The New Biological Weapons: Threat, Proliferation, and Control

By Malcolm Dando | Go to book overview
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The current technological capabilities of the biological and medical community and concerns about their possible misuse in offensive biological warfare programs did not come about by chance, or just recently. The development of modern biology and medicine has long roots; but for present purposes, the major developments can be dated from the latter part of the nineteenth century. There occurred then “one of medicine's few true revolutions: bacteriology. Seemingly resolving age-old controversies over pathogenesis, a new and immensely powerful aetiological doctrine rapidly established itself” (1). Furthermore, and—it appears—rather unusually for medicine, “the new disease theories led directly and rapidly to genuinely effective preventive measure and remedies, saving lives on a dramatic scale” (1).

The impact of the revolution was enormous, driving down infant mortality rates from the 150 or more per thousand that characterized even the industrial world at that time toward the single figure rates of some Western European countries today. Scientists of world standing such as Louis Pasteur in France and Robert Koch in Germany led the way in this golden age of bacteriology in which many of the bacterial diseases that had ravaged human populations—cholera, plague, and so on—were now understood, and effective remedies developed.

A British Royal Army Medical Corps training manual of 1908 described the new thinking succinctly: “[D]iseases like enteric fever, cholera, dysentery, small-pox, plague, malaria and a number of others, all of which are caused by the entering into the body from without of the cause, which is a living thing or germ. It is quite clear that, from the nature of their causation, the various diseases are more or less preventable” (2). In short, specific microorganisms were shown to cause specific diseases in humans, animals, and plants. By attacking these microorganisms, the diseases could be cured or prevented.


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The New Biological Weapons: Threat, Proliferation, and Control


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