Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Smallpox-infected blankets, and other blather on Slashdot

A person on Slashdot made that unsubstatiated argument that the U.S. passed out smallpox-infected blankets to native Americans. Here is my response:

I won't comment on your other blather, but the United States did not pass out smallpox infected blankets. Lord Jeffrey Amherst, commanding general of British forces in North America during the French & Indian war, may have. It is also reported that the British fort commander in Quebec -- you know, that place in Canada -- tried to infect the American Revolutionary army after the capture of Montreal.

In fact, George Washington himself developed a severe case of smallpox when he was 19, which probably led to his decision to have the American Army be the first to try wholesale vaccination against the disease. It was definitely not something he would want used as a weapon of war.

Of course, diseases like smallpox and cholera did pass from the colonists to the native Americans, but I have yet to see a single credible story that the United States deliberately infected the natives with the disease.

BTW, as an interesting side fact, did you know that Asians (Crimean Tatars) deliberately spread bubonic plague to Europeans by catapulting dead bodies over the wall of Kaffa, leading to the death of perhaps a third of the population in the "Black Death"? IIRC, the Tatars were Muslim, which means that in the clash of civilizations, Islam isn't always the innocent victim of Christianity


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