August 28th, 2011
Biological Warfare, or the deliberate use of naturally or artificially created fatal diseases to incapacitate or kill an enemy, may seem like something that is part of only modern or futuristic warfare.
Recently an historic document has gone on display in a Mount Vernon, Virginia museum, which states that President Washington ordered troops to be vaccinated against Smallpox before heading out to battle against the British during the war of independence.
British troops in North America indeed deliberately spread smallpox to control restive Indians in the 1760s. By 1775, the British defending Boston from the rebels had already inoculated all their troops. When smallpox broke out in the town, they sent recently-variolated civilians among the besieging colonists, causing an outbreak that delayed the eventual American victory.
So in 1777, Washington was hardly acting before time in getting his troops inoculated for smallpox. The irony, of course, is that now, 30 years after smallpox was eradicated in the wild, fears that someone will use remaining stocks of the virus as a weapon mean the US still vaccinates its troops, and others.
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