The proposal that we increase our capacity in research into biological agents to be used as weapons or defenses reveals the insanity of our situation.
Since the development of recombinant DNA, we must know that there is no defense possible to the use of biological agents. Recombinant DNA can be the Manhattan Project of biological weaponry. We must not allow that to happen.By genetic engineering - gene splicing - we can produce an endless spectrum of biological agents for which no conceivable vaccine or antidote would be possible. Many simple means exist to distribute or deliver such agents, means so utterly pervasive as as to make defense impossible.
Aerosols of great variety can spread dread plagues across a nation. No amount of exotic clothing, masks, or vaccines can really be expected to protect troops in the field. No conceivable means exist or could ever be developed to protect civilian populations throughout a nation.
Yet real defenses do exist against the use of biological agents as weapons. These defenses, however, are hurt - not helped - by continued research on the use of biological agents as weapons or defenses against such agents, the distinction between such offensive or defensive use being impossible to maintain.
Most immediately and least important, there simply is not a realistic situation in which an enemy of the United States would use biological agents against us when other and better weapons are readily at hand.
Biological agents would not immediately immobilize our forces. Our reaction, even after infection, could be swift and lethal with conventional or nuclear weapons. Second, biological agents are not reliable nor containable. Perhaps such agents would be rendered impotent by any one of many environmental factors: heat, cold, rain, wind.
If lethal against an enemy, within a short time such a plague would incapacitate friends of the aggressor state and then that country as well. The effects of such agents cannot be controlled or contained.
The potential users of such heinous weapons who might not be deterred by such practical considerations are terrorist groups or completely irresponsible, dangerous states with little to lose at the spectre of mass uncontrolled carnage.
Our own research, with that of the Soviet Union and other nations, simply adds to the information ultimately available to other states and other groups.
The notoriety our own actions give by the continued development of biological agents as weapons make their acquisition and eventual use by some terrorist group or terrorist state more likely, not less so.
Meanwhile, the immediate cost to those of us nearby - the possibility of accident, natural disaster through earthquake, or targeting by foreign enemy or terrorist group - is substantial. In other words, we bear the burden of possible great harm, intentional or accidental, while the result of this effort provides our country with less security, not more.
Far more important, however, is the harm we inflict upon ourselves in participating in this particularly senseless system of most gruesome mass death. Our greatest hope against biological agents being used against us is that the huge mass of humanity recoils at the suggestion that we would inflict such horror upon each other.
As we continue research into such monstrous weapons we make ourselves and each other less human. We assume that others will let loose upon us plagues that might destroy millions of human beings.
By projecting our fears onto others, we then justify our own actions that otherwise would be abhorrent and inconceivable to our own humanity.
We must overcome our own fear. I fear our fear. I fear our fear more than I fear Russians or Chinese or Libyans. When I fear the worst, my own consequent actions fulfill the worst fears of my enemies. Then their actions fulfill my own first perceptions. And so on.
The answer is not in developing more weapons of mass destruction - biological plagues to take their place in a ghastly gallery alongside mustard gas and nuclear weapons. Instead, somehow, we must learn how we might define ourselves without the use of an enemy, without whom we seem to have no content and no purpose.
As individuals and as a nation, we must discover at our own core, our center, our identity: an identity so wonderfully human that we see purpose and direction without fearful projection onto another.