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by SFC Red Thomas (Ret)
Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2003 at 7:29 PM
Chemical and biological weapons are not weapons of mass distruction.
They are not very effective weapons. Far less effective than a 2,000 pounder.
From my website:
Chem Bio Words of Wisdom
Since the media has decided to scare everyone with predictions of
biological, or nuclear warfare on our turf, I decided to write a paper and
keep things in their proper perspective.
I am a retired military weapons, munitions, and training expert. Lesson
number one: In the mid 1990s there were a series of nerve gas attacks on
crowded Japanese subway stations. Given perfect conditions for an attack,
less than 10% of the people there were injured (the injured were better in
few hours) and only one percent of the injured died. 60 Minutes once had a
fellow telling us that one drop of nerve gas could kill a thousand people.
Well, he didn't tell you the thousand dead people per drop was
Drill sergeants exaggerate how terrible this stuff is to keep the
awake in class (I know this because I was a drill sergeant, too). Forget
everything you've ever seen on TV, in the movies, or read in a novel
this stuff; it was all a lie (read this sentence again, out loud!). These
weapons are about terror. If you remain calm, you will probably not die.
This is far less scary than the media and their "experts" make it sound.
Chemical weapons are categorized as Nerve, Blood, Blister, and
Incapacitating agents Contrary to the hype of reporters and politicians,
they are not weapons of mass destruction; they are "area denial," and
terror weapons that don't destroy anything. When you leave the area, you
almost always leave the risk. That's the difference; you can leave the
and the risk. Soldiers may have to stay put and sit through it, and
why they need all that spiffy gear. These are not gasses, they are vapors
and/or air borne particles. The agent must be delivered in sufficient
quantity to injure, and that defines when/how it's used.
Every day we have a morning and evening inversion where "stuff" suspended
in the air gets pushed down. This inversion is why allergies (pollen) and
air pollution are worst at these times of the day. So, a chemical attack
will have its best effect an hour or so either side of sunrise/sunset.
Also, being vapors and airborne particles, they are heavier than air so
they will seek low places like ditches, basements and underground
This stuff won't work when it's freezing, it doesn't last when it's hot,
and wind spreads it too thin too fast.
They've got to get this stuff on you or get you to inhale it for it to
They also have to get the concentration of chemicals high enough to kill
wound you. Too little and it's nothing, too much and it's wasted. What I
hope you've gathered by this point is that a chemical weapons attack that
kills a lot of people is incredibly hard to do with military grade agents
and equipment, so you can imagine how hard it will be for terrorists.
The more you know about this stuff, the more you realize how hard it is
use. We'll start by talking about nerve agents. You have these in your
house; plain old bug killer (like Raid) is a nerve agent. All nerve
work the same way: they are cholinesterase inhibitors that mess up the
signals your nervous system uses to make your body function. It can harm
you if you get it on your skin, but it works best if they can get you to
inhale it. If you don't die in the first minute and you can leave the
you're probably going to live. The military's antidote for all nerve
is atropine and pralidoxime chloride. Neither one of these does anything
cure the nerve agent; they send your body into overdrive to keep you
for five minutes. After that, the agent is used up. Your best protection
fresh air and staying calm. The symptoms for nerve agent poisoning are
sudden headache, dimness of vision (someone you're looking at will have
pinpointed pupils), runny nose, excessive saliva or drooling, difficulty
breathing, tightness in chest, nausea, stomach cramps, twitching of
skin where a liquid just got on you. If you are in public and you start
experiencing these symptoms, first ask yourself: Did anything out of the
ordinary just happen (such as a loud pop)? Did someone spray something on
the crowd? Are other people getting sick too? Is there an odor of
hay, green corn, something fruity, or camphor where it shouldn't be? If
answer is yes, then calmly (if you panic, you breathe faster and inhale
more air/poison) leave the area and head up wind or outside. Fresh air is
the best "right now antidote." If you have a blob of liquid that looks
molasses or Karo syrup on you, blot it or scrape it off and away from
yourself with anything disposable. This stuff works based on your body
weight; what a crop duster uses to kill bugs won't hurt you unless you
stand there and breathe it in real deep, then lick the residue off the
ground for while. Remember, they have to do all the work, they have to
the concentration up and keep it up for several minutes while all you
to do is quit getting it on you/quit breathing it by putting space
you and the attack. Blood agents are cyanide or arsine which affect your
blood's ability to provide oxygen to your tissues. The scenario for
would be the same as a nerve agent. Look for a "pop" or someone
splashing/spraying something and whether folks around you are getting
woozy/falling down. The telltale smells are bitter almonds or garlic
they shouldn't be. The symptoms are blue lips, blue under the
rapid breathing. The military's antidote is amyl nitride, and just like
nerve agent antidote it just keeps your body working for five minutes
the toxins are used up.
Fresh air is your best individual chance. Blister agents (distilled
are so nasty that nobody wants to handle them let alone use them. It's
almost impossible to handle safely and may have a delayed effect of up to
12 hours. The attack scenario is also limited to the things you'd see
If you do get large, painful blisters for no apparent reason, don't pop
them, and if you must, don't let the liquid from the blister get on any
other area; the stuff just keeps on spreading. It's just as likely to
the user as the target. Soap, water, sunshine, and fresh air are this
stuff's enemy. Bottom line on chemical weapons: they are intended to make
you panic, to terrorize you, to herd you like sheep to the wolves. If
is an attack, leave the area and go upwind or to the sides of the wind
stream. They have to get the stuff to you and on you. Your odds get
if you leave the area. Soap, water, time, and fresh air really deal this
stuff a knock-out-punch. Don't let fear of an isolated attack rule your
life. The odds are really on your side. Nuclear bombs. These are the only
weapons of mass destruction on earth. The effects of a nuclear bomb are
heat, blast, EMP, and radiation. If you see a bright flash of light like
the sun, where the sun isn't, fall to the ground! The heat will be over
a second. Then there will be two blast waves, one out going and one on
way back. Don't stand up to see what happened after the first wave;
anything that's going to happen will have happened in two full minutes.
These will be low yield devices and will not level whole cities. If you
live through the heat, blast, and initial burst of radiation, you'll
probably live for a very very long time. Radiation will not create fifty
foot tall women, or giant ants and grass hoppers the size of tanks. These
will be at the most 1 kiloton bombs; that's the equivalent of 1,000 tons
TNT. Here's the real deal, flying debris and radiation will kill a lot of
exposed (not all) people within a half mile of the blast.
Under perfect conditions, this is about a half mile circle of death and
destruction, but when it's done, it's done. EMP stands for
Pulse, and it will fry every electronic device for a good distance. It's
impossible to say how far, but probably not over a couple of miles from
ground zero is a good guess. Cars, cell phones, computers, ATMs, you name
it, all will be out of order.
There are lots of kinds of radiation, but you only need to worry about
three; the others you have lived with for years. You need to worry about
"Ionizing radiation," subatomic particles that go whizzing along at the
speed of light, hitting individual cells in your body. They kill the
nucleus and keep on going. That's how you get radiation poisoning; you
so many dead cells in your body that the decaying cells poison you. It's
the same as people getting radiation treatments for cancer, only a bigger
area gets radiated. The good news is you don't have to just sit there and
take it, and here's lots you can do rather than panic. First, your skin
will stop alpha particles, a page of a newspaper or your clothing will
beta particles, and if you avoid inhaling dust that's contaminated with
atoms that are emitting these things, you'll be generally safe from
Gamma rays are particles that travel like rays (quantum physics makes my
brain hurt), and they create the same damage as alpha and beta particles,
only they keep going and kill lots of cells as they go all the way
It takes a lot to stop these things, lots of dense material. On the other
hand, it takes a lot of this to kill you. Your defense is, as always, to
not panic. Basic hygiene and normal preparation are your friends. All
canned or frozen food is safe to eat. The radiation poisoning will not
affect plants, so fruits and vegetables are okay if there's no dust on
(rinse them off if there is). If you don't have running water and you
to collect rain water or use water from wherever, just let it sit for
thirty minutes and skim off the water gently from the top. The dust with
the bad stuff in it will settle and the remaining water can be used for
toilet, which will still work if you have a bucket of water to pour in
Finally there's biological warfare. There's not much to cover here. Basic
personal hygiene and sanitation will take you farther than a million
doctors. Wash your hands often, don't share drinks, food, sloppy kisses,
etc., with strangers. Keep your garbage can with a tight lid on it, don't
have standing water (like old buckets, ditches, or kiddie pools) lying
around to allow mosquitoes breeding room. This stuff is carried by
that is, bugs, rodents, and contaminated material. If biological warfare
as easy as the media makes it sound, why has Saddam Hussein spent twenty
years and millions and millions of dollars trying to get it right? If
you're clean of person and home, you eat well, and you're active you're
going to live.
Overall preparation for any terrorist attack is the same as you'd take
a big storm. If you want a gas mask, fine, go get one. I know this stuff
and I'm not getting one and I told my mom not to bother with one either
(how's that for confidence). We have a week's worth of cash, several
worth of canned goods, and plenty of soap and water. We don't leave stuff
out to attract bugs or rodents, so we don't have them. These people can't
conceive of a nation this big with this many resources. These weapons are
made to cause panic, terror, and to demoralize us. If we don't run around
like sheep, they won't use this stuff after they find out it's no fun.
government is going nuts over this stuff because they have to protect
inch of America. You've only got to protect yourself, and by doing that,
you help the country.
Finally, there are millions of caveats to everything I wrote here and you
can think up specific scenarios where my advice isn't the best. This
is supposed to help the greatest number of people under the greatest
of situations. If you don't like my work, don't nitpick, just sit down
explain chemical, nuclear, and biological warfare in a document around
three pages long yourself. This is how we the people of the United States
can rob these people of their most desired goal, your terror.
SFC Red Thomas (Ret)
Armor Master Gunner Mesa, AZ
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