The classic "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" have become a generic idiom in our literature as the harbingers of ultimate cosmic doom.
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. - Revelation 6:7, 8
The actual word for "pale" is clwros ( chloros, which is green or yellowish pale, and this horseman is traditionally viewed as pestilence).
Most of us are mindful of the nuclear threat - and, indeed, this is a major cloud that overhangs every strategic decision in geopolitics. But from Revelation 6:8, it appears that about one in four will die from pestilence, and from "the beasts of the earth." Don't assume that these "beasts of the earth" are necessarily large enough to be visible to the naked eye.
Also, in His confidential briefing to His disciples on His Second Coming, Jesus explained:
For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. -Matthew 24:7, 8
There was a time not long ago when the medical profession felt they had most of the major diseases licked, and for the rest it was just a matter of time.
Now that former optimism appears tragically premature. Many of the previously "defeated" diseases are making a comeback, in hardier strains which are resisting our former treatments.
New highly resistant strains of tuberculosis are of increasing concern. This airborne germ has also been known to carry HIV, allowing it to "piggyback" the bacteria and thus also be contagious in the air.
Staphylococcus aureus bacteria are the Number 1 cause of hospital infections. They are blamed for 13% of the nation's 2 million hospital infections each year, which kill 60-80,000 people. Before antibiotics, Staphylococcus aureus was one of the most deadly germs.
A new strain of staph germ has emerged, which appears resistant to medicine's "drug of last resort" and could soon prove unstoppable.1 Vancomycin, which has been around since 1970, is used when other antibiotics fail.
The increasing resistance of the new stains is attributed to overuse of antibiotics and the failure of some patients to take their medicine properly.
Many patients stop taking their medication once they feel better but before the infection has been knocked out, thus enabling the hardiest germs to survive and multiply.
The Ebola virus kills as many as 90% of its victims in little more than a week. Connective tissue liquefies, every orifice bleeds. In the final stages, Ebola victims become convulsive, splashing contaminated blood around them as they twitch, shake and thrash to their deaths.
There is no known cure, no effective treatment. Recent outbreaks in Zaire prompted the quarantine of sections of the country until the disease had run its course.
The rapidity with which diseases, emergent or deliberate, can pass through our "global village" is terrifyingly real.
With modern air travel and global commerce, as well as our present understanding of modern biotechnology, the Biblical predictions now seem frighteningly imminent. Anyone who has seen the recent movie Outbreak can easily grasp the reality of the threats to our modern society.
The nerve agent Sarin was unleashed on March 20, 1995 in the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 people and injuring 5,500. That thousands did not die was attributed to an impure mixture of the agent. A tiny drop of Sarin, which was originally developed in Germany in the 1930s, can kill within minutes after skin contact or inhalation of its vapor. Like all other nerve agents, Sarin blocks the action of acetylcholinestearse, an enzyme necessary for transmission of nerve impulses.
The cult responsible, Aum Shinrikyo ("Supreme Truth"), was developing biological agents as well. While chemical attacks are frightening, a biological weapon poses the worst nightmare: Chemical agents are inanimate, but bacteria, viruses, and other live agents can be contagious and reproductive. If established in the environment, they may multiply. Unlike any other weapon, they can become more dangerous over time.
Certain biological agents incapacitate, whereas others kill. Some examples:
o Bacillus Anthracis. [A rod-shaped, gram-positive, anaerobic sporulating microorganism, the spores constituting the usual infective form.] Causes anthrax. If bacteria are inhaled, symptoms may develop in 2 to 3 days. Initial symptoms resembling common respiratory infection but are followed by high fever, vomiting, joint ache and labored breathing, and internal and external bleeding lesions. Exposure may be fatal. Vaccine and antibiotics provide protection unless exposure is very high.
This is the most dangerous bacteria that a terrorist could use since, once released, it will present a problem for decades. Gruinard Island, off the coast of Scotland, remained infected with anthrax spores for 40 years after biological warfare tests were carried out there in the 1940s.
If Berlin had been bombed with anthrax bacteria during World War II, the city would still be contaminated.2
o Yersinia pestis (Pasteurella pestis). [A rod-shaped, nonmotile, non-sporulating, gram-negative, aerobic bacterium.] Causes bubonic plague, the Black Death of the Middle Ages. If bacteria reach the lungs, symptoms-including fever and delirium-may appear in 3 to 4 days. Untreated cases are nearly always fatal. Vaccines can offer immunity and antibiotics are usually effective if administered promptly. This organism can infect by either the respiratory or oral route and can be readily cultivated in the laboratory. Another likely agent of choice by a terrorist.
o Botulinum Toxin. The most powerful poison known. Cause of botulism, produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Symptoms appear 12 to 72 hours after ingestion or inhalation. Initial symptoms are nausea and diarrhea, followed by weakness, dizziness and respiratory paralysis, often leading to death. Antitoxin can sometimes arrest the process.
Iraq's biological weapons were understood to include anthrax bacilli and botulinum toxin.3
Other biological weapons include Vibrio comma (cholera) and Salmonella typhimurium (typhoid fever). These few were excerpted from a list of several dozen alternatives under study.
