Socialism and Democracy, 2017
Vol. 31, No. 1, 23 –42, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08854300.2016.1265859
 
 
Biological Warfare in the Korean War:
Allegations and Cover-up
 
                                                                      Thomas Powell
 
 
 
 
                                                 I
     I weigh into the subject of biological warfare (BW) with trepida-
tion. It’s not my field of study. It was in fact, my father’s topic which
he researched quite thoroughly, both in China in 1951 –53, and later
in the US in 1977 – 83. John W. (Bill) Powell was editor and publisher
in Shanghai of the English-language news magazine, China Weekly
Review (after 1952, China Monthly Review [CMR]).
     The Review first published reports from North Korean military
sources of alleged US germ warfare attacks on North Korea in March
1952.1 The Review continued to print the growing number of reports
of US Army BW attacks in North Korea and China and covered the
international uproar until 1953. Powell considered these reports
reliable as they came directly from North Korean and Chinese govern-
ment officials citing eye-witness testimony, laboratory tests, and
People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) field reports.2 The US government
 
1.   “Crime Against Humanity: With millions of civilian dead and homeless in Korea as a
     direct result of the deliberate US campaign of extermination, the latest American
     crime to come to light has been the launching of bacteriological warfare in Korea.
     Not content with the wiping out of entire cities and towns by napalm bombings, mas-
     sacres of military and civilian prisoners, and campaigns such as ‘Operation Killer,’
     the Americans have resorted to one more bestiality in their frantic efforts to
     conquer the Korean people and extend their aggression in Asia.” CMR, Vol. 122,
     No. 3, March 1952, 225.
2.   The Review reported North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Hon-yeong’s (Bak Hong-
     yong) accusation to the United Nations of February 22, 1952 denouncing US use of
     biological warfare against North Korea. This was Pak’s second denunciation of US
     BW attacks. On May 8, 1951, he announced that the US had released plague patho-
     gens in rural North Korean villages during a four-week window in December 1950
     into January 1951. This was a defensive BW deployment to slow down the China’s
     Peoples Volunteer Army counter-invasion across the Yalu River to cover the UN
     forces’ hasty retreat from the Chinese border back to the 38th Parallel. Bak’s February
     1952 announcement accused the US Army of dropping canisters containing
 
# 2016 The Research Group on Socialism and Democracy
24 Socialism and Democracy
 

 

vehemently denied the allegations and tar-brushed the Review as a
mouthpiece of the Chinese communist government.
     With falling subscription revenues in post-Revolution Shanghai,
the Review folded in 1953,3 and my family returned to the US, settling
in San Francisco. In 1956, Bill Powell, my mother, Sylvia Powell, and
their associate editor, Julian Schuman were indicted on federal
charges of sedition for the editorials and news content of the Review.
Sedition is a complex charge designed to put limits on freedom of
speech and the press in times of war. It is a serious criminal offense car-
rying fines of $10,000 and prison sentences of up to 20 years on each
count. The defense options were limited, but ultimately, my parents
chose to fight based on the truth of their claim; the US government
had used BW in North Korea and China during the Korean War and
they would substantiate it. The case came to trial in 1958 and ended
abruptly with a mistrial being declared by the judge.4 Charges lingered
until 1961 when new Attorney General Robert Kennedy dropped the
indictment.
     The government’s case against my parents collapsed because the
prosecution would not allow defense access to top-secret Defense
Dept. and State Dept. records which might have validated Chinese
and North Korean BW accusations, nor was it willing to permit BW
physical evidence collected in China to be introduced into a US
court, nor would it permit in-person courtroom testimony by North
Korean and Chinese eye witnesses to alleged BW attacks.5 Powerful
Senators and top State Dept. officials wished to punish my parents
for the editorial policy of their newspaper which supported the new
communist government in China, and which had published the
North Korean and Chinese allegations of BW use by the US Army in
 
   plague- and smallpox-infested insects as offensive weapons on bombing sorties over
   North Korea in 1951–52. CMR, March 1952, 226. On March 8, 1952, China’s Foreign
   Minister, Chou En-Lai, announced that US planes flew 448 sorties over Northeast
   China over a six-day period from February 29 to March 5, 1952, and that canisters
   of germ-laden insects had been released during these raids. CMR, Vol. 122, No. 4,
   April, 1952, 317–320.
3. The subscription loss was due to US Postal Service embargo on US delivery which
   was the bulk of the Review’s circulation. The actual cause for the embargo was the
   Review’s publication of POW lists obtained from Chinese and North Korean military
   sources. The US Army policy during the war was not to release POW and MIA lists
   even though many families in the US were desperate to know the whereabouts of
   their husbands and sons.
4. For a concise history of the Powell-Schuman Sedition Trial, see Stanley Kutler, The
   American Inquisition: Justice and Injustice in the Cold War, Hill & Wang, New York, 1982.
5. Conversation with Doris Brin Walker, Powell’s defense attorney, February 2009.
                                                                      Thomas Powell 25
 
 
 
 
combat. However, these powerful parties were also not willing to allow
the defense to mount a case based upon the evidence of the BW claims.
The prosecution wanted to punish dissent while maintaining state
secrecy, which Judge Goodman, fortunately, would not permit.
    In 1976, a Japanese television station ran an investigative documen-
tary about Japan’s BW program located near Harbin, Manchuria from
1937 – 1945.6 This BW prison camp was designated as a water purifi-
cation plant, and had the innocuous name of Unit 731. It was com-
manded by Surgeon General Shiro Ishii. Unit 731 undertook lethal
human experimentation by inoculating prisoners with bubonic
plague, hemorrhagic fever, and many other diseases to scientifically
record the progress of infection and death. Japanese camp surgeons
performed live vivisections on infected victims to autopsy diseased
organs. They conducted frostbite experiments, forced pregnancy on
women prisoners, dissected infected fetuses, removed brain tissue
and limbs of live prisoners, dosed Caucasian and Asiatic prisoners
with fatal pathogens to determine possible racial differences in
natural immunity, and numerous other gruesome acts of torture. Con-
servative estimates claim 3000 prisoners were murdered at Unit 731.7
Another estimated 400,000 civilians were killed by infectious disease
such as cholera and anthrax when ceramic bombshells containing
these pathogens were dropped on Chinese cities and villages. The
Japanese film crew discovered former Unit 731 personnel pursuing
professional careers or living quietly in retirement even though they
had been responsible for some of the worst war crimes carried out
 
