[Continuing our series on deception in politics and policy.]
In a Washington Post interview published this past weekend, Bill Gates remarked that “Capitalism did not eradicate smallpox. It just doesn’t know how.”
Gates is right. Smallpox wasn’t eradicated by capitalism. It was eradicated by communism—as part of a plot to conquer the world. Really.
It’s said that, in politics, there’s the reason and the real reason. In other words, people often lie about why they do things. The current version of the income tax was created in order to make Prohibition possible, by replacing the revenue the federal government would lose under Prohibition (because, back then, the federal government and many states were dependent on excise taxes on alcohol). The minimum wage in the U.S. was created to price uneducated and unskilled laborers out of the market, especially African-Americans, victims of “Jim Crow” laws that denied them educational opportunities, who were accused of “taking white people’s jobs” by underbidding the white workers with whom they competed. Similarly, gun control laws were promulgated in order to make it harder for African-Americans to defend themselves from the KKK. Social Security was designed to remove older workers from the labor market, creating an artificial labor shortage that would push wages up. The 1960s ban on atmospheric tests of nuclear weapons was promoted by the Soviets and their supporters in order to make it more difficult to develop defenses against nuclear attack. Obamacare was designed not to provide people with healthcare, but to make healthcare insurers into government utilities like the phone company, with guaranteed profits for the industry in return for their doing the bidding of politicians and special-interest groups. And so on.
During the Cold War, every well-informed, well-intentioned person recognized the Soviet Union as, in Ronald Reagan’s words, the focus of evil in the modern world. The Soviets’ international organization, the Communist Party, butchered people by the millions. (Counting the Chinese branch of the party, which was created by the Soviets but later turned against them, the CP killed between 94 million and 150 million during the time of the Soviet Union.) But there was one thing the Soviets always got credit for, one great achievement of mankind for which they deserved much of the credit: the eradication of smallpox from nature.
Smallpox apparently developed from a rodent virus around 16,000-68,000 years ago, began to spread at the end of the last Ice Age, and killed perhaps 300-500 million people during the 20th Century. The Pan American Health Organization, a public health group founded in 1902, attempted in 1950 to eradicate smallpox from the Western Hemisphere and was successful in all countries except Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador. In 1958, Professor Viktor Zhdanov, deputy minister of health for the Soviet Union, called on the governing body of the World Health Organization to make such an effort worldwide, and the proposal was accepted in 1959. At the time, approximately two million people a year were dying from the disease. The Soviets pushed for the eradication program, provided vaccine (as did the Americans), and kept the program in the public eye, which was important because the eradication process required that every outbreak be dealt with quickly.
The WHO’s Smallpox Eradication Team was formed in 1966 and was led by an American, D.A. Henderson. Using the process of “ring vaccination”—tracking each smallpox case in the world, and vaccinating anyone in the area of an outbreak or who might have come into contact with an infected person. The last naturally occurring outbreaks of the two versions of smallpox were in 1975 and 1977, and a medical photographer, who apparently got infected in the laboratory, died in 1978. That was that. After thousands of years of smallpox as one of the great plagues of humanity, it was gone, except for samples kept by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and by a CDC counterpart in Russia.
Well, not really. Because what we didn’t know at the time was that the Soviets had done, which was to turn smallpox into a weapon and to create missiles designed to attack the U.S. with smallpox and kill millions of Americans.
Before we learned from defectors of the Soviet biological weapons program, the consensus of U.S. biological weapons experts—at least, the consensus of the most important experts, those with political connections and elite credentials—was that such weapons didn’t really work and that the Soviets didn’t have any interest in them. There was no real danger, they said, of the Soviets violating the international BW ban to which they were a party. When evidence surfaced of Soviet violations of the ban, they explained it away.
The BW experts had an “innocent” explanation, no matter what happened. An outbreak of anthrax in 1979 in the Soviet city of Sverdlovsk, an outbreak of a sort that could have come only from an accident at a weapons facility, was blamed on the black-market sale of tainted meat. After Soviet clients in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Laos used Yellow Rain, a cocktail based on fungal poisons, it was said to have been bee droppings mistaken for BWs by primitive people. And so on.
As in virtually every case in which the “scientific consensus” is cited as a reason for pursuing a certain policy, the “scientific consensus” was flat-out wrong. The Soviets, it turned out, weaponized smallpox, along with anthrax and plague. Contrary to the claims of the elite scientists, the Soviets were researching and developing a wide range of biological weapons including one based on Marburg, the deadlier cousin of Ebola. Their BW program was the largest covert scientific program in the history of the world—bigger, in person-hours, than the Manhattan Project.
