits of this weapon as anticipated by war planners would be the ability of BW to sow fear and widespread panic among the civilian population, thus undermining the necessary supporting role of civilians in the total war machine of the enemy. However, mass hysteria did not incapacitate the North Korean and Chinese civilian population, and this was a grave disappointment to US war planners. They also note the psychological antipathy towards BW within the Pentagon resulted in the failure of all the service branches to indoctrinate an officer corps into the theory and ethics of BW before the Korean War began, thus hindering deployment logistics.

Along with the inherent technical problems of rushing an offensive BW attack into battle, the failure of indoctrination of a mid-level officer corps appears to be just the tip of the iceberg of a far greater source of the poor results of the US BW campaign in Korea. The biggest obstacle was the political need to run the entire BW campaign in secrecy. Nothing had been done to prepare the American public for the new future of germ warfare. There had been no advance propaganda effort, no sales pitch, no subtle ideological manipulation as George Merck had recommended. The racial hatred stirred up against Japan which would have allowed public acceptance of military BW use in WWII had not been resurrected to a similar pitch in Korea. The American public was simply not indoctrinated for mass annihilation of an enemy with disease. Truman knew it, Acheson knew it, Ridgeway knew it. And that is why they all lied so vehemently when North Korea and China quickly discovered them out.

The first denial lie by Acheson snowballed, and the lie grew with each additional telling until it became "the big lie," and there was no way to get out of it. If the BW truth in Korea came out, then the other BW lies and war conduct would surely follow the failure to prosecute Shiro Ishii and the Unit 731 war criminals, the amnesty-for-collaboration deal, the windfall of deadly Japanese germ weapons, the horrific bombing campaigns waging total war against the civilian population of Korea America's highest political and military leaders were implicated in multiple war crimes, and Harry Truman did not want this buck stopped at his desk.

In their concluding remarks, Endicott and Hagerman argue that the war in Korea reveals a military culture within the US Army which allowed it to resort to the scorched-earth tactics of "incendiarism" and total war, including the condoning of war crimes. US war planners including President Truman viewed the war as a life and death struggle for global hegemonic supremacy between Western capitalism and Eastern communism. Moral certitude such as that expressed by General Ridgeway that God was on America's side and a long history of entrenched racial bigotry encouraged ethical blindness and required the utmost secrecy and deception to prevent the American public from discovering such atrocities. The Korean War created the opportunity for the US Defense Dept. to revive and fund a coalition of military, private, and public sector interests from WWII to implement a crash program of BW. The Korean War further provided both a pretext and a remote location for testing new BW weapons in combat conditions in anticipation of a future total war against the USSR.

The United States and Biological Warfare by Endicott and Hagerman is a meticulously researched indictment of the US's germ war attack on Korea and China. Any twelve random American jurors presented with this case in a court of law would not fail to unanimously convict the US as charged. But few people have heard this case today because a professional hit was put on it.

The denial machine ratchets up

The hit on Endicott and Hagerman's book consisted of three well-placed, highly negative reviews which successfully cut bookstore orders, shelf space, second tier reviews, and sales on what would likely have been a best-seller expose' sequel following Sheldon Harris's Factories of Death. The first attack came from John Ellis van Courtland Moon in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. Moon was a retired history professor who had written articles on US chemical war policy during the Cold War. In his review, Professor Moon recycles old racist claims that the ISC report was flawed because of the Chinese lab work, that the 19 pilots' confessions were worthless as evidence, and that the US had no offensive BW capacity during the Korean War, and he denies that the secret Unit 731 amnesty/collaboration deal directly implicated the US in further secret BW machinations in Korea. These denier arguments are stale and do not hold up to current scholarship.

Three of his points deserve special response. Moon argues that during the Korean War, in accordance with National Security Council policy NSC62, CW and BW were only to be used in retaliatory capacity, and therefore, the US could not have used offensive BW by presidential fiat. What he omits is that the NSC was a new White House office set up by Truman in 1947 as part of a larger reshuffle which created the CIA to consolidate intelligence, and combined War and Navy into a unified Defense Dept. The inner circle of BW conspirators was very small indeed. It did not necessarily include the full NSC with its policy decrees. Excluding the NSC shielded its non-informed members from direct knowledge and created the basis for plausible denial. 6969 The National Security Council was set up in 1947 by Harry Truman to broaden and centralize foreign policy decision-making within his administration. The NSC brought together the cabinet Secretaries of State, Defense, and Treasury, with military and intelligence chiefs to reduce departmental squabbling and conflicting policy agendas. It was intended to be collegial; its decrees were non-binding on the President, and it's agenda was managed by an executive secretary. Eisenhower elevated the NSC to agency status in 1953 by establishing the office of National Security Advisor. It was not until this point that NSC policy decrees gained teeth. The mechanism of plausible denial requires that important parties are deliberately kept ignorant of certain decisions so that they can deny knowledge of a future event, and by inference deny the event as well. View all notes

