Jeffrey A. Lockwood

 

On his book Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War

Cover Interview of January 16, 2009

In a nutshell

Six-Legged Soldiers is a story, a bizarre and fantastic tale of how humans have conscripted the natural world—insects in particular—to do our bidding in times of war.

For thousands of years we’ve exploited the biology of insects to inflict direct harm on our opponents.  For example, Medieval troops catapulted beehives and wasp nests into enemy strongholds.  Clever militaries also co-opted pests to destroy the food supplies of other nations—such as the Nazis rearing millions of Colorado potato beetles for use against England.  These tactics would be sufficient grounds for concern.  But we must also realize that the major powers of the 20th century have all had programs to weaponize vectors of diseases.  A US program during the Cold War pursued the mass production of yellow fever mosquitoes.

Human ingenuity and depravity have combined with the phenomenal reproductive and feeding capacities of insects to convert these creatures into instruments of torture.  A particularly gruesome example is that of an Uzbek emir who filled a dungeon with assassin bugs—their bite feels like being pierced by a hot needle and their saliva slowly digests human tissue.  Insects have also been used as tools of terrorism, including the case of eco-terrorists releasing Medflies in California in 1989 to extort government officials.  Most infamously, insects have been used with phenomenal success as weapons of war.  The most spectacular case was the use of plague-infected fleas and cholera-coated flies by Japan’s Unit 731 to kill nearly half-a-million Chinese during World War II.

For all of these remarkable events, it seems that we’ve not learned much from history.  And so we risk being doomed to its repetition.  Perhaps it’s a matter of the story of entomological warfare never having been told—at least until this book.