What does this have to do with the smallpox eradication campaign? This: As Richard Preston noted in The New Yorker in 1998, “The smallpox vaccine wears off after ten to twenty years. None of us are immune any longer, unless we’ve had a recent shot.” Because smallpox no longer exists in the wild, no one is immune by virtue of having been exposed naturally, and because the vaccine isn’t distributed anymore (who needs it?), no one has immunity due to vaccination. No one is immune.
The eradication of smallpox means the eradication of smallpox immunity.
Remember that Professor Viktor Zhdanov, the one who proposed the program that led to the eradication? He was an anti-BW activist in the Pugwash group, a scientists’ “peace” organization funded by Cyrus Eaton, the George Soros of his day. In 1964, when the Pugwashites met in Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia, they formed a committee to study the BW issue, to work toward the elimination of such weapons (or, at least, that was the stated goal). Zhdanov was a member of the committee, as was a man named Ivan Málek. Also among the members of the committee were some of the key scientists who persuaded U.S. leaders, including President Nixon, that the Soviets had no interest in BWs.
Málek, it turned out, was the head of research and development for the biological weapons program of Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia. Which means that one of the key developers of BWs for the Soviet bloc was a member of the committee that was supposed to push for the elimination of such weapons. No wonder the U.S., but not the Soviets, got rid of their BWs!
As for Zhdanov, he was a key part of the Soviet program, rising by 1973 to chair the Soviets’ Interagency Science and Technology Council on Molecular Biology and Genetics. Igor V. Domaradskij, Zhdanov’s deputy, later wrote a memoir in which he described that council as the “brains” of the Soviet BW program.
As Wendy Orent wrote in The American Prospect in 2000:
The famous Russian virologist Viktor M. Zhdanov, who died in 1987, . . . thoroughly charmed his American counterparts. Alexis Shelokov, former head of the Salk Institute at Swiftwater, Pennsylvania, where he worked on developing antibiological weapons vaccines, still remembers Zhdanov fondly:
“He was a charming, brilliant scientist, an excellent virologist. To give an example of his human touch, he had come to the States in the ’60s to keep up with the newer virological methods here. In the Soviet Union, the chemists wore black smocks, while physicians wore white. When he returned to the U.S.S.R., he worked in the laboratories in a black smock such as all the bench people, the lab workers, wore. . . . In 1961 I was a member of the first American virological delegation to visit the U.S.S.R. It was organized by the NIH [National Institutes of Health]. We spent a delightfully informal evening at his house. He appeared to be very liberal, quite critical of some positions of his government. He was not a blind lackey and functionary in the Soviet system, but a liberal, thinking man, a loyal patriot of his country.“
No one had any idea that this liberal, thinking man was perhaps the principal initiator of bioweapons research in the Soviet Union.
I should point out that not everyone agrees with me, that Zhdanov’s purpose in proposing smallpox eradication was to make smallpox a more effective weapon for the Soviets. Ken Alibek, who was chief scientist for the Soviet program and defected to the U.S. (he was my mentor when I went after my Ph.D.), said in an interview that “I don’t think that handing the KGB another weapon was Zhdanov’s main idea for eradication. But he was a good scientist. Of course he knew that the eradication of smallpox would play a role in future wars . . . What we need to remember is that Russia is a different country with a different mentality. The same person was quite capable of doing humanitarian and immoral work. It is strange but true.”
Alibek could be correct. On the other hand, no one ever outdid the Soviets in being coldblooded, and BWs were critical to the Soviets’ plan for winning the Cold War. They knew that they could never beat the U.S. in nuclear weapons. Their strategy, I believe, was based on three legs—BWs, domination of the Third World and control of its strategic resources (which they came close to achieving, prior to the election of Ronald Reagan as president), and control of space (which is why space-based missile defense, the so-called “Star Wars” program, was such a threat to them). Once those elements were in place, they could negotiate with the U.S. and bring about the elimination of nuclear weapons, leaving the U.S. at a dramatic disadvantage.
One thing is clear: When dealing with people like the Soviets (or the Communist Chinese, or the Muslim Brotherhood, or other cut-throat adversaries of the U.S.), one must never assume good motives even for the most charitable-seeming acts.