The sacrificial goat

Published 1:38 pm Saturday, April 6, 2013

by James D. Howell

Assistants hold the goat still. The rubber gloved instructor draws a few drops of liquid from a small bottle with an eyedropper. Great care is taken to not spill or drop the precious chemical. The instructor repositions himself over the goat’s body and precisely places two drops of the liquid into the goat’s eye, now held open by the rubber gloved assistants. The instructor replaces the dropper into the bottle and screws it tight, careful not to over tighten or spill the liquid.

The nerve agent gushes into the goat’s bloodstream and the reaction is swift. The goat’s pupils almost immediately contract, becoming pin points. Salivation begins, the body starts to tremble, breathing becomes rapid and shallow. The whole body is collapsing into one great muscle spasm. Breathing stops. We stare, semi-dumbfounded. In less than a minute, the goat is almost dead.

Assistants spring into action. Atropine is injected directly into muscle tissue, resuscitation begins, and the goat, once again, breathes on its own. Time stands still. In reality, just a few minutes have passed. This simple experiment will stay burned into my consciousness for years.

The nerve agent, first discovered by Germany during WWII, has been vastly refined and produced by the United States. The Germans were searching for a better insecticide; they found an animal life exterminator.

Since then, killing, psychotic, and crowd control agents have undergone wide experimentation, both public and clandestine. Delivery systems are as numerous as any other weapons in the United States’s arsenal. The deadly liquid can be disbursed as an aerosol by personnel and aircraft, can be stored and delivered in cannon shells, and can be dropped on an enemy as bombs. Atropine, the antidote is warehoused wherever U.S. troops are stationed.

I am in school at the United States Army Chemical Corps school at Fort McClellan, Alabama. I’ve been assigned to the school as preparation for squadron duties as the atomic, biological, and chemical warfare (ABC) officer. As such, I will be responsible for developing an instructional program for my unit, and developing a response to enemy attacks. I feel a little inadequate and a lot overwhelmed. I persevere.

Biological warfare is subtle, fairly easy to disguise, and can have very long term effects. The downside is that it’s difficult to contain the damage only to the enemy. Natural toxins don’t adhere to unnatural boundaries, and today’s success can be tomorrows nightmare, if the territory has to be occupied. There seems to be some benefit to the United States agricultural sector. Plant diseases are identified and preventative measures developed. I don’t think the farming community of my youth really thinks about that on a routine basis.

Human pathogen borne diseases are analyzed as to their rapidity, level of incapacitation, and death according to the percentage of affected population. Nasty stuff. This is not your normal cold and flu viruses and bacteria.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are a not distant memory; we study the effects of atomic weapons in great detail. Movie after movie of nuclear weapons tests occupy classroom time. We view many classified films and documents, detailing the deadly efficiency, and after effects of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Instructional material and medical documentation of immediate and long term effects is both current and detailed. Radiation lethal dosing is explained; downwind fallout patterns are explained and computed for many scenarios.

Destruction areas, mach stem effects, blast fronts, and firestorms are examined. Photography rapidly advanced during World War II; every development of munitions and tactics that could be photographed was. Untold miles of movie film have been exposed, developed, sometimes printed, and made available for tactical training for the armed forces. In the dark classroom we are learning the hard lessons of weapons of mass destruction. It is not a pretty picture. I can’t get my head completely around the idea of just how much destruction can be caused by such a small bomb. I also know that the destructive power at Hiroshima and Nagasaki pales in comparison to thermonuclear weapons that have been developed and stockpiled by my government and Russia.

I develop the training program for my squadron. We pass operational readiness inspections with flying colors. I don’t know if the good performance on the inspection will stand us in good stead or not, if an attack occurs. At least, on paper, we are prepared.

Across the United States civil defense drills, public school programs, and emergency response systems are developed and practiced routinely. Preparation for nuclear attack has become a national policy.

I don’t think anyone can be completely prepared for the deadly, debilitating effects of weapons of mass destruction.

JAMES D. “ARCHIE” HOWELL is a Southampton County native and 1955 graduate of Franklin High School. He can be reached at