Science Fiction Project - Free Culture
Analog - All editorials - John Wood Campbell
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CHEMICAL WARFARE

The earliest use of chemical warfare is not recorded in history, probably because it was very prehistoric. We can strongly suspect it began with some bright Neolithic war leader coming up with an idea of how to get the enemy out of their inviolable cave, and make them come out and fight like men - use smoke, and smoke them out!
The more sophisticated but essentially unchanged technique is called "tear gas".
Along that millennia-old road to modern technology, the original irritant-smoke approach changed and developed to the use of burning sulfur - which was not merely irritant, but poisonous.
Presumably this was, at the time, considered a great improvement in military technology; if they came out of their cave - or other shelter - weeping, coughing and gagging, it was easy for the attackers to chop them down as they stumbled out. If they didn't come out, the sulfur fumes killed them inside.
To some extent this technique of chem warfare fell into disuse because of undesirable efficiency; as slaves became valuable commodities, the lethal tendencies of burning sulfur became unsatisfactory.
Chemical warfare, in the modern sense of a consciously devised application of synthetic chemical substances derived for the purpose, began during WWI with the German's first use of chlorine. Thereafter both sides of the dispute worked rapidly to find more powerful and more deadly toxic agents. By the end of WWI some crude agents had been developed, but nothing really very potent. They were all pretty simple direct-action substances - agents in which one molecule of the substance directly attacked a molecule of the victim. Essentially like simple inorganic chemical corrosion.
By the end of WWII some really efficient lethal agents had been developed - poisons that acted more like enzymes than simple corrosives. The "nerve gases" worked on mammals, including Man, as the DDT type insecticides did on flies and mosquitoes. Their action is not a direct corrosive erosion of tissues - it depends on highly selective blocking of critical enzyme systems in the living organism. Since enzymes are highly efficient organic catalysts - one molecule of the enzyme may bring about catalytic change of 1,000 or 10,000 molecules of the substrate it works on - it made the "nerve gas" agent, by blocking one molecule of the enzyme, alter the metabolism of 1 to 10 thousand molecules, instead of only one.
The quantity of the toxic agent needed for death, therefore, shrank by three or four orders of magnitude. A trace so small that no chemical analysis could find it could be lethal; only biological tests were sensitive enough to react to it.
By 1955 some really horrendously deadly materials had been developed in various places in the world. Some were crippling agents rather than lethal agents; in many respects these were more effective against an enemy because it takes only a four-man squad to bury a corpse efficiently, but it takes twenty or more to nurse a cripple, and for a long time.
Then came a new turn in chemical warfare developments.
Most biochemical research is done by pharmaceutical companies seeking new curative drugs; this is an activity that is paid for not by research grants and public moneys and military budgets, but by the individuals who benefit from the results of that research.
(Of course currently, the public is raising a howl at having to pay for anything, and screaming at the pharmaceutical houses that include the price of the research development in the production cost of the drug. They seem to feel that they shouldn't have to pay for learning how to use a chemical).
The result of the economics of pharmaceutical research is that more biochemical assay work is done by pharmaceutical houses than by any military or university supported laboratories. This means that most biologically active substances are first discovered and/or synthesized in pharmaceutical research labs. Since the work is genuine research - "I know exactly what I'm doing, so I can repeat it, but I haven't the faintest idea what the stuff will do; this is research!" - they inevitably come up with some very wild, weird, and wicked compounds.

They may start with a known compound with known effect - but substitute a methyl group here, and a nitro group here, and who can guess what the effect will be? Biological enzyme systems are incredibly selective, and react powerfully only to exactly thus-and-so configuration of the molecules. One simple example was the development of a morphine derivative that turned out to be so fantastically potent that one thousandth of a gram can knock an elephant cold for hours. Roughly, it's effective at a concentration of 0.3 parts per billion of his body weight.

