Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A history of WMD 
The use of weapons of mass destruction far, far predates the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima - and even the mass chemical strikes of WWI.

From the Texas Department of Human Services comes this interesting timeline:

• 600 BC: Assyrians poisoned the wells of their enemies with rye ergot, which affected those ingesting it with sickness or death. The fungus that causes ergot produces ergotamine, a hallucinogen similar in chemistry and effects to LSD. Ergot poisoning causes delusions, paranoia, myoclonic twitches, seizures, and cardiovascular problems that can lead to death. Those affected seemed to go mad, which added the terror element and served to demoralize their comrades.

• 590 BC: During the siege of Cirrha, Solon of Athens is said to have used hellebore roots (a purgative) to poison the water in an aqueduct leading from the Pleistrus River. In that same era and area, Sparta used toxic smoke generated by burning wood dipped in a mixture of tar and sulfur during one of its wars with Athens.

• 400 BC: Sythian warriors reportedly dipped their arrows into decomposing bodies or in blood mixed with feces from diseased persons in the attempt to make even glancing wounds fester.

• 400 BC: Writings of the Mohist sect in China tell of the use of ox-hide bellows to pump smoke from furnaces in which balls of mustard and other toxic vegetable matter were being burnt into tunnels to discourage the besieging army from digging. The use of a toxic cacodyl (arsenic trioxide) smoke is also mentioned in early Chinese manuscripts. The Chinese may have developed smoke-type weapons for use in war as a result of their practice of fumigation of dwellings to eliminate fleas (know to have been practiced by the Chinese as long ago as the Seventh Century BC); or, according to other speculations, from the Chinese philosophy that all matter faded into an insubstantial form, which may have led them to study the effects and properties of vapors. Chinese writings contain hundreds of recipes for the production of poisonous or irritating smokes for use in wars, and many reports of their actual use. For example, they created and used an irritating "five-league fog" made out of slow-burning gunpowder to which a variety of ingredients –including, notably, the excrement of wolves – was added.

• 300-100 BC: The Romans used bees and hornets as weapons by catapulting them at their enemies. Some historians blame this practice for a shortage of hives during the waning years of the Roman Empire.

• 190 BC: In the Battle of Eurymedon, the Carthaginian General Hannibal won a naval victory over King Eumenes II of Pergamum by catapulting pottery jars containing poisonous snakes onto the decks of his enemy's ships. This imaginative tactic apparently actually worked. According to a Roman historian:

"At first these projectiles excited the laughter of the combatants [King Eumenes' sailors], and they could not understand what it meant. But as soon as they saw their ships filled with snakes, terrified by the strange weapons and not knowing how to avoid them, they turned their ships about and retreated to their naval camp. Thus Hannibal overcame the arms of Pergamum by strategy." [From "Hannibal," a section of Vitae Excellentium Imperatorum ("Lives of Excellent Men") by Cornelius Nepos]


Much more at the link.

Splash, out


Oh, I see why you say Saddam had WMD. By this definition every country has WMD. I probably have something around the house that can poison the neighbor's well so I have WMD too.
That's IT. I've HAD it with these MOTHERF**KIN' SNAKES on this MOTHERF**KIN' BOAT!!
I think newfweiler makes a valid point. Weapons of Mass Destruction does not (or, at least, should not) simply refer to unconventional weapons. It means weapons with the capability of killing extremely large numbers of people. I think a super MOAB, though conventional, would qualify as a WMD if it could kill 10,000 people. (see the wikipedia article for history on the term WMD)

We did not justify an invasion of Iraq based on the threat of Saddam poisoning a small number of people. It was said (I presume) that he had the capability to attack many people. Whether the method of attack was conventional was, I think, I lesser issue.

So I have a question for you, Jason. I think I have seen you post a number of times that Saddam really did have WMD's. Would you mind repeating yourself or linking us to WMD's in the sense that I have defined above?

Thanks very much. Your blog is one of my favorites.
Mike: You miss-spelled "MUTHA". HTH. HAND. ;-)
If you are interested in this subject, I recommend the book Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor.
I once read an Apache history. There was one incident where they blocked up the exits from a Mexican church where folks were hiding, dropped flaming bundles containing hot chilis down the chimney, and asphixiated the bunch. If you have ever inhaled fumes from burning hot chilis you will understand.
The ancient biowar timeline published by the Texas Dept of Human Services is out of date and contains historical errors. For example, the Assyrians poisoning wells with rye ergot-LSD is mentioned in older histories of biowar, but is now known to be false. Assyrian texts refer to rye ergot but there is no evidence for its use in warfare.

The poisoning of wells with poison hellebore at Cirrha, Greece did take place in 590 BC.

Sparta used pine resin and sulphur more than a century later during the Peloponnesian War, 429 BC.

The info on the Scythian poison arrows recipe is incorrect: the nomads dipped their projectiles in a mixture of snake venom, dung, and human serum.

For updated, comprehensive descriptions of these and a slew of other nasty bio and chemical weapons in ancient China, Greece, Rome, Asia, Africa, and India, see Mayor's recent book (2003), recommended by Dean, "Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs." It's out in paperback now and has a great timeline of biochem attacks, beginning with the Hittites in 1500 BC and the Trojan War up thru snake and scorpion bombs used against Romans and the invention of Greek fire in AD 668.
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