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Six-Legged Soldiers
Using Insects as Weapons of War

Jeffrey A Lockwood

Average Review Rating Average Rating 9/10 (1 Review)
Book Details

Publisher : OUP USA

Published : 2009

Copyright : Jeffrey A Lockwood 2009

ISBN-10 : HB 0-19-533305-5
ISBN-13 : HB 978-0-19-533305-3

Publisher's Write-Up

The emir of Bukhara used assassin bugs to eat away the flesh of his prisoners. General Ishii Shiro during World War II released hundreds of millions of infected insects across China, ultimately causing more deaths than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. These are just two of many startling examples found in Six-legged Soldiers, a brilliant portrait of the many weirdly creative, truly frightening, and ultimately powerful ways in which insects have been used as weapons of war, terror, and torture. Beginning in prehistoric times and building toward a near and disturbing future, the reader is taken on a journey of innovation and depravity.

Award-winning science writer Jeffrey A. Lockwood begins with the development of "bee bombs" in the ancient world and explores the role of insect-borne disease in changing the course of major battles, ranging from Napoleon's military campaigns to the trenches of World War I. He explores the horrific programs of insect warfare during World War II: airplanes dropping plague-infested fleas, facilities rearing tens of millions of hungry beetles to destroy crops, and prison camps staffed by doctors testing disease-carrying lice on inmates. The Cold War saw secret government operations involving the mass release of specially developed strains of mosquitoes on an unsuspecting American public - along with the alleged use of disease-carrying and crop-eating pests against North Korea and Cuba.

Lockwood reveals how easy it would be to use insects in warfare and terrorism today: In 1989, domestic ecoterrorists extorted government officials and wreaked economic and political havoc by threatening to release the notorious Medfly into California's crops. A remarkable story of human ingenuity - and brutality - Six-Legged Soldiers is the first comprehensive look at the use of insects as weapons of war, from ancient times to the present day.

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Reader Reviews

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Review by Geoff Ward (091010) Rating (9/10)

Review by Geoff Ward
Rating 9/10
At the end of the second century BC, the residents of Hatra in Mesopotamia repelled Roman invaders by hurling 'bombs' of poisonous scorpions and insects over the city walls. But the earliest use of insects as weapons of war may have been about 100,000 years ago during the Upper Palaeolithic period, by which time humans were well-practiced in throwing things at one another, including bees. And then, of course, there were the ten Biblical plagues of Egypt, recounted in Exodus, most of which seem to have involved insects carrying disease: biting midges, flies, gnats and fleas.

The most devastating entomological attack took place in 1343 when a Mongol khan unwittingly allied with insect-borne disease in the siege of the city of Kaffa: the Asian chieftain never thought fleas would cause a pandemic that wiped out 25 million people.

This is a book with bite, alerting us powerfully to the contents of a Pandora's box we must hope will never be opened again. Compelling but deeply unsettling, it's a real education, opening up a subject to which most of us would never give a thought in our everyday existence.

A chilling and cautionary tale unfolds as Lockwood tells us how history has recorded an 'unholy trinity' of strategies through which insects have wreaked havoc on human society - transmission of pathogenic microbes, destruction of livestock and crops, and direct attacks on people.

A professor of natural sciences and humanities at the University of Wyoming, Lockwood looks back to the nightmarish scenarios of the past and forward to the equally terrifying possibilities of the future in which 'six-legged soldiers' are likely to be made ever more sophisticated in their destructive potential, on the battlefield , the farm and in our cities. This might include specially developed strains of mosquito, plague-infected fleas or locust storms being unleashed on unsuspecting populations.

Disconcertingly, Lockwood remarks that he would be disappointed if any student graduating with a master's degree in entomology was unable to launch any of the insect attacks he describes. Not only that, almost all the data in his book was found in publicly available places.

The US government is aware of the threat, but bio-terrorism experts apparently are not worried about the material Lockwood presents. Such threats are not perceived as a 'clear and present danger'. However, Lockwood warns that historical and recent events strongly suggest that western nations would be well-advised to take them seriously, especially with regard to attacks on people and agriculture.

While insects arriving via accidental or natural routes are much more likely to harm people and economies than organisms released by terrorists, this does not mean that the latter concern should shrugged off, especially as experts have little doubt that terrorists are capable of carrying out such an attack.
Geoff Ward (9th October 2010)

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