One of the great problems in drug developments is the horrid threat of side effects, and idiosyncrasy. (The difference between those two is that it's called a "side effect" if nearly everybody shows the undesirable response, and "idiosyncrasy" if only a few unfortunate individuals go into convulsions, tart hemorrhaging, stop breathing, or go blind. The idiosyncrasy reactions are due to genetic peculiarities of the victim, rather than to malign characteristics of the drug. A friend of mine very nearly died from eating fresh strawberries; there wasn't a thing wrong with the strawberries - but she had a highly unusual personal metabolism).
LSD was discovered in a pharmaceutical laboratory; the biochemist who discovered it hadn't the slightest intention of "going on a trip" but he'd been taking only normal precautions that none of his preparation escaped - and with something that's effective in microgram quantities, that's not adequate. It was a very bad trip; naturally he hadn't the slightest idea what was happening to him, except that it was quite clear he was losing his mind. The experience of knowing you're going insane, and watching it happen to yourself, and knowing of no possible cause does not make for a "good trip".
When he came back up out of that hell hole, he went to work on the stuff with most abnormal precautions that were adequate to stop microgram quantity leakages.
There are a lot of would-be drugs developed and tested that prove to be biologically extremely potent - but not therapeutically useful.
Again, many drugs are found which are indeed of immense therapeutic value... but they have undesirable to intolerable side effects. For example, a drug was developed which would reverse arteriosclerosis - pick up the cholesterol deposits in plugged arteries. It worked magnificently - if you could get the patient to take it. Trouble was, the stuff had so indescribably awful a taste - and it persisted for hours after a dose - that even patients who were dying, and fully realized it, refused to take the vile stuff. (They've recently found a way to modify the molecule so that it still acts as a cholesterol remover, and no longer has the taste).
So part of normal pharmaceutical research is seeking to (1) find biologically active substances, (2) whether they are beneficial or not can't be determined until they're extracted and/or synthesized and tested, and (3) in therapeutically valuable cases, to separate the therapeutic part of the molecule from the side-effect-causing parts.
And it is precisely here that the chemical warfare department becomes interested. Part 2 up there means that many extremely potent biochemically active agents will be found which are not beneficial to the recipient. Part 3 means that highly unpleasant side-effect-causing structures have been isolated and determined.
But that seemed to be just what the military services were looking for - that they could get 95% of the needed military chemical agent research already done and paid for by pharmaceutical research.
LSD for instance, is only one of a family of molecule structures. It happens to be the easiest to make up, so was found first, of course, but it's not the most potent known And some of the derivatives are 100% guarantees for really rough "trips" which no one would take voluntarily. One of them, fed to a cat, makes the poor beast yowl in terror and shrink away in dread from a mouse. Some cause the victim to simply fall down and squirm, twitching and moaning; he doesn't even have to see a real mouse to be driven into terror from which - because it's internal - there is no escape.
Just a simple matter of exaggerating the side effects, by tacking on just the right wrong radicles.
Another set of substitutions, and the recipient sits down with an idiotic blankness on his face, and pays no attention to orders, duties, instructions, demands, or anything else save the inner whichness of the whyfor he's busy contemplating. A man in that state makes the world's worst soldier.
There are, of course, idiosyncratic reactions to any drug. Doctors recognize three major classes of reaction to old, reliable and immensely valuable morphine; the normal, the "cat reaction" and the "dog reaction". Morphine as a sedative and analgesic is of invaluable assistance in therapy; so far as I know, it doesn't cure anything, but no doctor would be without it. It's as reliable as any really potent and useful drug known.
Yet some individuals when given a shot show up with the "dog reaction"; instead of a sedative, analgesic effect, they become exceedingly sick - "sick as a dog" - with deep and prolonged vomiting, and a tendency to go into shock. A few others show the "cat reaction"; far from being a sedative, this type starts climbing the walls, swinging from light fixtures, victims of a wild and uncontrollable excitation.
The psychedelic drugs are particularly given to idiosyncratic reactions - as almost any institution for the insane can now testify.

