Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War

Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War

Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War

Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War


The emir of Bukhara used assassin bugs to eat away the flesh of his prisoners. General Ishii Shiro during World War II released hundreds of millions of infected insects across China, ultimately causing more deaths than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. These are just two of many startling examples found in Six-legged Soldiers, a brilliant portrait of the many weirdly creative, truly frightening, and ultimately powerful ways in which insects have been used as weapons of war, terror, and torture.
Beginning in prehistoric times and building toward a near and disturbing future, the reader is taken on a journey of innovation and depravity. Award-winning science writer Jeffrey A. Lockwood begins with the development of "bee bombs" in the ancient world and explores the role of insect-borne disease in changing the course of major battles, ranging from Napoleon's military campaigns to the trenches of World War I. He explores the horrific programs of insect warfare during World War II: airplanes dropping plague-infested fleas, facilities rearing tens of millions of hungry beetles to destroy crops, and prison camps staffed by doctors testing disease-carrying lice on inmates. The Cold War saw secret government operations involving the mass release of specially developed strains of mosquitoes on an unsuspecting American public--along with the alleged use of disease-carrying and crop-eating pests against North Korea and Cuba. Lockwood reveals how easy it would be to use of insects in warfare and terrorism today: In 1989, domestic ecoterrorists extorted government officials and wreaked economic and political havoc by threatening to release the notorious Medfly into California's crops.
A remarkable story of human ingenuity--and brutality--Six-Legged Soldiersis the first comprehensive look at the use of insects as weapons of war, from ancient times to the present day.


Although the historic and prospective use of insects as weapons is not the sort of topic that tends to lull one into a sense of well-being, I would like to put the reader’s mind at ease with regard to a few important considerations.

This book is, in large part, about history and science. And I am of the studied opinion that neither venture is particularly objective. As such, I cannot claim neutrality without abject hypocrisy. So in the spirit of honest disclosure, the reader should know the following. Despite claims to the contrary by early readers and reviewers, I am neither antireligious nor un-American. In fact, I attend church (Unitarian Universalist) almost every Sunday, and I vote in every election (being a registered Independent with Democratic leanings, although I increasingly struggle to discern the difference between the parties). I am, however, a skeptic with a sense of humor, a quality that might seem irreverent when I doubt the veracity of a particular reader’s favored institution.

It is my sense that human organizations—including universities, religious associations, corporate enterprises, government laboratories, federal agencies, and international bodies—have as their primary goal the acquisition and maintenance of power, not the search for and reporting of the truth. That said, I am not equally dubious of all sources. For example, I would believe an account provided by the U.S. government over one provided by the North Korean government, all other things being equal. But, of course, things are not often equal, and during times of hot and Cold Wars the honesty of both sides must be questioned. Historical and political accounts most often provide a complex set of partial truths from which one must attempt to assemble a best guess of what actually transpired.

In this light, my interpretation of historical events in which insects have been used as weapons—with or without the knowledge of the combatants—may not accord with the cultural, religious, or political sensitivities of all readers. It is not . . .

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