Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Jeffrey Lockwood's "Six-Legged Soldiers"

Jeffrey A. Lockwood is Professor of Natural Sciences & Humanities at the University of Wyoming, where he teaches in the department of philosophy and in the MFA program in creative writing. His work has been included in the popular anthology Best American Science and Nature Writing, and he is winner of both a Pushcart Prize and the John Burroughs Award. His books include Grasshopper Dreaming: Reflections on Killing and Loving and Locust: The Devastating Rise and Mysterious Disappearance of the Insect that Shaped the American Frontier.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Six-Legged Soldiers: Using Insects as Weapons of War, and reported the following:
Here on page 99 the researchers of Japan’s nefarious Unit 731 make the pivotal biological connection which led to the deaths of 580,000 Chinese from biological attacks in World War II—slightly more than three-fourths by entomological weapons. General Shiro Ishii, and his staff realize that the key to triggering epidemics is to use insects as disease carriers. The history of entomological warfare can be understood by reflecting backwards from this point, and the future of this “higher form of killing” can be anticipated from this juncture.

For centuries, military leaders effectively, if unwittingly, allied with insects. Malaria-laden mosquitoes were exploited by savvy strategists—from Clearchus dispatching his enemies in 306 BCE by forcing them to encamp in marshy lands, to General Johnston’s saving the capital of the Confederacy by pinning down Union forces in the swamps along the Chickahominy River. When scientists finally revealed that insects were the carriers of death, militaries around the world began conscripting six-legged soldiers. Although the discovery that insects are disease vectors saved millions of lives through the control of mosquitoes and lice, it also led to the development of plague-infected fleas and cholera-coated flies by the Japanese.

What page 99 reveals is the one constant—the need for vigilance in the face of the human capacity for entomological evil. This was true during the Paleolithic when humans lobbed wasp nests at one another, and it is true today as we face the possibility of terrorists causing billions of dollars in damage to American agriculture by introducing insect pests or creating terrible suffering by introducing a vector-borne disease such as Rift Valley fever. To those who doubt the depth of human depravity and the potential of entomological weapons, start on page 99—and if you’re not convinced by page 101 then don’t buy the book.
Read more about Six-Legged Soldiers at the Oxford University Press website.

Learn about Jeffrey Lockwood's research, publications, and teaching at his faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue