Guest Author - Evelyn Rainey
The Black Plague was carried throughout Europe and the medieval world by Crusaders. Small pox was spread to French and Indigenous Peoples of the Americas on army blankets given away as gifts of peace. The Spanish Influenza wiped out more recruits than died in the battles of the First World War. Cholera, dysentery, sexually transmitted diseases, typhus, and the legion of infectious bacteria have all played a part in the wars of mankind. What at first occurred as happenstance was quickly and thoroughly manipulated by mankind to benefit the victor and decimate the victim.
Warfare has never been limited by happenstance; it utilizes all innovations: medical, mechanical, chemical, as well as virtual. Ironically enough, each weapon of mass destruction has led us – as humanity – through the Valley of Death into paths of advancements. Morphine and penicillin and improved transplants and reconstructive surgery came out of the medical knowledge garnered from savage wounds. Space shuttles and fantastic biospheres arose from the building blocks of the Seabees. Pesticides which help fight against malaria and other insect-carried killers as well as new substances to aide in the fight against dementia have come about from the sacrifices of troops and civilians exposed to nerve gas. Smoke signals gave way to GPS. Every horrible black cloud of the War Machine has had a silver lining.
At what cost, you might ask. I don’t know. I can’t judge that beyond how it has affected me. But I can quote the letter to the President of the United States written in 1855 by Chief Seattle of the Dewamish tribe, “What affects the Earth, will also affect the Earth’s children.”
Between 1955 and 1975 6,720 US Army soldiers volunteered to be exposed to various agents in order to improve the arsenal of chemical warfare. They volunteered. In 1980, the Army asked the National Research Council to study the possible long term effects of this exposure. The report, based on phone conversations with 1,581 men came out in 1985 and assured the Army that there had really been no long term negative effects. In 1999, the Department of Defense again asked that research be undertaken to determine what, if any, long term effects these men had suffered due to exposure to nerve gas. The report came out stating that those who were only exposed to the agents actually had improved mental capability than men who had not been exposed. “There were only two statistically significant differences: volunteers in anticholinesterase agent tests reported fewer attention problems than those in other chemical tests and greater sleep disturbance than those in no chemical tests.” It did caution that men who, after release from service, and thereby through another career or through routine life were re-exposed to similar agents did seem to suffer from certain side-effects.
So, between 1955 and 1975, almost seven thousand men volunteered to help test a new weapon, clinically referred to as anticholinesterase agents. The immediate effects of exposure to these agents were salivation, lacrimation (tearing of the eyes), urination, defecation (including diarrhea) and vomiting. Then, the soldier’s heart rate slowed dramatically to below fifty beats per minute which led to fatigue, weakness, dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, chest pains, and shortness of breath. These symptoms were followed by abnormally low blood pressure (hypotension), bronchoconstriction (the airways in his lungs tightened tremendously and he had difficulty breathing). The fluid pressure inside his eyes decreased, blurring his already teary vision. And then his muscles contracted and wouldn’t stop contracting. He writhed on the floor already covered in his vomit and … well.
But he volunteered for this.
The reports state that these 6,720 soldiers were exposed to anticholinesterase, specifically GA (tuban), GN (Sarin), GD (Soman), GF (cyclosarin), and VX. Basically – very basically - anticholinesterase causes sustained contractions of all the muscles in the body with the end result being death. They were initially developed prior to WWII as organophosphate pesticides, but their toxicity to mammals was so devastating, they were deemed unfit for use by the general public. They are generally clear, although some tinting of yellow or brown is seen, mostly due to a contaminant in their mixture. Generally odorless and tasteless, these agents can be mixed with liquid, sprayed as an aerosol, and/or applied directly to the skin.
Tabun is slightly brown in color and has a slight fruity odor.
Sarin, also colorless, tasteless and odorless is so toxic that death from one dose can occur in less than one minute. Its shelf life is short (several weeks to a few months) and it is so corrosive, manufacturing of it is extremely dangerous.
Soman in its pure form is clear and odorless, but is highly corrosive and becomes yellow to brown in color with a camphor-like scent. Soman is more lethal and more persistent than tabun or sarin.
VX remains persistent in the environment and is so highly toxic that its only application is as a weapon.
These four agents have all been classified as weapons of mass destruction.
Of the original 6,720 soldiers who suffered the agonies described above, none of the 1,581 interviewed over the phone in the 1980’s nor the 4,022 interviewed over the phone in 1999 are showing any significant long term effects from this exposure. As a matter of record, the majority of those men displayed better mental ability than the control group. Also as a matter of record, any man who showed a significant problem had been re-exposed to other similar agents in civilian life.
You might be wondering what happened to the twenty-seven-hundred soldiers who weren’t interviewed. You might be wondering why only the Department of Defense investigated these possible effects. You might wonder why no doctors were interviewed or why no psychologists were involved or pediatricians, even though the questions referred to sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, birth defects, and neurological conditions. Wives? Did anyone think to interview the wives, mothers, sisters or daughters – the caregivers – of these men???
Did anyone think to trace the agents into their civilian uses today and see if there are any long-term effects of exposure to those pesticides?