By Zoltan Grossman
400s BC.: Spartan Greeks use sulfur fumes against
1346: Crimean Tatars catapult plague-infected corpses into Italian trade
Spanish conquistadors use biological warfare used against Native peoples.
1763: British Gen. Jeffrey Amherst
orders use of smallpox blankets against Native peoples during Pontiac's Rebellion.
Blankets infected with smallpox deliberately given to Native Americans, causing widespread
Convention outlaws chemical weapons; U.S. does not participate.
1914: World War I begins; poison gas produces 100,000
deaths, 900,000 injuries.
Britain uses chemical weapons in Iraq "as an experiment" against Kurdish rebels
seeking independence; Winston Churchill "strongly" backs the use of
"poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes."
Protocol prohibits gas and bacteriological warfare; most countries that ratify it
prohibit only the first use of such weapons.
1935: Italy begins conquest of Abyssinia (Ethiopia), using mustard gas.
1936: Japan invades China, uses chemical weapons in war; German chemical
labs produced the first nerve agent, Tabun
1939: World War II begins; neither side uses
bio-chemical arms, due to fears of retaliation in kind.
1941: U.S. enters World War II; President Roosevelt pledges U.S. will not be
first to use bio-chemical weapons.
1943: U.S. ship damaged by German bombing raid on Bari, Italy, leaks mustard
gas, killing 1000.
1945: Germans use Zyklon-B in extermination of civilians. Japanese military
discovered to have conducted biological warfare experiments on POWs, killing 3000. U.S.
shields officers in charge from war crimes trials, in return for data. Soviets take over
German nerve gas facility in Potsdam. The Nazis had stockpiles of nerve gas, against which
the Allies had no defenses, and had also been working on blood agents.
1947: U.S. possesses germ warfare weapons;
President Truman withdraws Geneva Protocol from
1949: U.S. dismisses Soviet trials of Japanese for germ warfare as
"propaganda." Army begins secret tests of biological agents in U.S. cities.
1950: Korean War begins; North Korea and China accuse U.S. of germ
warfare--charges still not proven. San Francisco disease outbreak matching Army bacteria
used on city.
1951: African-Americans exposed to potentially fatal simulant in Virginia
test of race-specific fungal weapons.
1952: German chemical weapons researcher Walter Schreiber, working in Texas,
exposed as a perpetrator of concentration canp experiments, and flees to Argentina.
1956: Army manual explicitly states that
bio-chemical warfare is not banned. Rep. Gerald Ford wins policy change to give U.S.
military "first strike" authority on chemical arms.
1959: House resolution against first use of
bio-chemical weapons is defeated.
1961: Kennedy Adminsitration begins hike of chemical weapons spending from
$75 million to more than $330 million.
1962: Chemical weapons loaded on U.S. planes
during Cuban missile crisis.
1966: Army germ warfare experiment in New York subway system.
1968: Pentagon asks for the chance to use some its arsenal against civil
rights and anti-war protesters to demonstrate the "efficacy" of the chemicals.
"By using gas in civil situations, we accomplish two purposes: controlling crowds and
also educating people on gas," said Maj. Gen. J.B. Medaris. "Now, everybody is
being called savage if he just talks about it. But nerve gas is the only way I know of to
sort out the guys in white hats from the ones in the black hats without killing any of
1969: Utah chemical weapons accident kills
thousands of sheep; President Nixon declares U.S. moratorium on chemical weapons
production and biological weapons possession. U.N. General Assembly bans use of herbicides
(plant killers) and tear gasses in warfare; U.S. one of three opposing votes. U.S. has
caused tear gas fatalities in Vietnamese guerrilla tunnels.
1970: Sarin nerve gas used by U.S. forces in a secret raid into Laos called
Operation Tailwind. "Upwards of 100'' people perished in the raid, including Laotian
civilians. Platoon leader Lt. Robert Van Buskirk estimated up to 20 U.S. military
defectors were killed. Adm. Thomas Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
confirmed theraid on CNN in 1998.
1971: U.S. ends direct use of herbicides such as Agent Orange; had spread
over Indochinese forests, and destroyed at least six percent of South Vietnamese cropland,
enough to feed 600,000 people for a year. U.S. intelligence source gives swine-flu virus
to anti-Castro Cuban paramilitary group, which lands it on Cuba's southern coast
(according to1977 newspaper reports).
1972: Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention.
Cuba accuses CIA of instilling swine fever virus that leads to death of 500,000 hogs.
