#88 review: Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War


Biological Weapons

and America’s Secret War


Judith MILLER, William BROAD, and Stephen ENGELBERG
320 pages
Published by Simon & Schuster in 2002

This book counts for

My Dewey Decimal Challenge

and for

The 2011 Non-Fiction Challenge

Some of you may enjoy thrillers and all kinds of vampire/zombie dystopian novels. I have to say the scariest book I read this year is NOT a novel, but this work of non-fiction. It was recommended to me by a friend who reads extensively all kinds of non-fiction works. I really knew close to nothing about the biological war programs of the US, quite active in the 50s and 60s, and apparently not as closed today as the official version seems to say. It was so scary to read about experiments done above our own American cities, not of course that I would have preferred them to be done elsewhere!
With recent catastrophes, we tend to think the biggest danger is coming from the nuclear side, but this book may actually have you change your opinion on that. Tiny germs and biological weapons can bring huge and lasting disasters.
The scariest part of the book for me, so relevant today, is that former top scientists let go by Russia at the time of biological programs downsizing, were looking of course for work, and some went to work for some countries that may be open to using these weapons with even less scruples than we do…
This book is definitely very scary.
Three New York Times veteran reporters teamed up for this thoughtful and thorough report on bio-terrorism — from a salmonella attack by cultists in Oregon during the 1980s to the current state of biological weapons.

Judith Miller and William Broad are reporters at The New York Times. Stephen Engelberg is managing editor/enterprise of The Oregonian. All three authors have received the Pulitzer Prize for their journalism.

While the U.S. maintained an active “bugs and gas” program in the ’50s and early ’60s, bio-weapons were effectively pulled off this country’s agenda in 1972 when countries around the world, led by the United States, forswore development of such weapons at the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention. The issue reemerged in the early ’90s thanks to Saddam Hussein and revelations of the clandestine and massive buildup of bio-weapons in remote corners of the Soviet Union. The book’s description of the Soviet program is horrific. At its peak the program employed thousands of scientists, developing bioengineered pathogens as well as producing hundreds of tons of plague, anthrax, and smallpox annually. The authors conclude that while a biological attack against the United States is not necessarily inevitable, the danger of bio-weapons is too real to be ignored. Well-researched and documented, this book will not disappoint readers looking for a reliable and sober resource on the topic. [amazon]
International treaties are intended to keep us safe, but as the authors, New York Times reporters, show, confidence in international law may be misplaced. The 1972 Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention was systematically violated on industrial scales by the Soviet Union and Iraq. Each of these legal reprobates manufactured (as did the U.S., before President Nixon terminated U.S. production in 1969) pathogens in quantities sufficient to annihilate humanity. Reconstructing the Soviet and Iraqi germ warfare programs, the authors recount how these violations impacted the debates and actions of U.S. government officials. Some doubted the Soviets were flouting the convention; others, convinced they were, insisted the U.S. continue “defensive” research on anthrax and its ilk. Because the hard-liners were vindicated, focus since the Soviet collapse has been on keeping scientists from selling their expertise to the Iraqs of the world. Meanwhile, Iraq tried to bamboozle the UN disarmament commission about its involvement in germ warfare, prompting the U.S. military to worry about whether it should vaccinate troops. Though some of the authors’ conclusions are being challenged by other experts, Germs provides chilling context about a nefarious weapon. [Booklist – amazon]


3 thoughts on “#88 review: Germs: Biological Weapons and America’s Secret War

  1. Pingback: 2011 Non Fiction Challenge « Words And Peace

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