Bracing for Armageddon? The Science and Politics of Bioterrorism in America

By William R. Clark | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
A BRIEF HISTORY OF
BIOTERRORISM

EXERCISES LIKE DARK WINTER PROVIDED POLITICAL leaders with frightening insights into what a real bioterrorist attack might look like, but even more importantly, how woefully inadequate our ability was to respond to any large-scale health emergency, including a bioterrorist attack. As mentioned earlier, the exercises themselves have been rightly criticized as exaggerating certain aspects of what such an attack might look like, particularly in terms of the technological capabilities imputed to the terrorists.1 But they certainly served to jumpstart a major upgrading of public health and emergency management services at all political levels, all across America.

Terrorism is a word rarely heard in English-speaking countries until a few decades ago. Modern political usage of the term stems from the French Revolution, one phase of which the French refer to as la Terreur. Current usage was undoubtedly shaped by the string of airliner hijackings in the Middle East in the 1960s and ’70s, of which one partisan allegedly said “[The hijackings] did more for our cause than twenty years of pleading [before the U.N.].”

These hijackings were occasionally referred to by the media as terrorism, and the hijackers as terrorists. The rise of groups in the 1960s and ’70s such as the Red Brigades, the Black Panthers,

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