Now let us summarize a little. By 1960, the chemical warfare people of all major and any "minor" countries had developed toxic-killing agents of dire potency. (Be it noted simply as an example, that while Switzerland doesn't have the capital wealth necessary to build up a full-scale nuclear and thermonuclear bomb production - Switzerland is one of the world's leading pharmaceutical producers. You don't have to be a big nation, to have a highly developed pharmaceuticals industry). And toxic-crippling agents. And super-psychedelic agents that can take a whole army on an involuntary "trip". And some other agents with a wide and wild spectrum of effects, derived from the more powerful side effects of pharmaceutical drugs.
And with this fine, powerful selection of potent weapons - some new thinking came on the scene.
Part of it stems from pure economics. The simple economic fact of the matter is that we don't want to kill or cripple the enemy; to do so, even if we win, puts a terrific economic burden on the world's economy, no matter how you seek to avoid it.
Sure - kill them, serves them right, and bury them and forget them. Yeah - sounds good, to Joe Dope. But you're also burying and forgetting a large proportion of the world's skilled and trained minds - you're producing a large gap in the productive capability of the human race.
If you win, the losing nation is faced with economic disaster. And while it's conceivable that a nation as large as Iceland might collapse in total economic disaster without causing a chain reaction of collapses, no government in its right mind wants to bet on it.
So killing and crippling agents would almost certainly lead to a Pyrrhic victory - "A few more such victories and I am destroyed". You win the battle, and lose the war - or you win the war, but lose your entire economic structure.
Current military thinking holds that killing and crippling agents are not the right answer.
Well, how about the mind-twisters, the super-LSD agents?
Oh, Lord, no! Not with their known tendency to idiosyncratic reactions, and modern weapons of mass destruction around! Maybe 99.99% of the people in the area are knocked into a navel-contemplating daze - but half a dozen driven into a "cat reaction" type frenzy might go rushing madly - and I do mean insanely! - around firing off the absolutely-forbidden-by-highest-headquarters thermonuclear missiles. With a super-LSD type agent, you'd have all the sane, reasonable, judicious men in a helpless daze, and nothing but madmen left.
This, maybe, you want?
The various agents can be broadly grouped as (1) Killers. (2) Cripplers. (3) Out-of-his-mind agents. And a fourth class best designated as On-the-floor agents.
These have been developed relatively recently by exaggerating the side effects of certain therapeutic drug developments. Two of the most satisfactory appearing agents developed from a muscle-relaxant used in surgery, and a synthetic chemical used in high blood-pressure therapy.
Since I happen to be under treatment for high blood pressure I am currently in a position to describe the effects of that latter agent with some personal understanding.
My doctor explained that "You'll feel a lot worse before you feel better, but you'll be a lot better". I have a truthful doctor; he wasn't kidding.
I also learned some facts about blood pressure and circulation. For instance, if you suspend a snake by its head, within two minutes it's unconscious, and within five it's dead. Its vascular system is designed to operate in a horizontal position: there are no adequate valves in the blood vessels to keep the blood from draining to the tail, away from the brain, and the neural networks controlling heart and lung function. Presently, the blood isn't returning to the heart, so that blood-pumping is impossible, even if the heart does beat.
A dog can stand a little more vertical posture time than a snake - but not much. If compelled to remain "standing" it will pass out from lack of blood in the brain in about five minutes - but returns to consciousness unharmed if it's then allowed to lie down.
It's well known that men compelled to stand rigidly at attention will pass out due to blood pooling in the lower body. The Old Soldier on parade knows better; he keeps working his calf and thigh muscles, almost imperceptibly, inside his trouser legs, so that the contractions of the big muscles will help force blood back up to his heart and brain. But Man's adaptation to erect posture is still not complete.
I'd been running 220/145 (220 mm of Hg pressure at the contraction-pulse, 145 mm when the heart muscle relaxed). I'm told this is not good for one; normal should have been something more like 145/90. The figures I was showing tend to turn into convulsions, coma and/or strokes.
The medication I was given is a new synthetic drug, ismelin, developed by Ciba Pharmaceutical, the Swiss company. It had several quite immediate effects.
It did indeed bring my blood pressure down. It also brought me down; in the mornings I sit down to shave, because blood pressure tends to run low in the mornings, anyway, and with that stuff in me I got dizzy standing up, had to pant for breath and was getting all sorts of frantic warnings from various internal sensing systems that things were very, very unsatisfactory.
Ambling along wasn't too bad; the muscular contractions helped get the blood back up to the heart - but my normal walking pace had the effect of a quarter-mile run. And a single normal flight of stairs involved a one-minute pause while I caught my breath.
Since my system had spent several years adapting to a slowly, steadily rising blood pressure, it had un-adapted to a normal pressure - and I've been re-adapting somewhat hastily and painfully. As the doctor promised - I feel worse, and am better.
Of course, at any time I can simply lie down flat so the blood doesn't tend to pool in the lower body and the symptoms rapidly pass away. No discomfort at all when lying down; just hang onto the bed post or the doorway when you stand up again, or you'll land on the floor!
I imagine you can see where this is leading?

