In this article we will look at the arguments pro and con in regard to US biological warfare (BW) during the Korean War as they have been made in the subject literature. After the first decade of post-Korean War secrecy, including McCarthyism, prosecution, direct censorship, and programmed forgetting, an initial trickle of academic curiosity has increased into a steady flow of articles and new titles. The allegations that the US used germs and insects as combat weapons during the Korean War have grown into an historical controversy with its own library a small but recognizable sub-genre of Cold War history, stimulated by the heated and ongoing charges.
BW literature is still a specialized interest, for the vast majority of Americans remain ignorant about the Korean War allegations. Few veterans of this war still live who remember what most of us have long been programmed to not know in 1952, in a brutally stalemated trench war engagement, the US Army opted to secretly drop insect vectors carrying disease pathogens by airplane upon identified sites in North Korea and China in hopes of changing the battlefield outcome. 11 The inner circle of conspirators of this war crime was President Harry Truman, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, Secretary of Defense Lovett, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Director of the CIA. View all notes This BW experiment began in early 1952 and lasted through all of that year.
The English-language academic community 22 There are significant bodies of writing in Korean, Mandarin and Russian on this topic too. View all notes divides itself on the subject of Korean War BW into three entrenched camps the accusers, the deniers, and the avoiders. The avoiders are not neutral. They just "don't want to go there," or they claim the evidence to be inconclusive. Following the advice of colleagues, funders, and publishers, their modus is to stay clear of controversy. Their silence supports the power structure. My own convictions lie firmly with the prosecution. I'm not neutral, but I believe that all arguments in this controversy should be aired in order for me to support them or refute them. Not all the BW library can be examined in this short space, but the story that emerges is both sinuous and instructive.
We will begin our discussion of the literature with Murray Sanders,33 For background on Murray Sanders see: Sheldon Harris, Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 19321945, and the American Cover-up, Routledge, New York and London, 1994, pp. 180183, and Chap 10, Notes 14, 17. Murray Sanders, authored and co-authored many product testing reports at Dugway Proving Ground, UT in 1944. View all notes a Ft. Detrick investigator sent to Tokyo in 1945. Sanders' role is seminal for he conducted the first post-war investigation of Japanese military BW and wrote a report. 44 The Sanders Report is reproduced in: Peter Williams and David Wallace, Unit 731: the Japanese Army's Secret of Secrets, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1989, Appendix B, pp. 312314. View all notes Sanders admits that he personally petitioned General MacArthur to guarantee the amnesty deal for Shiro Ishii and his Unit 731 staff, in exchange for their research and cooperation. Later in life, Sanders also granted interviews to BW historians. 55 Peter Williams and David Wallace interviewed Sanders at length for their book. They paint the elderly Sanders in a sympathetic light. Williams and Wallace, op., cit., Chapter 10, pp. 121140. View all notes Two subsequent Ft. Detrick investigators, Arvo Thompson 66 Harris, op., cit., pp. 183184, Thompson died mysteriously in what was ruled to be a drunken gunshot suicide in a Tokyo brothel in 1948. View all notes and Norbert Fell, filed additional reports on the Unit 731 Water Purification Plant at the Ping Fan train station near Harbin, China. Other written documentation from the early post-war occupation reveals that Alva Carpenter,77 Ibid., pp. 297299, and Chap 15, Notes 48, 49. View all notes an attorney attached to the Adjutant General's office in Tokyo, was the legal fixer of the unwritten amnesty for collaboration deal for Unit 731 staff.
The receipt of the Japanese research at Ft. Detrick prompted the 1947 publication of a 90-page detailed article by Theodore Rosebury, Director of the Ft. Detrick Research and Development Division, in collaboration with his colleague, Alvin Kabat. In "Bacterial Warfare"88 Theodore Rosebury and Alvin Kabat, "Bacterial Warfare," Journal of Immunology, Vol 56, May 1947, pp. 796View all notes the two authors discussed the glowing prospects of germ warfare and rated insect vectors as highly reliable pathogen delivery systems. In 1949, Rosebury wrote his own book on BW, Peace or Pestilence. 99 Theodore Rosebury, Peace or Pestilence; Biological Warfare and How to Avoid It, First published 1949, reprinted by Isha Books, New Delhi, 2013View all notes In the opening chapter, titled "Today's Question," Rosebury laid out his plea for sanity in the headlong race with the Soviet Union toward ever more monstrous means of mass annihilation. Like J. Robert Oppenheimer, father of the atomic bomb, Rosebury reveals a deep remorse for the blindness of scientific curiosity delivering terrible weapons into the hands of politicians and generals. Rosebury's book is the beginning of a modern BW literature.Reporting the war
The next group of BW investigators were the journalists who covered the Korean War from the front, notably Wilfred Burchett, Alan Winnington, and Tibor Mèrey. Mèrey's writings I've discussed at length in a previous essay. 1010 Mèrey's later writings I discuss at length in, Thomas Powell, "On the Biological Warfare Hoax Thesis, Socialism and Democracy, Vol. 32 No. 1, 2018, pp. 1012. View all notes Burchett and Winnington were embedded with China's People's Volunteer Army (PVA)1111 Winnington was a correspondent for the British Communist Party newspaper, Daily Worker, Burchett corresponded for the French communist newspaper, L'Humanite'. View all notes where they had access to the latest battlefield reports and backstage dramas of the stalled peace talks in Panmunjom. No Western journalists enjoyed anywhere near the information sources from the tight-lipped UN/US side. Burchett and Winnington also covered the prisoner massacres of 1951 and 1952 on Koje Island which was the site of several US-run POW camps housing many thousands of Chinese and North Korean prisoners.
