The high moral tone in Washington and London about “rogue” states, such as Iraq, building arsenals of biological weapons belies a shameful past. Winston Churchill wanted to finish off the Germans in 1944 with 500,000 anthrax bombs made in the United States (but his generals persuaded him against such action); and the United States granted immunity from war crimes to Japanese generals who had carried out ghastly experiments with biological agents on Chinese prisoners in Manchuria–so that the Japanese results could be used in developing the US biological arsenal.
In fact, it was the United States that led a secret arms race in these weapons after World War II (although it denounced them in 1969). And it is the United States that has had to live, for almost half a century, with a charge by the Chinese that it actually used biological weapons in the Korean War in violation of the Geneva Protocol of 1925.
Given this history, today’s hypocrisy in Washington and London is stunning. But what of the Chinese charges? Were they simply Communist agitprop, as the United States has always claimed, and if so, why hasn’t Washington managed to have them withdrawn? Or is it indeed true that the Pentagon or some “rogue” US covert force used the Korean theater as a proving ground for World War III, trying out everything in its arsenal except the A-bomb?
Nagging questions have always hung over the Korean War charges. For example, US pilots who became prisoners of war confessed to the Chinese that they had used biological weapons–dropped fleas infected with plague and turkey feathers coated with toxins. Were the pilots, quite understandably, simply seeking a quiet life in captivity? Or were they telling even a bit of the truth? When the pilots came home after the war they retracted their confessions, but that was under threat of court-martial.
On the scientific level, could the Chinese have concocted the epidemics of plague and cholera that suddenly broke out along both banks of the Yalu River–their border with North Korea? And what of the 1952 international scientific inquiry led by Dr. Joseph Needham of Cambridge University, which concluded that the United States was guilty as charged? Were the members of the inquiry duped by the Communists?
Now two historians at York University in Toronto, Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman, have produced the most impressive, expertly researched and, as far as the official files allow, the best-documented case for the prosecution yet made. Still lacking a smoking biological bomblet, the authors nevertheless conclude from the circumstantial evidence that the United States is guilty–not of waging a prolonged biological attack on North Korea and China but more likely of conducting a limited covert action, a kind of experimental foray with biological weapons to test the kind of war Washington would have waged had the Korean conflict led to World War III.
The authors are not disinterested prosecutors. Endicott, an East Asia scholar, was born in Shanghai, the son of missionary parents. His father, Dr. James Endicott, was convinced of the truth of the charges against the United States and said so at the time, which got him into some hot water: The Canadian government, which viewed Endicott as too sympathetic to the revolutionary movement in China, considered prosecuting him for treason but was persuaded against such a move by Washington, which apparently didn’t want to stir things up. His son was granted unique access to top-secret Chinese archives, and this information lends the book credibility from an entirely new angle.