The On-the-floor agent is a side-effect derivative of that highly valuable, life-saving drug. It simply drops the recipient's blood pressure to somewhat lower-than-normal levels. The effects are: (1) It scares hell out of him. Even when you're warned, and know it's a needed therapy, you can feel peculiarly lonely when that stuff has you panting and dizzy. (2) As it takes hold, he feels dizzy, and a strong desire to sit down and rest for a moment. (3) Then he feels a powerful urge to lie down - and the worst of the symptoms go away.
As long as he lies down, he's conscious, fairly comfortable, and perfectly capable of sane, reasonable thought.
If he sits up, he gets dizzy, starts panting heavily, feels awful, can't think properly, and violently wants to lie down again.
If he forces himself to stand up, he simply passes out completely and lies down again - whereupon the blood redistributes and he comes to, feeling reasonable and reasonably comfortable.
The reason for calling it an On-the-floor agent is obvious.
One thing the recipient is not going to do is fight. He is perfectly capable of carrying on a discussion about his attitudes, but is physiologically incapable of using force as a means of convincing those who disagree with him.
It might be called compulsory arbitration; the dispute is going to be discussed, because it cannot be fought over.
The other On-the-floor agent I have not experienced myself. Reportedly, the net effects are much the same, but this one's a muscle-relaxant that affects the recipient by progressively working its way up the spine. It seems to affect only the voluntary muscles; it starts by relaxing the muscles of the foot and calf - which induces the recipient to squat down. Then it reaches the thigh muscles, and he sits down. Presently the lower trunk relaxes, and he's half lying, braced on his arms - until the arms relax.
The effects of these agents vary with the exact formulation; they can act for as little as two hours, or as long as twelve. Both wear off - are metabolized away - completely, leaving no aftereffects whatever (A man who got the blood-pressure agent might well be improved by the treatment!).

