Week 10 Preparedness Blog: United States World War Two Bioterrorism Program

Week 10 - April 20, 2018

by David Culp, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, Illinois Public Health Association

United States World War Two Bioterrorism Program

For 134 years, from 1783 thru 1917, the United States of America had been growing exponentially in territory, manufacturing capacity, food production and overall world prominence. The United States, though only an 18-month participant in World War One, would save Great Britain and France, both nearly out of soldiers, supplies and war funds and with Germany on the verge of victory, by its entry into the war in 1917. It would be American resources and forces which would stop the German offensives of 1918, turn the tide of war and ultimately win World War One for the Allies.

The United States fully committed its industrial, agricultural and transportation assets towards the war. Americans viewed with pride as their troops traveled to Europe to free the world from tyranny in the war to end all wars. For example, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, as the state university of Illinois, would forever nickname their sports teams the Fighting Illini to honor those alumni and students who had fought in World War One. Illinois’ Memorial Football Stadium, when erected in 1923, contained one pillar for each alumni and student killed fighting in World War One, listing their name, military unit and class year, inscriptions I can personally attest remain present and readable today.

World War One in America would demonstrate both the impact and the danger of propaganda. Propaganda spotlighting the dangers posed by Germany would lead to massive mobilization of American troops, armaments, supplies, food products and monetary resources to support Allied war efforts on the Western Front. Whereas propaganda focused on select groups of American citizens would range from destructive to deadly; leading to persecution of citizens of German descent and lynching of African-American citizens wrongfully accused as being pro-German.

The United States emerged from World War One victorious, though wary of foreign alliances: demonstrated by its refusal to join the League of Nations; yet determined to use its military and monetary power and influence to diplomatically diminish chances of future conflicts. During the 1920’s, United States would, for the first time, assume the mantle of leader of the free world, commanding efforts for disarmament and for peaceful resolving of disputes between nations; essentially taking a worldwide leadership role independent of formal alliance or body. Concurrently, widespread availability of electricity and oil to power home appliances and automobiles would create tremendous consumer demands, combined with immense highway and housing construction, to develop a flourishing economy. Ominousl,y it was a vibrant economy built on astronomical levels of credit and expectations for uninterrupted prosperity.

Unfortunately, the 1930’s would see saturation of consumer product markets leading to decreasing demand, over production and massive inventory surpluses resulting in extremely high levels of unemployment, precluding ability of workers to meet their credit demands and ultimately the Great Depression. New Deal politics of Franklin Roosevelt’s administration, though having initially positive psychological, employment and fiscal benefits, would prove to have their limitations. It was only after the United States' entry into World War Two, necessitating massive manufacturing and employment expansion for wartime production, with America racing to eclipse two decades of military preparedness neglect, the economic depression would end.

As in Great Britain, fears of German utilization of bioterrorism would lead to the United States developing their own program with the establishment of Camp Detrick, Maryland in 1942 under the direction of the War Research Service. The American program was definitively offensive in nature with research and development into weaponizing both anthrax and botulinum toxin; reaching the point where munitions were loaded and stockpiled for delivery of both organisms. Fears related to German utilization of botulinum toxin were sufficient enough that many Allied troops were given botulinum toxoid and many volunteers were exposed to bio agents at Camp Detrick after being provided the toxoid, as well as vaccines to other agents.

United States national preparedness, in the years leading up to both World War One and World War Two, was severely lacking in commitment, funding and activity. During both world wars, America was able to mobilize sufficiently quick enough to intervene in Europe to save western democracies; in the second world war, achieving the incredible challenge of engaging and defeating Japan in the Pacific while simultaneously defeating Nazi Germany in Europe. However, the response time window has dramatically decreased for modern warfare and especially for terrorism. Consequently, preparedness for military and terrorism attacks requires a monumental commitment for constant diligence and investment; whether for conventional means of warfare, quick acting nuclear and chemical agents or exponentially impacting biological weapons.


comments powered by Disqus