Chemical and Biological Warfare (Magill’s Guide to Military History)
Chemical warfare involves using gaseous, liquid, or solid substances to kill or incapacitate enemies or to poison their food and water. Biological warfare involves using disease-producing microbes whose multiplication in people, animals, or plants causes their death. The use of and the threat to use chemical and biological warfare have waxed and waned throughout human history, depending on specific political, religious, and ethical circumstances.
Ancient Period: To 500 c.e.
For thousands of years, humans, in conducting their wars, have used toxic chemicals and deadly diseases. Primitive humans discovered toxins in plants and animals, and they used poison-tipped arrows to maim or kill enemies. The ancient Indian works Ramayana (c. 2000 b.c.e.) and Mahabharata (c. 1500 b.c.e.) contain discussions of lethal gases, and some Indian wars were fought with toxic fumes that dazed the enemy.
Those who believe that a historical substrate underlies biblical stories claim that biological warfare began with Moses, whose God inflicted ten plagues on the Egyptians. In the sixth century b.c.e., Assyrians used rye ergot, a fungus disease, to poison enemy wells. Around the same time Solon, the Athenian statesman who introduced a humane law code, had no moral qualms about using the purgative herb hellebore during the Siege of Krissa. During the Peloponnesian Wars (460-404 b.c.e.), the Spartans used gas warfare in the Siege of...
(The entire section is 1968 words.)
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