The history of biological weapons programs is a repetitive spectacle of biological science put to its worst use, of threats imagined and ignored, and of government secrecy increasing annihilating risks to civilians. Along the way, legal and technical restraints, civic awareness, and the decisions of key political actors have kept this innovative class of weapons from the destructive strategic uses its advocates envisioned. This book is about the twentieth-century incorporation of biological weapons into the arsenals of industrial states and its implications for present times, when new technologies and persistent political animosities may allow even more ominous threats than in the past.
The rise of state-sponsored programs is inseparable from the great conflicts among advanced industrial nations and the general search for technological advantage in warfare. France in the 1920s, followed by Japan in 1934 and subsequently by the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Soviet Union, had serious expectations that biological weapons could win wars. Each invested heavily in research and development to explore this possibility. The prior development of chemical weapons during World War I aided technological advances in biological weapons; the history of these two classes of weapons is often overlapping. The introduction of aerial warfare and longrange bombers expanded the vision of how to devastate enemy civilians with disease. By the end of World War II, the United States was well on its way to industrial-scale production of munitions. It then pursued the goal of making biological attacks as destructive in scope as nuclear bombs. The Soviet Union followed with even greater strategic capacity.