UNCONVENTIONAL WEAPONSOrigins of Unconventional War

By Adrienne Mayor

Published 5 August 2022

Flamethrowers, poison gases, incendiary bombs, the large-scale spreading of disease: are these terrifying agents of warfare modern inventions? Not by a long shot. Societies around the world have used biological and chemical weapons for thousands of years. “One sobering result of writing this book is the realization that there was no time or place when biological weapons were unthinkable,” says Adrienne Mayor, the author of a new book on the subject.

Flamethrowers, poison gases, incendiary bombs, the large-scale spreading of disease: are these terrifying agents of warfare modern inventions? Not by a long shot. In this riveting history of the origins of unconventional war, Adrienne Mayor shows that cultures around the world have used biological and chemical weapons for thousands of years—and debated the morality of doing so. Drawing extraordinary connections between the mythical worlds of Hercules and the Trojan War, the accounts of Herodotus and Thucydides, and modern methods of war and terrorism, this richly illustrated history catapults readers into the dark and fascinating realm of ancient war and mythic treachery.

What questions drove your research for a book on unconventional warfare in antiquity?
Adrienne Mayor
: I begin by asking, How deep are the origins of biological and chemical weapons? Most people believe that such arms require sophisticated modern science and advanced delivery systems. And historians have assumed that ancient codes of war banned biological weapons.

But I found compelling evidence to show that warfare by biological and chemical means is more ancient than anyone had realized. The concept is embedded in language itself—the word “toxic” derives from the ancient Greek word for bow—and poison arrows were featured in Greek myths and Homer’s epic poems about the Trojan War. Projectiles tipped with toxic plant juices and snake venom, spreading contagion, deploying dangerous animals, catapulting stinging insects, creating choking gases and hurling petroleum combustibles—these are just a sample of the myriad noxious agents actually used in historical battles in Greece, Rome, Anatolia, Mesopotamia, Persia, India, and China.

Why study the ancient history of biochemical warfare?
AM
: The evidence from the ancient world shatters the notion that biological and chemical warfare is a modern phenomenon—or that ancient rules of war ever ensured honorable and fair combat.

Notably, the rationalizations for resorting to unfair weapons and tactics expressed in antiquity are the same reasons given today. The age-old problems of controlling unpredictable biological agents and toxic materials, avoiding unintended consequences, and resolving moral issues are even more urgent today, with unprecedented and relentless advances of science in the service of war, compounded by global pandemics and terrorism.

Hits: 0

Carbon sequestration, climate change | Homeland Security Newswire Nuclear weapons, strategy, nuclear prolifertion