Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Nightmare of Biological Warfare

Zombies-cum-biological warfare has been a theme of many recent movies -- 28 Days Later and the utterly-gone-to-shit Resident Evil films merely being a few of them.

Metallica has rarely backed away from dealing with the moral dilemmas underscoring warfare. Songs such as "One", "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Disposable Heroes" -- considered almost universally to be among their most classic works -- have addressed the human costs and horrors of armed conflict.

In the recently released video for "All Nightmare Long", off of their worthy recent effort Death Magnetic, Hetfield and company place the moral horrors of chemical warfare within the context of the Cold War.

The video uses the historic Tunguska explosion to set the table for the video, in which two fictional Soviet propaganda films, "Volcano Tunguska and the Revival of Organisms" and "Closing the Gap" are used to outline an insidious Soviet plot to use biological warfare to destroy the United States and replace it with a communist state.

In the video, a living spore is discovered in the ashes of the Tunguska explosion, reanimating dead animals. Taken for further study, Soviet scientists quickly discover that the spore can be used not merely to return the dead to life, but to reconstitute entire creatures from a few errant cells, or even heal injuries to the living.

In "Closing the Gap", a Russian propaganda film laments the Soviet Union's early inability to match the United States in the nuclear arms race. Soviet weapons tests, however, reveal new deposits of the reanimating spore, apparently lost at some point during the Second World War.

Further studies reveal two further details about the spore: animals reanimated by the spore tend to be extremely aggressive, and it quickly dies when exposed to radioactive Barium. The former discovery makes the spores militarily useful. The latter makes it controllable.

The film asserts that "An atomic US threatens the world with unchecked capitalist imperialism! They feed on the exploited and the spoils of war!"

The film also proposes the fictional Soviet solution to this threat: "We will feed them to their own!"

The Soviet plan involves sending a high-altitude balloon over the United States and dropping the spore from high altitude to be spread by wind. The dead are reanimated and turn violent. Naturally, they prove exceptionally hard to to control.

All that is left is for the Soviet Union to drag its feet, not deploying aid until it is too late. In the aftermath, the Soviets are left free to build a Communist state in the United States.

The stark immorality of such a scheme seems obvious, and it's the same moral dilemma faced by nearly any other biological war tactic -- biological warfare conducted on such a scale can't possibly discriminate between the guilty and the innocent.

Such tactics are all too reminiscent of total warfare, something humanity would be far better off having left to the pages of history. Yet total warfare continues to reemerge in all too many familiar patterns: civil and ethnic conflicts such as those in Rwanda and Darfur, and across the entire range of terrorist campaigns being conducted across the world today.

Sadly, biological weapons have provided those eager to engage in such conflict with the perfect weapon with which to do so.

The potential consequences of biological warfare go far beyond their applications during conflict. Zimbabwe's Minister of Information and Publicity, Dr Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, has recently blamed an outbreak of Colera and Anthrax on the use of the illnesses as biological weapons during civil conflict in that country. Furthermore, Ndlovu blames the United States and Britain for providing the weapons.

Realistically, there can only be one solution to the threat posed by biological weapons. Just as with landmines and, more recently, cluster munitions, a global ban on biological weapons needs to be pursued.

As Freeman Dyson notes, even Richard Nixon was able to see the wisdom of that.

The nightmare threat posed by biological warfare simply cannot be tolerated by any civilized society. It's time for the world to wake up.

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