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Is that Nestle. Yes doctor medicine. What are chemical and biological weapons and when were they first conceived and used. Well the definition of chemical and biological weapons is somewhat arbitrary the division line between them isn't absolutely clear but generally speaking biological weapons are organisms used to attack men or his crops or his animals for example bacteria or viruses. And in some definitions that I've seen a biological weapons include the toxic products of organisms for example the back of the bacterium clostridium makes Bochy Linus toxin and occasionally you read of someone who suffers from bunch of Linus poisoning because this bacterium has produced the toxin in canned goods and contaminated canned goods. Chemical weapons are non-living. They are generally not products manufactured made by living organisms. They would include such things as mustard gas tear gas defoliate
ing agents and the most powerful of the known chemical agents the nerve gases developed in Germany during the Second World War. I want these weapons first use and warfare do you know. Well so far as I know weapons of both categories have been used for a long time. The rather sporadically I think well I've heard stories that the settlers of North America would give Indians blankets which had been exposed to persons with smallpox in order to cause smallpox epidemics amongst the American Indians. Chemical warfare the use of smokes and fumes Pichon sulfur is very ancient poisoning of wells by dropping a body in the will. That's something that one reads about also in ancient accounts. But I think the first the first major use of a toxic weapon of which I know that I'm no expert on the history of these weapons was of course the
very intense use of gas during the First World War. What is it about gas type weapons and biological and chemical weapons that seems to frighten people why is that been. Why is there such a theory of using these kinds of weapons. I don't really know the answer to that question I can think of a lot of different answers but the answer may be something that no one has really put his finger on yet. I think that sometimes we shouldn't be too impressed with our own objectivity. What I mean by that is that if many people are afraid of a particular weapon it may be that to some extent our instincts are wiser than we know. I'm not going to emphasize that very much but I would like to explain it. Men traditionally have not fought very much by poisoning each other. They have fought over generations and generations by hitting each other. Why it is that men have refrained from using poisons against one another. I don't know maybe there weren't very
many good reasons of course some tribes do use them but poisoning is generally Big been considered the weapon of the weakling the poisoner who does so in secret. Often it is women who administer poisons. In classical literature the defenseless person uses poisons. I don't know why it is that humans are afraid of biological and chemical weapons but I do think that some attention to it. What you might call instinctive responses is worthwhile but I don't know what the answer to that would be. I can give you the reason why I think that the use of chemical and biological weapons would be most unwise. But I don't think I'm explaining why people are afraid of them. I think it would be unwise because we have no idea where it would lead. Modern medicine and biology are as you know now in the now in the middle of an extremely explosive period of development. I suppose that 20 years from now the status of biology in medicine today will be looked back upon as exceedingly backward
and in another 20 years that might happen again and again. My point is that I think that before too long mankind will know a great deal about how to manipulate the attitudes and the responses of the human organism by chemical and biological means. And it seems to me that this is just the kind of con that which should not be started. Now you could say that if there didn't exist absolute weapons in the world. And I consider nuclear weapons absolute in the sense that they can wreck total destruction that a nation might want to arm itself with biological weapons so as to have a deterrent to protect its own existence in an extreme situation. I think that having nuclear weapons that we should not develop weapons that might be come as devastating as nuclear weapons unless a clear need for them can be shown. I don't think there is any clear need that can be shown. Defensive need for the development of biological and chemical weapons. And I think that their potentials are so difficult to predict the effects they would have on warfare. There are possible extreme
cheapness possibly making them available to poor countries irresponsible countries conceivably even to dissident private groups. It opens up a whole new chapter in the nature of human conflict a chapter that is very difficult to predict and one which might result in causing very so undesirable types of warfare waged without high cost and I think all of that would be very destabilizing and since I see no reason for going into it from the National Defense point it would seem to me a mistake to started it all. Have there been many new developments in biological and chemical warfare since World War 2 is that these projects priority projects in the leading countries to develop these kind of weapons. Yes so far as I know actual weapons development is held in tight secrecy in every country which is doing this kind of work. However
one can tell in this country approximately what the budget is. And I think that anyway in this country that the main problem hasn't to do with the development and use of lethal biological or chemical weapons but more to do with the attraction with meat which many military and civilian defense planners see in the so-called non-lethal chemical and biological weapons. In this country we are spending now something probably more than about 200 million dollars each year for the development research procurement and maintenance of chemical and biological weapons. That's a fair amount of money applied every year year in year out. It can't help but have considerable results there are many scientists working on this is working in this area. I think our effort is fairly significant. What kinds of biological weapons do you suspect of being used in Vietnam now.