 
 
6. A Bruise— Terror of the 731 Corps, a film by Haruko Yoshinaga, broadcast November
   1976, Tokyo Broadcasting System. Yoshinaga succeeded in locating and interviewing
   twenty former members of Unit 731.
7. Sheldon Harris cites this lowball number in Factories of Death: Japanese Biological
   Warfare, 1932–1945, and the American Cover-up, Routledge, New York & London,
   2002, 65. However, it is not known precisely how many victims died at Unit 731.
   The 3000 figure comes from the interrogated Japanese scientists who had motives
   to greatly minimize their carnage. Most victims were Chinese soldiers, both Nation-
   alists and Communists, Russian soldiers, and abducted local civilians. Japanese camp
   personnel destroyed laboratories, buildings and camp files when the facility was
   abandoned abruptly at war’s end. The corpses of experiment victims were routinely
   incinerated making quantification and individual identification of the dead imposs-
   ible. The post-war interrogations of Unit 731 scientific personnel performed in Japan
   from 1945– 47 by US Army Technical Intelligence - G2, War Dept. Intelligence
   Targets, and the Army Chemical Corps. remain classified and not available to
   FOIA requests. Peter Williams and David Wallace, Unit 731: The Japanese Army’s
   Secret of Secrets, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1989, p 163.
26 Socialism and Democracy
 
 
 
 
by Japan during World War II. The story didn’t get much traction
outside of Japan.
     With the impetus of the Japanese documentary and the recently
enacted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Bill Powell again took
up the Korean War BW allegations. A portion of his research was sum-
marized in his article, “Japan’s Biological Weapons, 1930 –1945,” in the
October 1981 Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.8 The topic for its day “went
viral” and Powell appeared on segments of 60 Minutes, 20/20, People
Magazine and similar news outlets in Japan and South Korea. Media
coverage also ignited renewed academic interest in the topic, and
several books and articles on the history and atrocities of biological
warfare have subsequently been published.
     Through FOIA, Powell was able to trace the history of Unit 731,
including its extensive medical and autopsy reports.9 Dr. Ishii’s
career as camp commandant was illuminated, and Powell discovered
that following Japan’s unconditional surrender in August 1945, Ishii
and much of his top staff had escaped from Harbin down the Korean
Peninsula where they commandeered passage to Japan.10 If he had
been captured by any of the armies in the neighborhood, Peoples Lib-
eration Army, Kuomintang, Soviets or Korean communist, he would
have been tortured, deprogrammed, tried and likely hanged. But
Ishii had prepared his escape back to Tokyo with his core scientific
team and a cache of research documents including 8000 microscope
slides which he then parlayed to the American victors in exchange
for immunity from war crimes prosecution.
     The US Army quickly dispatched Camp Detrick microbiologist, Lt.
Col. Murray Sanders to investigate Army Intelligence reports of the
Harbin BW factory and to interview the Japanese scientists. Although
Sanders proved ineffectual as an interrogator, he recognized the mili-
tary value of disease pathology on live human subjects and, despite
its criminality and repugnance, recommended that a deal be cut.
 
 
8.  John W. Powell, “Japan’s Biological Weapons, 1930-1945,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists,
    Oct. 1981
9. “The Japanese BW experts . . . not only infected their human guinea pigs with dis-
    eases to see how many would die, but on occasion – in pursuit of exact scientific
    information—made certain they did not survive. A group would be brought down
    with a disease and, as the infection developed, individuals would be selected out
    of the group and killed and autopsied so that the ravages of the disease could be
    ascertained at various time intervals.” John W. Powell, “Japan’s Germ Warfare;
    The US Cover-up of a War Crime,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 12,
    No.4, Oct– Dec 1980, 10.
10. Ibid., 3 and footnote 8.
                                                                      Thomas Powell 27
 
 
 
 
Gen. MacArthur promptly signed off on the deal.11 Ishii and his
research team were secretly granted immunity from war crimes prose-
cution in exchange for their research. The Japanese BW scientists were
extensively deprogrammed by American intelligence personnel while
the BW research was discreetly shipped to the Army’s biological
research facility at Fort Detrick, Maryland, where it quietly entered
the US weapons arsenal.12
    If the US had prosecuted Ishii, Unit 731 BW research would have
had to be shared with the USSR.13 Shielding Ishii accelerated the
Cold War, and led to the massive Soviet BW weapons build-up of
the 1970s and 1980s.14 No mention of Ishii or Unit 731 was raised by
US prosecutors at the 1946 Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. However,
the Khabarovsk War Crimes Trials held by the Soviet Union in 1949
 