Now consider the beauty of these chemical warfare agents:
1. They do not injure the recipient in any way; they merely very temporarily render him incapable of trying to gain his ends by force instead of reason and discussion.
2. They do not in any way decrease his economic value to himself, his family, or his nation and the world.
3. They don't even cause pain.
4. The onset of effects is relatively slow, so the individual has a chance to arrange a tolerable position before the full effect hits. There's a quite small chance of injury.
5. In a matter of hours he returns to full normal activity, unhurt and uninjured - but disarmed.
Now the remarkable thing about human irrationality is that the use of these agents would bring the most horrendous howls of horror and outrage from the liberal-humanist group. Their favorite terms would, of course, be inhuman, barbarous, vicious, wicked, immoral, evil, et cetera. You can readily imagine their sincere and genuine outrage at the very idea of those wicked, barbarous chemical agents. They would demand, most violently, a return to the natural, long-accepted ways of convincing a forceful opponent - shoot holes in him, run spears or bayonets through him, blow him up with bombs or mines, but nothing so hideous as a chemical super-tranquilizer. Beat him down with clubs, bash his brains out - but don't be so cruel, evil and inhumane as to make him relax and talk things out.
Personally, I don't quite get the reasoning behind that. The On-the-floor agents destroy no property, don't hurt or injure men, whether soldiers or unfortunate civilians caught in the action zone, and leave the economic machinery of the area undamaged. Homes are not annihilated, families are not shattered - somehow I simply can't see what the terrible, wicked, evil, inhumane characteristics are.
Except that it forces people to abandon physical force and accept discussion as the only way to solve problems. Willy-nilly, like it or not, they'd have to resort to discussion, and negotiation.
Wouldn't that end war permanently?
No, it would not. Because the essence of war is that one group has decided they want what they want and they're going to get it no matter what anybody else thinks.
One of the uses for such On-the-floor agents would be the peaceful control of rioting mobs. It would be most violently detested - because it wouldn't permit martyrdom. Nobody would get hurt, and no property would be damaged.
When someone is in a mood to blow his stack, and cut loose with random violence because of sheet frustration of his wishes - he wants war, and he'll do anything he can think of to create it. The lashing out with violence, whether totally futile, completely irrelevant to his cause, or not, gives him an immense emotional satisfaction. He's done something; he's made the frustrators know he's mad, and pay some attention to him.
If that frustrated and furious man is gently, harmlessly, and quite completely futilely forced to lie down peacefully on the street - he's twice as frustrated.
He wants war! He doesn't want peaceful discussion; peaceful discussion didn't get him what he wanted! And he does not in the slightest want to learn, or come to understand, that what he wants is impossible, or unethical, or illegal. He wants it, and that's not to be changed!
And therefore, friends, we will always have war.
And peace-imposing weapons, such as the On-the-floor chemicals, will be the most emotionally hated and fulminatingly damned weapons of all: they deprive the frustrated and belligerent type of the very opportunity to express himself in violent force.
So high-sounding moralists and liberal humanists will most loudly shriek at the very suggestion of using those terrible chemical agents that are so cruelly inhuman as to impose peaceful discussion, willy-nilly.
The anti-war demonstrators who march on Washington so vigorously demanding that fighting cease and peaceful negotiations start...? Well, I observe with interest that they don't seem to be marching on Hanoi with the same demands with anything like the dedicated interest. If peace is what they really want - remember it takes two to negotiate; it's futile to appeal to the one that's already willing. Maybe what's needed is some of that On-the-floor type agent to get negotiations started in Hanoi?
But I'm sure the anti-war demonstrators would really explode in wrath at the suggestion of using chemical agents that did not injure soldiers, civilians or property, but simply compelled peaceful non-action. Or even the use of chemical agents such as are routinely used by conservation officials on wild animals - the tranquilizer darts that put the individual to sleep with no more pain than a mosquito bite, and no injury. I suppose it would be terrible, inhuman, to use those peace-compelling techniques on human beings?
Use them in controlling riot situations, too - where, if a wild shot hits an innocent party, the worst loss is a half hour of time while he peacefully snoozes off the effect of the stuff. If a child stumbles into the path of action, he might get a whole night's sleep out of it - instead of eternity.

The answer is, very simply and obviously, men want to be able to use violence. There's a terrific emotional revulsion at the idea of being compelled to refrain from physical force, murder and destruction.
That's why police forces are allowed to have guns which throw lethal bullets - but not dart guns that shoot tranquilizer chemicals. Nightsticks that are visible and loudly condemnable because they are clearly hurtful - but not On-the floor agents that do no injury to anything but a man's boiling anger and will to violence. They frustrate violence-wishers, instead of allowing them expression in destruction and injury to others.
Could anything be more appalling to the type of man who cannot truly think, and cannot for a moment consider changing his set prejudices and bigotries, than to be faced with a situation where he is physiologically incapable of doing anything but talk and listen? A situation in which he can't even martyr himself?
No wonder peace-compelling chemical agents such as the fully-developed and available tranquilizer dart guns and the On-the-floor agents are so bitterly condemned.
Put it very simply: If you're truly in favor of peace - then vote all-out for the use of chemical warfare only!

June 1968

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