I believe there are no biological weapons being used of any kind in Vietnam I haven't heard any reports that there are any. But we are using and we have made no bones about it we are using chemical weapons. That is we have been using this for a very long time in Vietnam defoliants at first to defoliate roadsides to help prevent ambush. But now now I have read in The New York Times that about half of our defoliation efforts and yet none are devoted to crop destruction to starve out Viet Cong groups. Can you tell us the way these weapons would be used how they delivered and what their effects would be. Well these are sprayed from airplanes and the crop destruction agents of which I have heard all have the effect of preventing rice or certain other crops from developing normal fruit. The land is not so far as I know permanently poisoned but that year's crop can be destroyed.
Why would you think the terrain would look after being having these weapons now sprayed on them dried out and brown. You've written a proposal to inhibit the development of biological weapons could you tell us about tell me I go back to the question of the other kind of chemical weapons we're using. We have also been using weapons directed against enemy personnel that is directed directly against them so-called incapacitating gases. Several types of tear gas and some. So I would say somewhat stronger things than tear gas that are described as incapacitating and lethal. And these two have been used from planes and I believe also in special gas hand grenades. What types of One could you describe those might graphically that their names the designation names and. Well I'm not absolutely sure of what's being used there was an article in The Wall Street Journal which described several agents one a regular tear gas another super tear gas and the third agent which causes vomiting in extreme
abdominal distress for rather long periods of time up to days. I don't know if that third one has actually been in use. The Wall Street Journal article said that its use was being contemplated. In my opinion the. Attraction which so-called incapacitating chemicals have is largely a loser. I don't believe that words can be influenced in any large degree by weapons that are merely incapacitating especially not this kind of work. I believe that men will escalate the level of the violence they use to match their objectives and the intensity of their emotions. And I think that we open a Pandora's Box that even if these weapons were merely incapacitating and I think we might be surprised to find out that some of them do kill certain persons we present sick old persons. Nevertheless if they were completely incapacitating and not in not any more strong in that interaction I think I still think that it is not worth the risk of stimulating the development of
gas warfare all over the world. Not worth that risk to introduce whatever marginal military effectiveness they have in Vietnam. Now you mention something it was interesting one of the dangers of starting the use of chemical biological weapons is that they are very cheap and probably couldn't be developed cheaply is that could a small nation conceivably launch my fact of. Campaign about these kinds of weapons to play well through this discussion I feel acutely that I get what I'm saying is maybe now intense speculation I have thought about this and talked about it with several of my colleagues and I think many of us have come to this conclusion regarding the question you just asked that the development of biological or chemical weapons is likely to be very costly. You have to decide which agent met requires many scientists many screening programs. You have to test it. It requires a great deal of expenditure. You have to learn how to you have to design equipment for using it learn how to use it. All of that is very costly and I think very conspicuous relatively conspicuous. The cheap side would come in if a weapon were already developed by one
country. Then it might be duplicated very cheaply. And the reason why biological weapons especially might be radically cheap is that the total weight of a biological weapon if biological weapons can ever be perfected the total weight. But bacteria or viruses that would need to be dropped on a large area could be exceedingly minute far less by orders of magnitude less than the weight of a hydrogen bomb. And if this savings in weight could be reflected in the savings of cost for the delivery of practice then one would be dealing with a radically cheap weapon. What do we know about the effects of biological and chemical weapons I mean how do you how do you estimate the effect of a biological weapon. I think that the only way you can really estimate the effect of a biological weapon is to use it in a war. I think you can get a rough idea but not the precise idea by a very elaborate testing programs in peacetime. But it seems to me that no military leader could
possibly tell a political figure that the result of a biological attack could be predicted with accuracy in unless there had been a background of experience in using such weapons and war. And I think that's a national asset. The fact that we haven't done this is a national asset. Once it's done and if it should turn out to be successful that means that the restraint imposed by predictability will have vanished. So that I think we have a national asset in our restraint and that if we abandon this restraint we will be frittering away a national asset. Do you think that the use of chemical weapons in Vietnam so far is approaching that. That state where it might escalate the use of these kinds of weapons. I definitely think it's opening the door. Now you could say it's very different incapacitating they're not biological weapons. However let's ask what are the problems involved. First of all there's the problem of learning to live with the meteorological conditions and distributing anything from the air. The more this is done in combat the more both take you both theoretically and
practically will be learned about solving that problem. So we begin to break down the technical barriers. Second the whole role of toxic weapons in doctrine right now hasn't been thought out the more one uses them the more clearly defined that role becomes. So again the barrier of unfamiliar and familiarity has broken down. Next there's a resistance of opinion within government that will be broken down and the barrier of opinion amongst the civil population that will be broken down so that you are even while using these merely incapacitating agents if that's all they are nevertheless breaking down many barriers which are the same barriers in the way of the development and use a far more dangerous and threatening substances and organisms. So unless I were convinced that our national existence were at stake in the use of these weapons would make an important contribution. I would be opposed to using these weapons and it seems to me that in Vietnam we were children playing with matches and that it is absolutely foolish to conduct the experiments which we are now conducting in military tactics with toxic weapons out there.
