When I read in the Lawrence Journal-World that locating the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan was “great news” and “the entire state and its people are winners,” I thought of Tom Sawyer’s fence. As “winners” of the NBAF, here are some reminders of how lucky we are:
• New York does not want this facility at Plum Island; last August, their state attorney general referred to it as posing “monstrous risks.”
• We live far enough away from Plum Island not to have known or lived with the risks involved with such a facility.
• Jobs have been promised, and those people who work with top secret disease agents would go between the lab and our families, homes and communities.
• Sen. Pat Roberts’ leadership is undeniable; he sat as chair on the Senate Intelligence Committee when President Bush claims his decision to invade Iraq sprang from faulty intelligence. Roberts refused to vote to ban cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.
• Kansans get to “pay a significant portion of the cost of NBAF.”
• Nearby Fort Riley provides experienced resources; the influenza pandemic of 1918 reportedly first appeared there. It spread worldwide and took more lives than all the wars of the 20th century combined.
Here are suggestions to maintain that winning feeling:
• Do not flip the coin of bio-agro defense to see its flip-side: biological and agricultural offensive warfare, where labs could design diseases that evade immune systems or cause psychosis/mental debilitation, or cause national or global pandemics.
• Do not read Jonathan Moreno’s “Mind Wars” containing annoying information as below:
“… (V)iral and bacterial pathogens can be engineered … with properties not naturally found in (them) to become advanced neuroweapons targeting the brain and nervous system. Based on work already done in the offensive biological weapons program of the former Soviet Union, scientists who are expert in biological weapons defense have worried aloud to me about the threat of technological surprise posed by advanced viral neuroweapons.” Human Tularemia (rabbit fever), for example, “can easily be treated with antibiotics, but if the bacterium has been engineered … the damage would already have been done before the infection became a clinical problem.”
• Discount the many thousands of servicemen and civilians used as guinea pigs in experiments and programs through Edgewood Arsenal/Fort Detrick’s biological laboratories/research.
• There are relatively few Kansans/Nebraskans, so when a cataclysmic disaster occurs in Manhattan, loss of human life in nearby areas would only reach hundreds of thousands. A similar event at Plum Island could reach millions.
• Think of our nation’s center as a tourist destination, not as a point from which a major breach/failure could radiate out across the entire nation.
• Proudly claim the one place on earth where there are no unknowns when it comes to security and disease organism containment. “To err is human” except in the NBAF, a top-secret facility where no law requires that local officials or the public be informed about the content or purpose of what is studied there. NBAF will prove itself secure: If slower, less obvious lapses in disease containment occur, or if people are used as guinea pigs again, we in the public need never know.
• Officials warn us that another deadly pandemic is just a matter of time — so when it happens, we Kansans will be so distracted by our greatness as NBAF winners that we will scarcely notice the effect a lack of a national health policy/insurance has on our national security.
Tom Sawyer used presentation and word choice to transform punishment into privilege and convince friends that painting that fence for him was winning. While we “hand over the apple,” let’s pause to consider how much we will need to pay any scientists, let alone good scientists, to work at Manhattan’s NBAF, carry top-secret baggage, and work on organisms that pose “monstrous risks.”
Kansans are hard-working, honest folks with rural backbone. They have trusted, loved and sacrificed for their country. Kansans are too far away from Plum Island to know, too sparsely populated to matter and too patriotic to question. A better comparison than “Tom Sawyer” would be from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” Kansans, “being remiss, most generous, and free of all contriving, will not peruse the foils.”