Professor Moon also trundles out Milton Leitenberg with his 12 Soviet documents. I have previously demonstrated that Leitenberg's evidence is in all probability a forgery. It consists of typed copies of handwritten copies which cannot be connected by evidentiary trail to their purported source in the Presidential Library of the Kremlin. Furthermore, the contents of this "Soviet dossier" do not reveal the information Mr. Leitenberg claims, but relate instead to the power struggle in the Soviet Politburo following Stalin's death. 7070 I discuss the 12 Soviet documents at length in, Thomas Powell, "Korean War Biological Warfare Update," Socialism and Democracy, Vol.31, No. 3 Nov. 2017, pp. 126134. View all notes

Lastly, Moon takes umbrage with a claim by Endicott and Hagerman that Truman was prepared to use the 500,000 anthrax bomblets primed for production at the Vigo factory against Japan in 1945. Both the Manhattan Project which built the atomic bomb and the Ft. Detrick BW operation were top secret. Unbeknownst to each other, they were in head-to-head competition to build the world's first super-weapon of mass destruction. If there had not been production delays at Vigo, or if the Trinity Site A-bomb test in New Mexico had been a dud, who is to say that Truman wouldn't have changed horses? The atomic bomb was certainly the sexier weapon, but the racial rage stirred up against Japan, and the desire for a quick end to the war overcame any reservations Truman had about BW. Moon concludes his review by agreeing with the authors on the need for full disclosure from the US. This is something both accusers and deniers can agree upon. 7171 One place that historians may look for greater clarity on US BW history in Korea would be to FOIA request an un-censored version of Dorothy Miller's History of Air Force Participation in the Biological Warfare Program, 19441954, vol. 1 (1952) and vol. 2 (1957). These two volumes are the unpublished official history of USAF participation in the bacterial warfare program. Endicott and Hagerman note that important discussions pertaining to BW development and deployment in these two volumes have been redacted. The reference citations for both volumes which might lead to additional important and unknown documents remain classified and unavailable for scholarship. Miller's two volumes are available from U.S. Air Force, Air Material Command, Historical Division, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. View all notes

Sheldon Harris's tar brush in the Journal of American History is particularly smarmy. Harris cites three lamentable proofreading errors in a first edition as major blunders of historical fact. 7272 Harris' first two complaints are transcriptions of dates and not of substantive facts 1937 instead of 1931, 1945 instead of 1947. The third is the titling of a map of Northeast China as "Northwest China."View all notes He is outraged that "anti-American bias pervades virtually every chapter in the book," and that the authors cite Chinese and North Korean historical documents to try to understand the communist perception and response to the BW attack at the height of the Korean War. Isn't that what historians are supposed to do gather material from many sources? This book is an unapologetic indictment of US war crimes by Canadian authors. Why should they uphold loyalty to the US, or pretend journalistic neutrality? Harris's sanctimony is misplaced.

What Endicott and Hagerman's history does uncover is a huge shortcoming in Harris's own research. Harris's book, Factories of Death, makes much of blaming the Japanese war criminals of Unit 731, and it chastises the US handlers for shielding their heinous crimes, but it gives us no information on how this valuable trove of Japanese BW data, so worth covering up and so scandalously lied for, was incorporated into the American BW arsenal at Ft. Detrick. Surely some discussion of the utility and application of this advanced military windfall should have been a chapter of Harris's book.

The attacks by Harris and Moon were targeted to the academic and public policy crowd. The hit which most affected book orders and American public awareness came in the highly influential New York Times Book Review, and was written by Ed Regis, whose own book, The Biology of Doom,7373 Ed Regis, The Biology of Doom: The History of America's Secret Germ Warfare Project, Henry Holt & Co., New York, 1999. View all notes was due out the following year. Regis, a retired philosophy professor, had written previous popular books on non-fiction science subjects.

Regis takes the authors to task for not producing a "single document in American archives that provides direct evidence for their claim." This taunt is meant to question 20 years of research by Endicott and Hagerman who struggled continuously against government censorship. By contrast, Regis' enters this contentious topic remarkably quickly with a completed book and without a prior track record of research articles. It is further apparent he has been given privileged access to some Ft. Detrick records. 7474 Ed Regis' previous published research in disease pathology is a glowing and heroic account of efforts by doctors and researchers at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. Ed Regis, Virus Ground Zero: Stalking the Killer Viruses with the Center for Disease Control, Pocket Books, New York, 1996. A critical review of of his subsequent book, Biology of Doom, by Jonathan Tucker states, "in becoming too close to his sources, Regis may have lost his critical distance and begun to view the past through their self-justifying eyes." Tucker further laments that the regrettable "lack of documentation limits the historical value of the book's striking new revolutions." Jonathan B. Tucker, "Book Review: Biological Warfare," Issues in Science and Technology, Vol. XVI, No.2 (Winter 2000) The lack of documentation may also be evidence of the behind-the-scenes guiding hand of Norman M. Covert, the official historian of Fort Detrick whose own slim volume, Cutting Edge: A History of Ft. Detrick, Maryland, 19431993, is an exercise in obfuscation. View all notes Compartmentalization of record keeping as a means for restricting information flow works very well. The US government is not going to release any top-secret confessional documents on BW, and it cannot be compelled to through FOIA. Bill Powell learned this years ago. Endicott and Hagerman gave it a second shot, then found other sources. Regis understands the methodology of secret-keeping, and agreeably collaborates through self-censorship. His book contains no chapter titles, no reference citations, no document citations, no photographs, and his bibliography is abridged.

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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