America's Struggle with Chemical-Biological Warfare

By Albert J. Mauroni | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 19
Domestic Affairs

The fear of chemical and biological warfare agents, largely caused by overestimating their physical properties, poor training and ignorance of defensive equipment capabilities, has bled over into two domestic concerns. Decisions over how best to safely dispose of chemical weapons and bulk chemical warfare agents, and parallel concerns over the possibility that terrorists might use CB warfare agents against an unsuspecting public (such as the Aum Shinrikyo cult), have been a delicate policy issue for DoD, as regards their level of commitment and plans for action. Both chemical demilitarization and domestic preparedness for CB terrorism concern military-grade CB agents primarily designed for wartime use and possible public exposure to these agents during peacetime. The two areas have their distinct proponents and critics, which both claim they speak for "the Public" as a whole. While addressing "the Public's" concerns adroitly has never been a strong suit of the Chemical Corps (not for lack of trying), their technical expertise is demanded when well-meaning but ignorant laypeople start making decisions about CB agent matters. The nature of the threat and misinterpreted incidents such as Dugway Proving Ground ( March 1968), Khamisiyah ( March 1991), and the Tokyo subway incident ( March 1995), have caused politicians, and the media in particular, to sensationalize these topics far in excess of what is deserved, resulting in an increased rather than decreased threat to "the Public."

Both these topics deserve much more discussion than can be allocated here, but there is an important point to observe. The American history of CB warfare, in particular the military and political views shaped by events since 1968, has a direct impact on how the issues of chemical demilitarization and domestic preparedness are addressed. It merits an examination to identify whether there is the chance to bring things to their proper scope, thereby enabling a calmer and more rational approach to real problems, enabling reasonable solutions. At the least, these topics deserve to be examined in terms of what is possible, instead of over exaggerating the threat into nightmare scenarios of gloom and doom, capitalized by politicians and those looking for their fifteen minutes of fame.

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