11. “My recommendation is that we promise Naito [the intermediary] that no one
    involved in BW will be prosecuted as a war criminal.” This is Sanders’ recollection
    of his conversation with MacArthur, quoted in Williams and Wallace, Unit 731, 133.
    Sanders was quickly replaced by much more hard-nosed interrogators, Dr. Norbert
    Fell from Camp Detrick, and Col. Alva C. Carpenter, Legal Section Chief of the
    Army’s War Crimes Branch. Carpenter emerges as the central figure in the cover-
    up of Japanese BW war crimes. Williams and Wallace, Unit 731, Chap. 15.
12. The thesis that top US government officials, US War Crimes prosecutors, and Army
    High Command conspired to suppress public information about Japan’s BW cam-
    paign in Manchuria and elsewhere has been extensively documented by researchers
    in Japan, China, Russia and the West. That the US engaged in a cover-up to shield
    Dr. Ishii and his subordinates from war crimes prosecution in order to acquire Unit
    731 research is now a broadly accepted conclusion. See: Powell, “Japan’s Germ
    Warfare” (n. 9); Williams and Wallace, Unit 731; Stephen Endicott and Edward
    Hagerman, The United States and Biological Warfare: Secrets from the Early Cold War
    and Korea, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1998; Harris, Factories of Death;
    Dave Chaddock, This Must Be the Place: How the U.S. Waged Germ Warfare in the
    Korean War and Denied It Ever Since, Bennett and Hastings Publishing, Seattle, 2013.
13. In 1946, the Soviet Union was clamoring to interview Ishii and his staff, accusing
    Unit 731 of BW crimes. The Soviets claimed that captured American soldiers were
    also victims of BW experiments at Unit 731. The accusations were widely publicized
    around the world and in the US. The international outcry meant that the immunity
    deal for Ishii and his collaborators could only come from the very top. President
    Truman would necessarily have had to sign off, but in all likelihood the details
    were hammered out by Allen Dulles, Deputy Director of the recently chartered
    CIA. The Soviet prosecutors were refused access to Unit 731 scientists because the
    US counterclaimed that all the alleged victims of Unit 731 atrocities were Chinese
    nationals. The Soviets were denied standing.
14. Ken Alibek with Stephen Handelman, Biohazard; The Chilling True Story of the Largest
    Covert Biological Weapons Program in the World—Told from the Inside by the Man Who
    Ran It, Random House, New York, 1999, This is precisely Alibek’s thesis, that “Bio-
    preparat,” the massive Soviet biological warfare program, was engaged in a Cold
    War BW arms race with the US.
28 Socialism and Democracy
 
 
 
 
prosecuted General Otozo Yamada, Commander-in-Chief of the Japa-
nese occupying army, and his top officers for biological warfare crimes.
Many of the victims of Unit 731 had been Russians.15 Soviet prosecu-
tors accused the US of harboring Ishii to keep the BW research
secret. While the trial was widely publicized abroad, the US dismissed
Soviet allegations as communist propaganda.
    The US government to this day denies ever having experimented
or used biological weapons in North Korea and China during the
Korean War. There have been various claims and counterclaims
among historians. After many long years of digging in Pentagon
records through FOIA, Powell was never able to find any document,
not even a heavily redacted one, which proved or even admitted that
the US Army used biological warfare in Korea. He never quit believing
the US had engaged in germ warfare, but he understood he was not
going to find the incontrovertible paper trail. The record was scrubbed.
The more he dug, the deeper things got buried.16
 
 
                                            II
    The Korean War was one more horrific slaughter in the great global
bloodletting which was the twentieth century. While the war lasted
only three years (June 1950 – July 1953), the entire built infrastructure
of both North and South Korea was completely destroyed. Estimates
of all casualties vary widely, from a low of 1.2 million to a high of
4.5 million.17 Civilians suffered the most. In one purge called the
Bodo League Massacre ordered by South Korean President Syngman
Rhee, more than 100,000 suspected leftists, intellectuals and civil ser-
vants with their families were summarily executed. More than 33,000
 
15. It is estimated about 30,000 peasants in Siberia were murdered by Japanese BW
    bomb attacks in the decade 1935– 45.
16. “As for developments during the Korean War, much of the US documentation on
    biological warfare at that time has been destroyed, is lost, is still classified, or has
    been painstakingly and more or less successfully laundered before being provided
    for public viewing. . . . We have documented that at least nineteen ‘secret’ category
    communications of 1952 between the Far East Command and the organization
    within the US responsible for biological warfare were pulled out of the Chemical
    Corps records before they were finally turned over to the US National Archives
    in 1969.” Endicott and Hagerman, The United States and Biological Warfare, 187– 188.
17. While the total number of civilian and military casualties in the Korean War is not
    known, the vast bulk of death and destruction was caused by US military carpet
    bombing and napalm fire-bombing of North Korea and of Communist strongholds
    in mountainous South Korea. General Curtis LeMay stated, “We went over there
    and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea.”
                                                                      Thomas Powell 29
 
 
 
 
American soldiers also died in Korea. Casualties of North and South
Korean soldiers and Chinese soldiers were in the hundreds of
thousands.
     The Korean War has been called “America’s forgotten war.” But
recently, the subject of US Army BW use in the Korean War has resur-
faced with a reworked version of a dramatic claim by Milton Leiten-
berg.18 In a recent essay Leitenberg revisits his earlier claim that the
Chinese and North Korean BW accusations against the US during
the Korean War was all a giant hoax perpetrated by Stalin, Mao
Zedong, and Zhou Enlai. According to Leitenberg the BW accusations
were a Cold War ploy to orchestrate international public opinion
against the US-led war in Korea. Citing two primary sources, the
1998 public disclosures of the Soviet Central Committee19 and a
memoir by Wu Zhili, Director of the People’s Volunteer Army
Health Division during the Korean War, Leitenberg lays out a narrative
of deceit and fabricated BW evidence from the highest levels of Soviet
and Chinese government.
     According to Leitenberg, the communist accusations in 1952 of a
widespread American BW campaign were “a grand piece of political
theater.” The physical evidence shown to the International Scientific
Commission (ISC) in 1952 as proof of US Army BW attacks was fabri-
cated; Dr. Joseph Needham and his investigative team were duped.
The US Army did not engage in a biological warfare campaign just
as it has continuously denied. Leitenberg exonerates the US Army of
any biological warfare deployment in the Korean War.
 
18. Milton Leitenberg, “China’s False Allegations of the Use of Biological Weapons by
    the United States during the Korean War,” Woodrow Wilson Institute, March 25,
    2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org
19. The authenticity of Leitenberg’s primary source is questionable. The Soviet dossier
    is just too pat and too convenient not to smell. The Politburo documents were
    obtained in an unknown manner by a Moscow-based reporter, Yasuo Naito, and
    published in Japanese translation by the newspaper, Sankei Shimbun. Leitenberg’s
    theory is therefore based on the English translations of the Japanese translation of
    presumably smuggled documents. “The circumstances under which these docu-
    ments were obtained are unusual. Because the Presidential Archive does not
    allow researchers to make photocopies, the texts were copied by hand and sub-
    sequently retyped. We therefore do not have such tell-tale signs of authenticity as
    seals, stamps or signatures that a photocopy can provide. Furthermore, since the
    documents have not been formally released, we do not have their archival citations.
    Nor do we know the selection criteria of the person who collected them.” Kathryn
    Weathersby, “Deceiving the Deceivers: Moscow, Beijing, Pyongyang, and the Alle-
    gations of Bacterial Weapons Use in Korea,” Cold War International History Project
    Bulletin, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, DC,
    Winter 1998, Issue 11, 176
30 Socialism and Democracy
 
 
 
 
     Leitenberg’s claim of a massive communist hoax is an interesting
spin, but the conclusion he draws that the US never used BW during
the Korean War is not warranted from his research and is simply not
believable.20 Leitenberg’s thesis amounts to a conspiracy theory. It pre-
sumes that the Chinese and North Koreans possessed advanced scien-
tific knowledge and technical skill with bio-hazardous materials in
1952 in order to falsely produce the physical evidence presented to
the ISC, or perhaps, the assumption is that the physical evidence was
acquired from the Soviets? Secondly, it presumes the communists
had the capacity for the mass production of plague infected fleas and
other vectors that were reported by eye witnesses and collected as evi-
dence in the theater of war. Thirdly, it presumes that Dr. Needham and
his scientific colleagues on the ISC were gullible and easily duped. Lei-
tenberg categorically and cavalierly dismisses the ISC’s “massive 669
pages” of findings without specific and itemized refutation of any
one named document, report or support material including the testi-
mony of witnesses, the actual evidence examined, the study’s method-
ology, transcripts of lengthy discussions among the commission
members, or the study’s conclusions. Lastly, a hoax of this scale
would require a theatrical production team with a cast of thousands
to cause local outbreaks of plague and hemorrhagic fever in China
and North Korea, and to locate victims willing to become diseased
human corpses. The necessary resources and the collaboration
required between disease victims, soldiers, scientists, top party officials
and international observers to create a BW hoax on the global stage in
the midst of the raging and bloody Korean War, and all the above
accomplished in secret, and kept secret for five decades – this conspi-
racy thesis is simply not credible.
     Furthermore, in spite of this conceptual improbability, if Stalin,
Mao Zedong, and Zhou Enlai pulled off this BW hoax of monumental
proportions to tar-brush the US as Leitenberg claims, the hoax was
therefore a great success. By accusing the US of biological warfare,
the Communists succeeded in handcuffing General MacArthur from
using this advantageous new weapon. The ruse soured international
support for the UN war effort and denied the US Army a new tactical
advantage. By clever subterfuge and to the chagrin of Harry Truman
 
 
20. Historians Stephen Endicott and Edward Hagerman have undertaken a point-by-
    point rebuttal of Leitenberg’s earlier claims. “Comment on Milton Leitenberg’s
    article, ‘New Russian Evidence on the Korean War Biological Warfare Allegations:
    Background and Analysis’,” Cold War International History Project Bulletin, Woodrow
    Wilson Institute, No. 11, Winter 1988.
                                                                     Thomas Powell 31
 
 
 
 
and Dean Acheson, the entire hawk cartel in Washington was politi-
cally out-maneuvered by this Cold War, high-stakes communist
gambit. Leitenberg’s hoax thesis is a B-movie plot made marginally
plausible with our removal in time from the historical events of the
Korean War. It does not spin well with US self-image, and it is
hardly likely that any of the American principals of this historic
episode, especially the generals who are now long dead would agree
with his characterization.
 
 
 
                                         III
    Leitenberg’s is only the latest voice in a 65-year litany of Korean
War BW cover-up by US government officials and its surrogates.
Few Americans today have any knowledge of the Korean War, and
fewer yet have ever heard rumor of America’s big, ugly germ
warfare secret. This history has been erased, and national memory suc-
cessfully cleansed. America’s self-righteous image at home has been
maintained. The BW cover-up, in spite of occasional breaches, has
long been a success story in America’s clandestine history.
    The cover-up began immediately following the first North Korean
allegations in 1951. The Truman administration categorically denied
the allegations, and set in motion what has long been an unwritten
chapter in American history. When new BW allegations were launched
by China and North Korea in 1952, the “plausible denial” spin had
already been worked out by Acheson to deal with the international
and domestic press. When Eisenhower assumed the presidency in
1953, he brought in the rabidly anti-communist John Foster Dulles21
as Secretary of State and promoted his brother Allen Dulles to CIA
Director. The plausible denial machinery became locked in place.
    One common omission among Korean War BW deniers is they do
not differentiate between the first accusation of American BW use by
North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Heong-yeong (Bak Hong-yong)
on May 8, 1951 and subsequent accusations on February 22, 1952.
Pak’s first allegation designated a specific four-week window of
germ attacks from December 1950 to January 1951. This is a pivotal
point in the war when the UN Force is in full retreat from the
 
21. John Foster Dulles had publicly accused Truman of losing China to the Communists
    in 1949 by not sufficiently supporting the Nationalist Chang Kai-shek. However,
    Truman sent the Seventh Fleet to the Taiwan Strait to cover the Kuomintang
    Army retreat and to sever the island from China. Taiwan has been a US protectorate
    for the past 67 years.
32 Socialism and Democracy
 
 
 
 
Chinese PVA counter-invasion across the Yalu River. In this battlefield
scenario, disease-infected chicken feathers were spread as a defensive
tactic to cover the retreating UN Forces and slow down the Chinese
PVA advance.22 The winter 1950 – 51 BW deployment is militarily rel-
evant, as spreading infectious disease now enters the repertoire of
scorched earth tactics of retreating armies which historically include
plundering goods, abducting women and girls, slaughtering civilians
and livestock, burning towns, setting forest fires, poisoning wells,
and sowing salt.
      This first accusation of BW did not get the airplay or produce the
international uproar which accompanied the 1952 BW allegations, by
which time the war had stalemated near the 38th Parallel. The 1952 tes-
timony accuses US planes of dropping bombs of diseased insects and
rodents as an offensive tactic to spread panic and cause massive
disease outbreaks in military and civilian populations in North
Korea and China. Outbreaks of hemorrhagic fever and plague were
reported. Both military and civilian populations were infected. For his-
torical accuracy, tactical differences, and the time-lapse between
deployments, there should be differentiation between the defensive
“in retreat” BW attack of 1950 – 51 and the 1952 offensive attacks
which aimed to break the stalemate. Clearly there was a strategic
pause to design the second accelerated deployment marked by the
change of command from MacArthur to Ridgeway.
      The promise and the terror of germ warfare is that it sows both fear
and death. BW carries the potential to severely debilitate an adver-
sary’s war effort by spreading fatal disease in pandemic proportions.
It is terrifying to the attacked population and therefore psychologically
insidious. Most people will cringe at the thought of infectious disease
used as a weapon of war against civilians. Humans have poisoned their
neighbors’ wells for a long time, but weaponizing disease to create
mass death carries warfare carnage to a different level of criminality
and moral repugnance. It is an ugly stigma for a state to wear.
      In spite of its horror (and perhaps because of it as well) bio-warfare
is strategically useful as a weapon in some conflict scenarios, but not
all. A successful BW attack in a military conflict initially requires
secrecy and stealth to render a debilitating blow upon the unprepared
 
22. “It was all very fishy. They were surprised and unhappy to see us. It was obvious
    that something suspicious was going on, and that it was a clandestine affair.”
    From an eye-witness account by a British soldier of an American Army special
    detachment dressed in “parkas” spreading chicken feathers into private homes in
    a North Korean village behind retreating UN Forces. The narrative is quoted at
    length in Williams and Wallace, Unit 731, 265–266.
                                                                        Thomas Powell 33
 
 
 
 
adversary. A colonial power could use this weapon successfully
against a rebellion or separatist force that had little capacity to cope
with the disease outbreak. That military advantage is neutralized in
conflicts with adversaries who possess their own germ weapons and
can retaliate in kind. Today, there are many states with advanced mili-
tary BW capacity.23
     Currently there is widespread concern that BW could be used by
rogue states and bio-terrorists. However, back in 1950, the Chinese
and Soviets had already experienced Japanese BW attacks since 1937
from Unit 731. They quickly recognized the evidence after the first
US Army attack in December 1950. They well knew how lethal BW
could be. They also clearly understood how vulnerable they were.
The US had acquired Ishii’s Unit 731 research and lied about it to the
world as revealed in the 1949 Khabarovsk Trials. The American BW
threat was very real; it would be devastating and it required immediate
civil defense countermeasures.24
 
 
                                           IV
    Another piece of critical historical evidence which is avoided by
BW deniers is the swashbuckling but murky role of General Crawford
Sams. Sams personally conducted one strange mission behind enemy
lines with the stated intent to kidnap a North Korean People’s Army
(KPA) plague victim from a hospital bed.25 Sams commanded the
Naval vessel, US Infantry Landing Craft No 1091, which Newsweek
dubbed the “Bubonic Plague Ship” that was on a “secret mission” at
Wonsan Harbor in North Korea. That secret mission remains classified
today; however, it has been alleged that this ship, “although masquer-
ading as an epidemic control ship, was actually loaded with bacterio-
logical installations and was used for testing germ weapons on
 
23. States with advanced BW capabilities include: Russia, China, North Korea, South
    Korea, Japan, India, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Syria, Libya, France,
    Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Cuba, and the United States.
24. The effectiveness of the 1952 BW attack is still uncertain. The Chinese and North
    Korean civil and military authorities had time to prepare the urban and rural popu-
    lation in anticipation of the American BW attacks. Vigilance and the quick-response
    destruction of vectors were the main defense measures. It is also likely that the com-
    munists downplayed their losses to discourage the US Army about BW effective-
    ness. North Korean and Chinese leaders refused to permit International Red
    Cross observers to verify BW attacks, claiming the IRC was partisan and would
    report casualty figures, therefore allowing the US Army to better assess the
    results of the campaign.
25. Williams and Wallace, Unit 731, 263.
34 Socialism and Democracy
 
 
 
 
North Korean and Chinese prisoners.”26 Will the Pentagon ever come
clean on the true nature and role of this ship? Access to the ship’s orig-
inal design, blueprints, and dry dock logs would reveal laboratory
refitting to determine its bio-weapon manufacturing potential. A
review of the ship’s ladings records, crew manifest and visitor log
from 1950 – 53 would identify vector deliveries from the US or Japan,
and it would ascertain if any former Japanese BW scientists from
Unit 731 were employed.27
     The confessions of American pilots shot down over North Korea
and China are not fabricated stories. The technical details revealed in
the confessions describing the mechanisms of BW bombs, the bomb-
loading protocol, and the pre-flight briefings are not made up material,
but are factual, eye-witness accounts of the state-of-the-art delivery
systems of germ warfare in 1952. The details of their payload, pre-
flight briefings, and the pilots’ individual knowledge including sortie
dates and names of briefing officers precludes the possibility of
invented information.28
     However, the American POW pilots unanimously recanted their
BW confessions after they were repatriated home. The official US
explanation for the confessions was “brainwashing” and physical
torture.29 The pilots who confessed to dropping germs had been
 
26. This allegation was initially made in CMR, and was repeated in the opening defense
    argument of the Powell/Shuman trial. Quoted in Williams and Wallace, Unit 731,
    260.
27. The question of whether Japanese scientists from Unit 731were employed on Sams’
    plague ship is relevant because of the ISC findings. “In the light of all these and other
    similar facts, the Commission had no option but to conclude that the American Air
    Force was employing in Korea methods very similar to, if not exactly identical with,
    those employed to spread plague by the Japanese during the Second World War.”
    Report of the International Scientific Commission for the facts concerning Bacterial
    Warfare in Korea and China (ISC Report), Beijing, 1952, 27.
28. The ISC interviewed four captured American pilots in a North Korean POW camp.
    From a scientific point of view this made sense to the Commission members as the
    BW delivery protocol should be described with the highest accuracy possible. The
    four captured American pilots voluntarily revealed explicit information about
    delivery mechanics, BW operational logistics, and preflight briefings. Politically
    however, interviewing the American POW pilots would serve later as a pretext
    for US Government spokespersons to impugn the impartiality of the ISC
    investigation.
29. The results of brainwashing ascribed to the Chinese torturers, i.e., the insertion of
    false memories into the victim’s mind, have yet to be duplicated by modern neuro-
    science. However, this war-time rationale provided American officials a means to
    dismiss all 38 pilot confessions en masse without having to answer to any of the
    specific details within the confessions themselves. “Not only did ‘brain-washing’
    account for the astounding confessions made by captured American flyboys but
                                                                       Thomas Powell 35
 
 
 
 
brainwashed by the Chinese Communists through an insidious new
psychological torture method which “inserted false memories into
their minds.” This explanation allowed for the lenient treatment of
returning POW pilots who might otherwise have faced severe disci-
plinary action for their confessions. Meanwhile, the pilots were depro-
grammed and placed under great pressure to conform. As they
remained soldiers there was the veiled threat of court-martial vs. the
benefits of honorable discharge and the GI Bill. The aggressive prose-
cution of other dissidents as public examples, the wholesale destruc-
tion of records, and the general tying off of loose ends became
standard operational modality of the denial machine.
      The logic of plausible denial is not new to official state practice, but
it is analyzed at this time and given a name. It follows a standard pro-
cedure in criminal trials for the defense to propose alternative scenarios
to cast doubt upon the prosecution’s case. If an event such as an out-
break of bubonic plague in a Korean village has an alleged cause
such as the deliberate spreading of infected fleas by a US airplane wit-
nessed by local farmers, but an alternative possible scenario is pro-
posed by American officials such as poor local public healthcare in
the midst of warfare which is also likely to be true, the two expla-
nations therefore negate each other regardless of whether one or
both is true. This is deniability.30
      However plausible, to deny is not the same act as to refute or to dis-
prove. The US Army denied the role of the plague ship, but it produced
no evidence to disprove the charge. Instead, the US Government
moved to drop charges against the Powells rather than permit trial
defense experts to examine this vessel. Denying an allegation does
not require substantiating evidence or proof and is a much lower stan-
dard for truth. The US position on the Korean War BW allegations has
consistently taken the form of denial. President Truman denied that the
 
    soon it would be used to explain a whole raft of mysterious events emanating from
    China, and even the dominant and characteristic features of behavior of the Chinese
    population itself.” Chaddock, This Must Be the Place, 45. Chaddock further examines
    the claims of POW torture by the Chinese and finds no corroborating evidence. To
    the contrary he uncovers many stories in local print media from returning POWs
    affirming that they had not suffered any physical abuse. “When former POW
    Bernie Smith returned to Memphis he was approached by two reporters seeking a
    story on ‘the tortures of a Communist prison.’ But Bernie took them by surprise.
    He said he had been treated very well. He could not oblige them with any atrocity
    stories at all. Bernie’s unexpected response brought him a number of threatening tel-
    ephone calls and letters.” Milton Lowenberg, “‘Progressive’ POW,” The Nation,
    January 30, 1954, quoted in Chaddock, 122.
30. CMR, May 1952, 425–426.
36 Socialism and Democracy
 
 
 
 
US was using biological weapons in Korea. Subsequent lower level
deniers such as Leitenberg brandish Truman’s statement as evidence
of US innocence. This compounding of denial amounts to layered
obfuscation and is academically questionable.
    The internal workings of the plausible denial machine became
evident when the ISC report concluded that the testimony and evi-
dence of American germ warfare attacks against North Korea and
China in 1952 was irrefutable. The US Army had indeed engaged in
systematic BW attacks.31 The first official American response was to
tar-brush the Commission scientists as dupes and communist sym-
pathizers. To discredit the report, various credentialed authorities
(such as the Director of the NYC Museum of Natural History) volun-
teered their “objective scientific” opinions. The denial spin job was
an extended exercise in innuendo, scorn, belittlement, dismissal, false
logic, patriotic rhetoric, red phobia and character assassination.
Factual refutation of the report’s findings was slim.
    The mindset of plausible denial further presumed that Mao and
Kim Il Sung did not already anticipate the American use of BW
before the start of the Korean War. Given the Ishii amnesty deal and
the Khabarovsk trial findings, the Communist leadership had
already calculated the risk of American BW attack into their war strat-
egy, and they were prepared to accept high casualties to finally expel
 
31. “In the opinion of the Commission, therefore, there remains no doubt that a large
    number of voles suffering from plague were delivered to the district of Kan-Nan
    during the night of April 4th/5th, 1952 by aircraft which the villagers heard. This
    was identified as an American F82 double fuselage night fighter.” “The Kan-Nan
    Incident,” ISC Report (n. 27), 31. And again, “On the basis of the evidence presented,
    and on their own search and prolonged interrogations of a considerable number of
    witnesses, both medical and lay, the Commission was compelled to conclude that
    the delivery of various biological objects contaminated with anthrax bacilli to
    many places in the two Chinese provinces had taken place, and that this had
    given rise to a number of cases of mortal infection hitherto unknown in the
    region, namely pulmonary anthrax, and hemorrhagic meningitis. Eyewitness state-
    ments impossible to doubt indicated American planes as the vehicles of delivery of
    the infected objects.” “Incidents in Liotung and Liaohsi,” ibid., 36. The ISC report
    focused on five specific incidents of night-time aerial BW attacks in which there
    was significant evidence and eyewitness accounts to evaluate the truth of the alle-
    gation. Hundreds of reports were made in North Korea and China alleging BW
    attacks, and while some no doubt were the result of hysteria and fear of people
    on the ground, most were factual though not adequately documented. Finding
    and destroying infected vectors was the primary concern, not preserving evidence.
    The ISC report acknowledges the difficulty of establishing clear culpability in a BW
    attack, and sets out its methodology in “Incident Analysis Adopted by the Commis-
    sion,” Ibid., 15.
                                                                       Thomas Powell 37
 
 
 
 
all foreign colonizers from East Asia. The US underestimated both the
resolve and the preparedness of the Chinese and North Korean
Communists.
     One final argument put forward by Leitenberg and other BW
deniers is that the US had no offensive BW program until 1953. This
statement is an outright falsehood. The US Army in 1942 initiated the
Biological Warfare Division within the Army Chemical Corps at
Camp Detrick, Maryland. The Unit 731 research was acquired in
1947. There was plenty of time to make BW weapons operational
before the onset of the Korean War.32
     Attached to this above concern is whether Harry Truman would
have signed off on using biological weapons against global commun-
ism. Clearly, BW could not be used in the war without his prior
approval. Truman had already dropped two atomic bombs on Japan
killing a quarter million people. The rationale for the atomic bomb
use in 1945 was to shorten the war, avoid the need to invade Japan,
and therefore save American soldiers’ lives. As early as November
1950, President Truman had announced that he was considering
using the atomic bomb against North Korea or China. However,
North Korea provided few strategic targets for an atomic bomb detona-
tion, while major Chinese cities were far removed from the battlefield.
There was no strategic or politically viable atomic bomb target. If BW
could save American soldiers and shorten the Korean War, Truman
approved it. He wasn’t a subtle thinker.
 
 
                                           V
    Endless denial breeds skepticism. The more denial is heaped upon
a subject, the less plausible that denial becomes. In small doses plaus-
ible denial is a sales pitch which reinforces the ideological beliefs a
society holds about itself. The post-war Truman Administration elite
 
32. “An offensive biological program began in 1942 under the direction of a civilian
    agency, the War Reserve Service (WRS). The program included a research develop-
    ment facility at Camp Detrick, Maryland, testing sites in Mississippi and Utah, and a
    production facility in Terre Haute, Indiana. Experiments were conducted using
    pathogens including B. anthracis and Brucella suis.” George W. Christopher, et. al.,
    “Biological Warfare: A Historical Perspective,” in Joshua Lederberg, ed., Biological
    Weapons: Limiting the Threat, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1999, 22. Additionally,
    Ken Alibek, in his tell-all exposé on the Soviet Union’s BW program, Biohazard,
    claims to have co-authored a secret history of the parallel US and Soviet Cold
    War BW programs with veteran American bioweaponer, Bill Patrick. Alibek
    claims the Soviets had a high-level mole inside Fort Detrick that permitted them
    to stay abreast of US developments.
38 Socialism and Democracy
 
 
 
 
in Washington and the US Army command in occupied Japan held
strong colonial and racial attitudes towards Asians. Chinese and
Korean peasants were thought to be “backward,” and would not com-
prehend the deliberate and immediate cause of a disease outbreak.
However, the reality is that peasants tend to be necessarily practical.
If a Korean farmer saw a plane fly over, canisters fall out and insects
emerge from those fractured containers, that practical farmer would
likely attempt to round up and set fire to the pestilence immediately,
not save it in a neatly labeled specimen jar. If the farmer lived within
a 500-mile radius of Harbin, he would have heard of the eight years
(1937 – 45) of Japanese germ attacks in China, Manchuria, and Siberia.
The hubris of the American BW attack was to presume the Chinese
and Korean peasants were simple, that they would not immediately
discover the germ attack, take suppressive action, and report the inci-
dents promptly to civil and military authorities.
     The Korean War is notable in military history for its three separate
and successful invasions and their subsequent reversals all within a
year. First, the surprise attack of the KPA across the 38th Parallel
drove the Republic of South Korea army (ROK) to the Pusan perimeter
at the southernmost tip of the Korean Peninsula; second, the US Army-
led UN Force counter-invasion at Inchon severed the KPA and cut off
their supplies. The UN Force then pursued the remnant KPA north-
ward across the Yalu River. This incursion into China triggered the
Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) to counter-invade across
the Yalu River driving US/UN Forces southward back to the 38th Par-
allel. Battle lines seesawed, but eventually stalemated near where the
war had begun. A lot of denial scholarship removes the BW issue com-
pletely out of the context of war. The American attacks occurred within
the shifting fortunes of intense ground war with heavy casualties on
both sides, and the pending threat of nuclear confrontation with
Russia.
     The collected testimony and evidence is overwhelming that the US
did use biological warfare during the Korean War, both in retreat in
1950 – 51, and offensively to gain ground and bargaining chips in the
1952 stalemate. The CIA and the Pentagon have succeeded in
burying the bomber manifests, the plague ship records, and similar
routine documentation that would incontrovertibly affirm US culpabil-
ity. This record-keeping evidence was thoroughly culled and shredded
long ago. Higher tier evidence such as correspondence and reports will
remain top secret and inaccessible. Hence official denial and academic
fence-sitting will continue to abound.
                                                                         Thomas Powell 39
 
 
 
 
     Meanwhile, the contentious issue of “whether or not” the US
engaged in massive BW war crimes in the Korean War has evolved.
Academic interest has shifted onto the workings of the government
denial machine,33 and the imposition of the American security state
at its post-WWII inception. The Korean War BW cover-up was an
early success story encompassing all the international intrigue and
domestic strong-arm tactics that were developed as the “go to”
methods to impose state secrecy by government officials. Plausible
denial has since become the automatic and entrenched method of
maintaining government secrecy.
     The question arises why continue this imposed secrecy? After all,
most of the soldiers, scientists, and politicians who had important
roles in the Korean War BW attacks and the subsequent cover-up are
long dead. So why not look at this suppressed chapter of American
history and Korean history and Chinese history, and learn something?
It appears there are many reasons for maintaining denial. First, the
denial machine has worked well so far. BW accusations have been mar-
ginalized. Top secret documents remain indefinitely inaccessible so
there is no inclination on the part of the Army or the CIA to confess.
The subject rarely arises anyway. The bet going forward by top military
brass is that the routine of denial will continue to be the best hand.
     A second reason for continued denial is that the Korean War fight-
ing ended in a ceasefire which has been in effect since July 27, 1953.
There has never been a negotiated truce, and hostilities between the
US and North Korea have not ended. The Korean Peninsula remains
divided and heavily militarized at the 38th Parallel. The US Army, in
addition to the BW attacks, dropped 33,000 tons of napalm, and over
400,000 tons of explosive ordnance. North Korea was carpet-bombed
with millions of people killed. The built infrastructure which had
been modernized under a half century of Japanese colonial occupation
was completely destroyed. No war reparations have ever been paid to
North Korea, no Marshall Plan, no Development Bank, and no normal-
ization of relationship. A formal truce settlement would require the US
to fess up to its military excesses.
     Who won the Korean War (?) is another reason the US Army
wishes to keep the BW assault hushed up. Even with the new, secret,
 
 
33. This is the research direction taken by Chaddock in his 2013 book This Must Be the
    Place. The growing secrecy, perniciousness, and outright criminality within the
    upper ranks of American government beginning in the Cold War has also become
    a recent interest of scholars, e.g. David Talbot, The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles,
    the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, HarperCollins, New York, 2015.
40 Socialism and Democracy
 
 
 
 
highly touted disease weapon, and the textbook setting of rural iso-
lated towns in which to deploy it, the Army’s well-orchestrated BW
attack in 1952 was not effective in moving the battle line. For the first
time in its very active military history going back to the War of Inde-
pendence, the US Army was fought to a draw in Korea. The next
Asian war against communism a decade later in Viet Nam ended deci-
sively in a loss, another first for the US Army. The sobering score card
of America’s colonial military setbacks in Asia in the second half of the
twentieth century forced the Army to critique its combat tactics, most
notably its reliance on conscript soldiers.
     But BW is a very dirty deed in the moral register of most human
beings, even generals. Germs did not prevail in the Korean War; BW
did not prove to be the decisive weapon as hoped against a deter-
mined foe with an apparently inexhaustible supply of soldiers to
throw into the battle. BW is a distasteful weapon that casts moral
reprehension upon all practitioners; it implies guile and cowardice,
and undermines the robust US military self-image enamored of air
superiority, advanced technology, and overwhelming combat fire-
power. BW is an ugly closet skeleton which does not fit the image
of “today’s army.”
     Most likely, Truman was seduced into BW without thinking the
whole project through.34 He knew nothing about the atomic bomb
until he remarkably became president. This marvel of a weapon,
created by nuclear physicists in deep secrecy in distant and exotic
New Mexico, fell into his lap as the super device to dramatically and
heroically end World War II. Germ warfare, an equivalent marvel,
created by medical doctors in similar deep secrecy in distant and
exotic Harbin, China must have felt like déjà vu. But as Truman
learned, there is a big difference in military efficiency between killing
100,000 people instantly in a flash of nuclear fission, and trying to
kill another 100,000 people slowly over several months by infectious
disease. The other shortcoming Truman faced was that once he gave
the approval, he had to rely on MacArthur’s, and later General
 
 
34. “By 1949, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff had biological warfare built into emergency
    war plans, and if the Berlin Blockade led to general war, they intended to use it.
    By 1951, after considerable discussion, a mature policy for first use if militarily
    advantageous was in place, with the Joint Chiefs placing biological warfare in the
    strategic category number one, with the same priority as atomic warfare. As far
    as the Joint Chiefs were concerned, biological weapons could be employed from
    the onset of war at the discretion of the president.” Endicott and Hagerman, The
    United States and Biological Warfare, 185–186.
                                                                     Thomas Powell 41
 
 
 
 
Ridgeway’s, judgment concerning deployment, and he was stuck with
the results.35
     The first allegation of BW in March 1951 by Foreign Minister Pak,
likely caught MacArthur and the Truman Administration flat-footed.
They had not expected to be found out so quickly, and denial was
their automatic first response. While conventional ordnance and
napalm bombing continued unabated, there followed a year’s hiatus
in BW deployments. When the second wave BW deployments began
in 1952, Acheson was ready with the plausible denial defense. The
Army was also ready with Sams’ plague ship in place at Wonsan
Harbor and a large inventory of pathogens ready to be deployed. It
was not a haphazard operation: it was a strategically planned and
well-orchestrated bombing campaign over many months with many
targets. It just did not produce the anticipated military results.
     The subsequent cover-up was more successful than the germ
deployment. The fact of its success is indicative of the rigorous com-
partmentalization within the military in which BW was operational.
Only a handful of pilots and support personnel in the battle theater
needed to know the payloads and targets. By insulating command in
this manner, it would not have been difficult to subsequently purge
the record. The common soldiers got their honorable discharges,
their GI benefits, and were left alone. There was no incentive for any
soldier to come forward with his germ story which would surely
have landed him in deep trouble. The pilots’ complicity in war crime
was also a very effective means of insuring their continued loyalty
and silence after the war.
     With the passage of time, the whole truth of America’s deployment
of bio-weapons against North Korea and China during the Korean War
is unlikely to ever be acknowledged unless there is some larger politi-
cal desire to normalize relations with North Korea. The US has threa-
tened and violently harassed North Korea on a continuous basis
since the 1953 armistice with annual war games and enforced economic
isolation. Current US officials claim North Korean behavior to be inex-
plicable and erratic, but few of these insiders are aware of America’s
sordid and secret history, nor are they willing to acknowledge the com-
plete destruction of North Korea and the death of one-third of its
 
 
35. Truman inherited the presidency 82 days into Roosevelt’s fourth term. He could
    have legally run for the office again in 1952 but chose not to. Instead he retired
    back to Missouri where he deliberately disappeared off the global stage. Very few
    individuals in history get the opportunity to order the murder of hundreds of thou-
    sands of people. It must have been very sobering.
42 Socialism and Democracy

 

population due to American saturation bombings, or the fact that the
US has never negotiated a permanent truce with North Korea, or
paid war reparations for the horrific carnage. Academic deniers like
Leitenberg will always be available to cast aspersions and sow
doubt. However, since the Viet Nam war, most Americans have
become highly skeptical of government pronouncements. There has
been a general loss of faith in the honesty and reliability of politicians,
governmental appointees, and professional authorities. Attempts by
insiders to sanitize the past deserve to be met with disbelief and
distain.