Week 5 - March 16, 2018

by David Culp, Emergency Preparedness Coordinator, Illinois Public Health Association

Psychological Comparison of Military and Civilian Preparedness

This week’s preparedness blog will explore the psychology of military preparedness post World War I and in the years leading up to World War II as a potential abject lesson to be applied to civilian emergency preparedness. We will also explore the dangerous psychological views that could lead to nations and terrorist groups not only investigating biological weapons, but also testing them on human subjects and using them on their enemies.

World War I ended with the defeat of the Triple Alliance/Central Powers coalition of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Empire (Turkey), which would see their empires dramatically diminished in the case of Germany or completely dissolved in the cases of Austria-Hungary and Ottoman Empires. The victorious United States and Triple Entente/Allied Powers of Great Britain and France (minus Russian Empire first overthrown by moderate Provisionals and subsequently by socialist Bolsheviks) joined by Italy, lay the blame of World War I with Germany and determined to ensure it never be the aggressor again. The armistice ending World War I forced Germany pay huge war reparations over decades to the victorious Allied Powers. Germany was also significantly demilitarized and diminished: limited to a 100,000-man army with no tanks nor an air force with greatly reduced naval power and the loss of many of its industrial regions.

It had been Germany besieged on all sides by British, French and American forces that had utilized biological warfare agents in attempts to undermine the war efforts of the Allies thru spreading infectious disease into livestock and, in some cases, civilian populations. The advanced scientific expertise of Germany had also shown itself thru deployment of non-conventional chemical weapons on opposing troops. Though both sides ultimately used chemical weapons, it was the severely resource deficient Germans who desperately needed success from their advanced chemical weapons and who led the way with use of biological weapons, even to the point of attempting to drop bio agents on England. Ominously, the most devastating bio agent of the World War I era was the naturally occurring Spanish Flu, which spread across the globe thru military training camps, troops, ships to and from trenches of European battlefields and into civilian populations between 1918 to 1920 infecting 500 million people worldwide, killing up to 100 million.

Governments come to power and maintain power thru the strength of their economies; economic unrest can lead to civil unrest and, potentially, revolution. The world economy during the 1920’s was strong and vibrant, however, 1929 would bring the crash of the American Stock Market and, subsequently, a Great Worldwide Depression. Great Britain and France, with finite domestic resources, strove to recover from the devastation of World War I, while maintaining their colonial empires. Resource challenged nations such as Germany, Italy and Japan focused towards territorial expansion to regain and substantially enhance economic solvency. United States and Soviet Union, each with relatively unlimited resources, looked only to maintain and consolidate current holdings; while leaning strongly towards isolationism. Following the 1929 Stock Market Crash, the United States placed high tariffs (taxes) on products imported from Europe, whose countries retaliated by placing similar tariffs on American products severely worsening and lengthening the depression. Great Britain, France, Soviet Union and United States, all appalled by the death and misery of World War I, focused on domestic stability, often at the expense of military preparedness; meanwhile, the future World War II Axis Powers of Germany, Italy and Japan took aggressive steps in readying their armies and navies for conflict, conquest and empire building.

An ominous viewpoint established many centuries before the age of exploration and the subsequent colonial era persisted well into the 20th Century. European Empires believed in a hierarchy of humanity; people were destined to be ruled by those above them on the ladder of creation. Biological weapons, in being the cause and spreader of infectious diseases, should be considered the most sinister of all means of war. An even more dastardly aspect of biological weapons is the necessity to test their effectiveness prior to deployment; often on one’s enemies, sometimes on one’s own people. The belief that others are below you on the hierarchy of humanity can dramatically lower qualms of testing and deploying biological weapons. The 20th Century noted a predominance of the view of superior genetically homogenous nations destined to rule nations they deemed as inferior. Interestingly, as we noted with the Royal Families of Europe and the affliction of Hemophilia, populations lacking genetic diversity are much more susceptible to infectious diseases both inherited and acquired.