Biological and Chemical Warfare

  • G.C. Odendaal South African Medical Services
Keywords: Chemical and biological warfare, bacteriological and chemical weapons, World War II, infectious disease, bacteriological agents, chemical and biological agents


1. Chemical and biological warfare is very old indeed, at least 2 000 years old. The arsenal consists of poison tipped arrows and darts, as well as toxins found in certain wood fibres that were used to incapacitate fish in streams. Armies laying seige to cities would catapalt corpses and entrails over the walls to induce a plaque and defecate into wells and water supplies. The Romans tilted salt into the soils of Carthage to prevent Carthage from ever becoming a threat to them in the future - either militarily or economically. 2. Since World War II, bacteriological and chemical weapons have become an increasing possibility. But because there is no clear evidence that these agents have ever been used as modern military weapons, discussions of their characteristics and potential threat have to draw heavily upon experimental field and laboratory data, and on studies of naturally occurring outbreaks of epidemics of infectious disease, rather than on direct battlefield experience. The potential importance of biological agents in warfare can be sensed when one remembers that infectious disease even as recently as World War II caused numerous casualties. 3. The greater threat posed by chemical weapons today derives from the discovery and manufacture of new, more toxic compounds. On the other hand, bacteriological agents already exist in nature and can be selected for use in warfare. 4. It would appear that chemical and biological agents have been used on a wide scale today as weapons of war, especially against the inhabitants of Afghanistan. These weapons are mainly being used by the Soviets and it can therefore be concluded that the use of chemical and biological weapons in Southern Africa cannot be ruled out.
How to Cite
Odendaal, G. (2012). Biological and Chemical Warfare. Scientia Militaria - South African Journal of Military Studies, 20(3).