According to American official communique's and western news agency reports alone, some three thousand prisoners of war were killed or wounded by their American captors up to the end of 1952. Machine guns, rifles and other small arms, hand grenades, bayonets, and even flame throwers and tanks were used against unarmed men. 1212 Wilfred Burchett and Alan Winnington, Koje Unscreened, China-Britain Friendship Association, London, 1953, p. 3. View all notes
Burchett also interview captured American pilots. 1313 Burchett was allowed access to American POW airmen and interviewed several. Wilfred Burchett wrote four books on the Korean War which will be discussed in my next article. View all notes He eye-witnessed an American germ attack on June 6, 1952, and wrote an account published in L'Humanite'. 1414 Dave Chaddock, This Must Be the Place: How the US Waged Germ War in Korea and Denied It Ever Since, Bennett and Hasting Publishing, Seattle, 2013, p. 54. View all notes Burchett, an Australian citizen, wrote of his Korean War experiences in a book titled, This Monstrous War. Five hundred copies of the book were seized by US Customs agents and dumped at sea. 1515 Ibid., p. 63. View all notes Burchett was hounded relentlessly by Australian authorities, and his passport was revoked.
An American journalist based in Shanghai, John W. (Bill) Powell (father of this author), railed against the US Army's brutal bombing campaigns with names like "Operation Killer" and "Operation Strangle" in editorials in China Weekly Review (CWR). CWR had been founded in 1917 by Powell's father, J.B. Powell. The younger Powell had been a journalist in China since 1939 and had heard of deadly Unit 731 BW attacks on cities in Manchuria. 1616 During the war, Powell worked for the Office of War Information (OWI) in Chongqing, where the Nationalist Chinese government was headquartered. View all notes When reports came in from reliable sources at the Korean front of US BW attacks, Powell found them credible and printed them. He also reprinted roll lists published in Chinese newspapers of American soldiers interned in communist POW camps. This was a blessing for desperate families back home in the States who often had no word for months from the army on missing soldiers, but this editorial decision also earned him much rancor with army brass, and contributed to his later sedition indictment. 1717 The US Army's practice during the Korean War was not to notify next of kin of POW status. View all notes
Canadian peace activist James Endicott was invited by the Chinese Committee for World Peace in 1952 to investigate the Korean War BW charges. Endicott, born to missionary parents in China, spoke several dialects of Chinese, and had spent 22 years in missionary service in China on behalf of the Canadian Church of Christ. He had been a relief worker in Chongqing (Chungking) during the Japanese bombing raids of 19391940. Endicott toured BW-attacked sites and interviewed witnesses. At a press conference on April 10, 1952 at Mukden, China, he denounced the US BW campaign, stating his personal investigation had revealed undeniable evidence of large-scale continuing American germ warfare on the Chinese mainland. 1818 Peter Williams and David Wallace, Unit 731: The Japanese Army's Secret of Secrets, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1989, 256. View all notes He was immediately attacked in both the US and Canadian press and threatened with treason and sedition prosecution. His passport was seized upon return to Canada. The Canadian Peace Congress quickly arranged a mass support rally for Endicott at Toronto's hockey stadium, where Endicott presented his evidence before 10,000 attendees who gave him a standing ovation. As the Korean War was not popular in Canada, the government backed off its threats but continued surveillance and harassment.
The most notorious volume (from this time and still today) on Korean War BW was the 1952 Report of the International Scientific Commission (ISC). 1919 Report of the International Scientific Commission for the Investigation of the Facts Concerning Bacterial Warfare in Korea and China, Peking, 1952. The ISC and Dr. Needham's back story are discussed is in, Thomas Powell, "Biological Warfare in the Korean War: Allegations and Cover-up", Socialism and Democracy, Vol.31. No. 1, 2017, pp. 126128. View all notes The commission of scientists led by Joseph Needham spent ten weeks traveling in China and North Korea collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses. Needham, fluent in Mandarin, had also spent most of the war years in China as a British education envoy at Chongqing, and had traveled extensively around China, including Japanese occupied areas. He too was aware of Unit 731 BW activities in Manchuria. The US BW attacks with insect vectors looked agonizingly familiar.
The ISC stipulated a rigorous, multi-step investigative methodology in advance of its inquiry which required physical evidence, pathology reports, autopsies and eye-witness testimony. 2020 ISC Report, op. cit. ., "Incident Analysis Adopted by the Commission," p. 13. View all notes The report's 60 page summary finding bolstered by another 600 pages of evidentiary appendices was unequivocal. The US was found culpable on five occasions of delivering deadly pathogens and infected vectors by airplane to identified sites on specific dates at specific times. There was abundant additional evidence of many aircraft incursions which correlated with anomalous insect appearances, outbreaks of illness, and pathology reports, but these five cases met the criteria stipulated by the methodology, and scientifically confirmed the allegations. The committee deemed them to be conclusive evidence of US BW attacks. 2121 Ibid., The five case histories were: (1) Incidents in Korea (plague) pp.2426; (2) The Kan Nan Incident (plague) pp.2729; (3) The K'uan-Tien Incident (anthrax) pp.3031; (4) Incidents in Liaotung and Liaohsi (respiratory anthrax) pp.3234; and (5) The Dai Dong Incident (cholera), pp.3536. View all notes
The ISC report also included handwritten statements of four captured American airmen one navigator and three pilots. The committee interviewed the POW airmen who reiterated their confessions of dropping BW bombs over enemy targets while also expressing deep remorse. 2222 Ibid., "Testimonies of Captured Airmen," pp.4751. The four airmen were: Lt. KL Enoch; Lt. John Quinn; Lt. FB O'Neal; Lt. Paul Kniss. View all notes The prisoners' confessions, the treatment of POWs on both sides of the battlefield, forced repatriations, forced tattooing, psychological warfare, and brainwashing claims are complex issues which will be addressed together in a future article.