A drill sergeant speaks out on bioweapons

Worried about a bioweapons attack in North America? Check out this essay by Red Thomas, a retired Armor Master Gunner, on what guys in the army actually think about their dangers. His conclusion?

Drill Sergeants exaggerate how terrible this stuff was to keep the recruits awake in class (I know this because I was a Drill Sergeant too). Forget everything you’ve ever seen on TV, in the movies, or read in a novel about this stuff, it was all a lie (read this sentence again out loud!). These weapons are about terror, if you remain calm, you will probably not die. This is far less scary than the media and their “Experts,” make it sound.

“Probably” is not, of course, the most soothing word to use in this case, but if you read the rest of the piece it’s a nice talk-through of what practical steps you can take in the event of a chemical weapon, bioweapon, or even a nuke. I had some crazy cold-war-of-my-youth flashbacks while reading the nuke stuff (including Thomas’ instructions on how to purify rainwater in case the city’s water supply is cut off, yeeeeeeeikes). But his analysis of chemical and bioweapons is interesting because, as he points out, these things are not all that efficient at killing people. They exist for a different reason:

Contrary to the hype of reporters and politicians they are not weapons of mass destruction they are “area denial,” and terror weapons that don’t destroy anything. When you leave the area you almost always leave the risk. That’s the difference; you can leave the area and the risk but soldiers may have to stay put and sit through it and that’s why they need all that spiffy gear.

I like this “area denial” point, because it turns a bioweapon attack into something more akin to when a tanker truck with a toxic payload jacknives on the interstate. Everyone flees, the government moves in and cleans it up — but nobody much dies. Much less terrifying. On the other hand, if bioweapons are about forcing people to clear out a particular area, it makes sense that terrorists would hit big, financially crucial cities. Hmmmm.

(Thanks to boing boing for this one!)

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson