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EXPECTANCY AND EXPENSE
During the Vietnam War, the Viet-Cong guerillas dug camouflaged pits as booby traps. Within these they often positioned sharpened bamboo stakes or splinters smeared with human waste. Although it was possible to contract a nasty infection from these, the main purpose was psychological. Worrying about possible booby traps hampered the movements of American troops out of all proportion to actual casualties. Thus the threat of chemical or biological warfare may have great psychological effect. An example is the recent anthrax bioterrorism in the United States. There have been several times as many fatalities from the naturally spreading West Nile virus as from the deliberate delivery of anthrax spores. Yet response to the anthrax scare has involved colossal disruption of the postal service and massive expense.
Taking protective measures against a possible biological attack is costly and inconvenient. Vaccinating soldiers against all possible diseases that might be used is impractical. In addition, vaccines sometimes have side effects, especially if they have been developed under emergency conditions without thorough testing. Consider the anthrax vaccine used by the U.S. army that was approved in 1971. It has been thoroughly tested and is regarded as relatively safe. Vaccination requires six inoculations plus annual boosters. It produces swelling and irritation at the site of injection in 5% to 8% and severe local reactions in about 1% of those inoculated. Major systemic reactions are “rare.” Although it works against “natural” exposure, it is uncertain whether it would protect against a concentrated aerosol of anthrax spores. Dressing infantry in protective clothing and respirators hampers their mobility, making them easier targets for conventional weaponry. In hot climates extra clothing may also promote heat stress.
Even without deliberate germ warfare, troops from hygienic temperate nations are at a major disadvantage when operating in tropical Third World situations. Drugs given to ward off malaria and other endemic tropical infections are costly, rarely 100% effective,and may damage health if taken over a long period. Constant exposure to insecticides to kill mosquitoes, lice, and so forth may damage the nervous system. An additional factor is that the inhabitants of rich Western nations expect to live into their seventies or eighties nowadays. Consequently, those sent into backward areas of the world demand ever-increasing levels of protective equipment and medication. Military actions in Third World nations are thus becoming ever more expensive. In contrast, troops belonging to a poverty-stricken local regime will go unencumbered by the extra protective gear that they cannot, in any case, afford. Moreover, human casualties are of much less importance to the regimes of overcrowded nations where life expectancy is much lower. Over the past half century, armed interference in the Third World by nations such as the Soviet Union and the United States has steadily become less enthusiastic and less effective, at least in part because of these trends.
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