1974: U.S. finally ratifies 1928 Geneva Protocol.
1975: Indonesia annexes East Timor; planes spread herbicides on croplands.
1979: Washington Post reports on U.S. program against Cuban
agriculture since 1962, including CIA biological warfare component.
1980: U.S. intelligence officials allege Soviet chemical use in Afghanistan,
while admitting "no confirmation." Congress approves nerve gas facility in Pine
Bluff, Arkansas. Iraq begins eight-year war with U.S. arch-enemy Iran.
1981: U.S. accuses Vietnam and allies of using
mycotoxins (fungal poisons) in Laos and Cambodia. Some refugees report casualties; one
analysis reveals "yellow rain" as bee feces. Israel bombs Iraqi nuclear reactor,
leading to Iraqi decision to build chemical weapons.
1984: U.N. confirms Iraq using mustard and nerve gasses against Iranian
"human wave" attacks in border war; State Department issues mild condemnation,
yet restores diplomatic relations with Iraq, and opposes U.N. action against Iraq. Bhopal
fertilizer plant accident in India kills 2000; shows risks of chemical plants being
damaged in warfare. President Reagan orders over a half million M55 rockets retooled so
that they contain high-yield explosives as well as VX gas. (The Army now claims that many
of these rockets are "unstable" and leaking nerve agents.)
1985: U.S. resumes open-air testing of biological
agents. U.S. firms begin supplying Iraq with numerous biological agents for a four-year
period (according to a 1994 Senate report).
1986: U.S. resumes open-air testing of biological
1987: Senate ties in three votes on resuming production of chemical weapons;
Vice President Bush breaks all three ties in favor of resumption.
1988: Iraq uses chemical weapons against Kurdish minority in Halabjah; U.S.
continues to maintain agricultural credits with Iraq; President Reagan blocks
congressional sanctions against Iraq.
1989: Paris conference of 149 nations condemns chemical weapons, urges quick
ban to emerge from Geneva treaty negotiations; U.S. revealed to plan poison gas production
even after treaty signed.
1990: U.S., Soviets pledge to reduce chemical weapons stockpiles to 20
percent of current U.S. supply by 2002, and to eliminate poison gas weapons when all
nations have signed future Geneva treaty. Israel admits possession of chemical weapons;
Iraq threatens to use chemical weapons on Israel if it is attacked.
1991: U.S. and Coalition forces bomb at least 28 alleged bio- chemical
production or storage sites in Iraq during Gulf War, including fertilizer and other
civilian plants. CNN reports "green flames" from one chemical plant, and the
deaths of 50 Iraqi troops from anthrax after air strike on another site. New York Times
quotes Soviet chemical weapons commander that air strikes on Iraqi chemical weapons would
have "little effect beyond neighboring villages," but that strikes on biological
weapons could spread disease "to adjoining countries." Czechoslovak chemical
warfare unit detects sarin nerve gas during air war. Egyptian doctor reports outbreak of
"strange disease" inside Iraq. U.S. troops use explosives to destroy Iraqi
chemical weapons storage bunkers after the war.
1992: Reports intensify of U.S. and Allied veterans of Gulf War developing
health problems, involving a variety of symptoms, collectively called Gulf War Syndrome.
U.N. sanctions intensify civilian health crisis inside Iraq, making identification of
similar symptoms potentially difficult.
1993: President Clinton continues intermittent bombing and missile raids
against Iraqi facilities; U.N. inspectors step up program to dismantle Iraqi weapons. U.S.
signs U.N. Chemical Weapons Convention, but approval later blocked in Senate.
1995: Japanese cult launches deadly sarin nerve gas attack on Tokyo subway
1996: Congressional hearings on Gulf War Syndrome focuses on Iraqi storage
bunker destruction, rather than other possible causes, and does not call for international
investigation of symptoms among Iraqis.
1997: Cuba accuses U.S. of spraying crops with biological agents. Iraq
expels U.S. citizens in U.N. inspection teams, which are allowed to continue work without
Americans, but choose to evacuate all inspectors. U.S. mobilizes for military action.
Senate act finally implements Chemical Weapons Convention, with a provision that "the
President may deny a request to inspect any facility" on national security grounds.
1998: U.S. again mobilizes for bombing campaign
against alleged Iraqi bio-chemical weapons sites, after Iraq questions role of Gulf War
veteran as U.N. inspector, and restricts inspector access to presidential properties and