The ease with which biological weapons can be produced makes it illusive to rely on international agreements, which can be so readily circumvented. Verification can never be foolproof or effective. Many experts believe they are a waste of time.
A major biological arsenal could be built with $10,000 worth of equipment in a room 15 feet square.
One can cultivate trillions of bacteria at relatively little risk to one's self with gear no more sophisticated than a beer fermenter and a protein-based culture, a gas mask, and a plastic overgarment.
A large population cannot be protected against a biological attack. Vaccines can prevent some diseases, but unless the causative agent is known in advance, such a safeguard may be worthless.
Over 2.4 million of our troops-at a cost of $150 million-are being innoculated against anthrax. Antibiotics are effective against specific bacteria or classes of biological agents, but not against all. Fortunately, most biological agents have no effect on or through intact skin, so respiratory masks and clothing can provide adequate protection for most people. After a short while, the danger could recede as sunlight and ambient temperatures destroyed the agents.
Although many Israelis did become accustomed to wearing gas masks during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, it seems unrealistic to expect large populations of civilians to wear such gear for months or years, especially in warm regions. UN inspectors in Iraq report that in hot weather they can scarcely tolerate wearing a mask for more than 15 minutes at a time.
The pursuit of more robust biological defense programs seem destined to frustration.
Unless an attack organism is known in advance and is vulnerable to medical interventions, effective defense can be illusory. Even with all its limitations, the cost of building a national civil defense system against biological and chemical weapons has been estimated at over $80 billion.4
Vaccines and protective gear are not the only challenges to biological defense. Identifying an organism quickly in a battlefield situation is also problematic. Only rudimentary field units are currently available for a few specific agents. The Biological Integrated Detection System (BIDS) exposes suspected air samples to antibodies that react with a particular agent. A reaction of the antibody would signify the agent is present, a process that takes about 30 minutes.
BIDS can now identify four agents through antibody-antigen reactions: Bacillus anthracis (anthrax bacterium), Yersinia pestis (bubonic plague), botulinum toxin (the poison released by botulism organisms) and staphylococcus enterotoxin B (released by certain staph bacteria).
Research is underway to expand the number of agents that can be detected in battlefield situations or elsewhere.
Already underway are Pentagon-sponsored programs involving such technologies as ion-trap mass spectrometry and laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, approaches that look for characteristic chemical signatures of dangerous agents in the air.
Even the advocates admit that to develop a generic detector that can identify classes of pathogens is a long shot.
A complicating factor for both the attacker and the defender is the intrinsic unpredictability of the bioagents. Through mutations, a bacterium or virus can gain or lose virulence over time, which may be contrary to the strategic desires of the people who released it.
And once introduced into the environment, a pathogen may pose a threat to anybody who goes there, making it difficult to occupy territory. In addition, the mutations can obviate the protective measures assumed by the attacker as well as the defender. A tough game, indeed.
Scripture warns of a day when, but for the Lord's intervention, there would "no flesh be saved."
And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect's sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days. - Mark 13:20
It is interesting that, but for the past half century, there wasn't the technology to wipe out the entire world. Our technological "advances" have made this ancient prophecy very contemporary, indeed.
The realities of biochemical terrorism appear grim, but they also are another suggestive factor on our strategic horizon which seems to reinforce our view that you and I are being plunged into a period of time about which the Bible says more than it does about any other period of history-including the time when Jesus walked the shores of Galilee and climbed the mountains of Judea.
An exciting time, indeed!
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This article was excepted from this month's featured briefing package, Behold a Pale Horse: Emergent Diseases and Biochemical Warfare . (See bottom).
Cole, Leonard A., "The Specter of Biological Weapons," Scientific American , December 1996, pp.60-65.
Cole, Leonard A., Clouds of Secrecy: the Army's Germ Warfare Tests Over Populated Areas , Rowman and Littlefield, 1990.
Roberts, Brad, ed., Biological Weapons: Weapons of the Future? Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1993.
Dando, Malcolm, Biological Warfare in the 21st Century , Macmillan, 1994.
Cole, Leonard A., The Eleventh Plague: the Politics of Biological and Chemical Warfare , W. H. Freeman and Company, 1996.
Harris, Larry Wayne, Bacteriological Warfare: A Major Threat to North America , Privately circulated monograph, 1995.
Department of the Army, Technical Manual No. 3-216, Air Force Manual 355-6, Military Biology and Biological Warfare Agents.
Headquarters Department of the Army, Field Manual No. 21-41, Soldier's Handbook for Chemical and Biological Operations.
The Journal of the American Medical Association , August 6, 1997, Vol 278, No. 5, pp 347-446. Special Issue focusing on Biological Warfare and related topics.
Horowitz, Leonard, Emergent Viruses: AIDS and Ebola , Tetrahedron Publishing Group, Rockport MA, 1996
Monteith, Stan, "The Population Control Agenda," Personal UPDATE, 9/97, pp. 2-5 and 10/97, pp.9-12. See also www.industries.net/radio-liberty for the complete monograph.