So in other words you think that perhaps for the military man that Vietnam is sort of a proving ground for these kinds of weapons. They're not really developed in the sense that we know the potential. Oh I think it's absolutely true that it is a proving ground for these weapons in the sense that we have seen at the start very small uses with very gingerly public relations and announcement procedures and now a year later there are very much larger operations. And the whole public attitude has changed I think the government is feeling its way out both in public opinion and I think effectiveness and I think that could be called experimentation Yes. Would you like to tell us about your proposal to inhibit the development of biological weapons. Yes I think that the biological weapons should not be developed by any country I think that they will do no country good and can do all countries harm. I think the proper attitude which our country should have toward them is the same as the international attitude towards drugs towards her and their nuisances their dangers they can't do anyone any good and the country should cooperate to prevent their development. How to do that. I think there
is a way to do it. I think the way is this. I think that if a country has in mind only defensive work it only wants to defend itself against the biological weapons another country might secretly have prepared. I think it is a technical characteristic of this kind of work. And this would require an extensive technical discussion to prove but I think one can make a good case that defensive work need not be secret. Therefore if countries could agree to do less secret work in biology and medicine fields which after all are traditionally open to each other anyway. If we could agree for example not to do secret work at Fort Dietrich as we do now or if we could at least say that we need to do a little bit of defensive work which is secret but it's a very small location and you can see where it is it's a small place it can be much going on there. Then I think if the various nations would adopt the principle that they would encourage openness in biological and medical research would refrain from developing oftens of biological weapons and would guarantee to each other this restraint by
conducting their defensive research as much as possible in open in the open. Then I think this would be a powerful inhibition on the development of biological weapons. Now to really start this proposal and to cover the various questions it would leap to one's mind I think would take a lot of time but a group of international scientists have been making about twice a year to try and put together the technical details of how this could be done. And we're just in the process of doing this now. I think it looks hopeful. It's raining and you know I was so miserable. Could you go over the effects of the things that are spread chemicals that are sprayed from planes to kill plants and grasses. Well there are two levels of effect the immediate effect and then the sort of general military effect which presumably the military is interested in obtaining immediately speaking the effect of these agents two of which in fact are commonly obtainable weed killers used by many home gardeners in fact their immediate effect is to cause the plant to dry
out and to prevent the formation of fruit of rice. I mean of the of the rice grain itself instead the rice never matures it drops off the plane. There's nothing to harvest the effect is temporary next year a crop can be grown on that same land. The longer term effects. Well I think that's a question for the sociologist really but it would seem to me that it more time that the fighting man will get the first chance at what available food there is. And those who suffer in fact will probably be the old people and maybe the children. Anyway the noncombatants it seems to me it's a very indirect way to get a fighting population and one which will cause a maximum of suffering to persons who are not become themselves combatants. I would also think that in an agricultural country this would be absolutely infuriating to farmers and people who depend on the land and they might blame all kinds of crop failure is not attributable to the spraying program on that program it seems to me that it
Vietnam War Report
Mendelsohn Interview
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Vietnam War Report is a weekly show featuring news reports and panel discussions about specific topics relating to the Vietnam War.
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Chicago: “Vietnam War Report; Mendelsohn Interview,” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 20, 2019,
MLA: “Vietnam War Report; Mendelsohn Interview.” WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 20, 2019. <>.
APA: Vietnam War Report; Mendelsohn Interview. Boston, MA: WGBH, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from