- Spitfire List - http://spitfirelist.com -

A Higher Form of Killing

The Secret His­to­ry of Chem­i­cal and Bio­log­i­cal War­fare

by Robert Har­ris and Jere­my Pax­man
2002, Ran­dom House reprint edi­tion
(Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished 1982, Chat­to & Win­dus)
ISBN 0812966538
336 pages, illus­trat­ed.

Please note: In the 2002 edi­tion this pas­sage is omit­ted:

“As long ago as 1962, forty sci­en­tists were employed at the U.S. Army bio­log­i­cal war­fare lab­o­ra­to­ries on full-time genet­ics research. ‘Many oth­ers,’ it was said, ‘appre­ci­ate the impli­ca­tions of genet­ics for their own work.’ The impli­ca­tions were made more spe­cif­ic that genet­ic engi­neer­ing could solve one of the major dis­ad­van­tages of bio­log­i­cal war­fare, that it is lim­it­ed to dis­eases which occur nat­u­ral­ly some­where in the world. ‘With­in the next 5 to 10 years, it would prob­a­bly be pos­si­ble to make a new infec­tive micro-organ­ism which could dif­fer in cer­tain impor­tant respects from any known dis­ease-caus­ing organ­isms. Most impor­tant of these is that it might be refrac­to­ry to the immuno­log­i­cal and ther­a­peu­tic process­es upon which we depend to main­tain our rel­a­tive free­dom from infec­tious dis­ease.’ The pos­si­bil­i­ty that such a ‘super germ’ may have been suc­cess­ful­ly pro­duced in a lab­o­ra­to­ry some­where in the world in the years since that assess­ment was made is one which should not be too read­i­ly cast aside. . .”

(A High­er Form of Killing; Robert Har­ris and Jere­my Pax­man; Hill and Wang [SC]; ISBN 0–8090-5471‑X; p. 241.)

Review by Roger Bish­op
Ger­many was a sig­na­to­ry to the Hague Dec­la­ra­tion of 1889, a deci­sion that helped to estab­lish the prin­ci­ple that some kinds of wartime com­bat were “unciv­i­lized.” Among those types of com­bat was the use of “dele­te­ri­ous gas­es.” In April 1915, Ger­many vio­lat­ed its pledge, and chem­i­cal war­fare as we know it was born.

In A High­er Form of Killing: The Secret His­to­ry of Chem­i­cal and Bio­log­i­cal War­fare, authors Robert Har­ris and Jere­my Pax­man present a gen­er­al his­to­ry of gas and germ war­fare. The book was first pub­lished in 1982, but in this updat­ed paper­back edi­tion, the authors have added new mate­r­i­al cov­er­ing recent devel­op­ments. Com­pelling, time­ly and impor­tant, the book is even more rel­e­vant today than when it first appeared. Despite con­cert­ed efforts around the world to out­law chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal war­fare, the threat still looms large. In this well-researched, briskly writ­ten account, the authors focus on the sci­en­tif­ic and mil­i­tary aspects of the sub­ject, as well as gov­ern­men­tal and diplo­mat­ic issues. They also look at the effects of the breakup of the Sovi­et Union and the black mar­ket in weapon­ry that result­ed. Recent ter­ror­ist attacks and attempts by Third World coun­tries to estab­lish arse­nals are also giv­en thor­ough cov­er­age. Because the research and devel­op­ment of these weapons has been done clan­des­tine­ly, the authors use the term “secret his­to­ry” in their title. The book takes us behind the secre­cy to reveal the sto­ries of vic­tims who suf­fered and died, some by design, oth­ers by acci­dent. And we learn of such fig­ures as the Japan­ese army major, Shi­ro Ishii, who was giv­en gov­ern­ment per­mis­sion to build the world’s first bio­log­i­cal war­fare instal­la­tion in 1937, thus start­ing the bio­log­i­cal arms race. Of par­tic­u­lar inter­est is the reluc­tance of both sides to use bio­log­i­cal or chem­i­cal weapons dur­ing World War II. Although either side might have deployed them under cer­tain cir­cum­stances, both FDR and Hitler were opposed to their use. FDR regard­ed poi­son gas as “bar­bar­ic and inhu­mane” and reject­ed all pro­pos­als to use it. Hitler had been wound­ed by mus­tard gas in World War I and, the authors say, “was known to have a marked aver­sion to using chem­i­cal weapons.” Top Nazi lead­ers repeat­ed­ly advised Hitler to use them but to no avail. Churchill, on the oth­er hand, strong­ly pro­mot­ed the pro­duc­tion and pos­si­ble use of gas. The British were the first, in 1940, to pre­pare seri­ous plans for using it. As late as July 1944, Churchill, pro­posed in an extra­or­di­nary memo, which the authors quote in full, that his ser­vice chiefs seri­ous­ly cal­cu­late again the pros and cons of such use. Robert Har­ris is known for best-sell­ing fic­tion thrillers like Father­land, Enig­ma and Archangel. Jere­my Pax­man is a promi­nent news anchor­man in Great Britain whose dis­tin­guished career has tak­en him to the Mid­dle East, Africa and Cen­tral Amer­i­ca, among oth­er places. As the two point out, “Pro­lif­er­a­tion of chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal weapons is now per­haps the most urgent prob­lem fac­ing West­ern mil­i­tary plan­ners.” Their explo­ration of this grim but impor­tant sub­ject helps us to under­stand it in a wider his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive.
Roger Bish­op is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Book­Page [1].

THIS BOOK IS IN PRINT. Avail­able com­mer­cial­ly. Learn more about Robert Har­ris [2] and Jere­my Pax­man [3].