When pondering ancient history, few people would consider weapons of mass destruction. Poison tipped arrows hardly qualify, at least not in our modern context of WMD. Defined as chemical, nuclear or biological weapons capable of causing indiscriminate death or injury on a large scale – hardly the image in mind when picturing Roman legions, Greek soldiers, or Hannibal’s army crossing the Alps.
Think again; the first historical documentation of WMD use was 590 BC when the Greeks poisoned water supplies for the besieged city of Kirrha, using extracts from a toxic plant, Hellebore. Roman, Manius Aquillius poisoned wells of besieged cities in 190 AD. Throughout history, conquest by plague or disease has always been a popular course of action. Hittite literature from as early as 1500 BC, documents driving people infected with Tularemia into lands they had their eye on. Why waste soldiers when disease can do the work for you. Middle Ages saw corpses of plague victims catapulted over defensive walls. History documents assault by disease as late as 1710 in Europe when Russians stormed the Swedes at Reval, tossing plague infested cadavers over the walls. Lets not forget the Americas – however inadvertent at first – smallpox proved a mighty WMD once invaders understood the implications.
Historical accounts of poisonous snakes tossed onto decks of enemy ships, scorpion filled baskets catapulted over enemy walls, fire, and poison arrows – while nasty, don’t fit my perception of a WMD. Weapons of mass destruction are much uglier than that; they target without conscience, attack innocents without mercy and speak to the ugliness of humanity. WMD’s are the “final solution” – that moment when a line is crossed – win at all costs, casualties irrelevant.
A few days ago I heard something that resounded in this pondering mind. Watching a documentary on evolution, the question posed was “why is man the only species that evolved into what is known as mankind”. The answer – while clearly lacking a definitive explanation, came back with this – the shark has ruled the oceans for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s brain virtually unchanged, not getting larger or evolving because it doesn’t need to. Sharks are the perfect killing machines, senses heightened to suit their purposes – larger brain not required. Mankind “evolved” purely because it was that, or become dinner for superior predators.
The problem with our “evolution” is the WMD mindset. Sure, our big brains can create wonders unimaginable to lessor species – but who cares. Ultimately we use our evolution to win at any cost; collateral damage deemed acceptable. We haven’t learned from history, show no evidence of changing our ways, and squabble over issues that should have been irrelevant by now.
A million years from now, I bet those same sharks will be swimming about the oceans. Swimming long after mankind has imploded, long after one WMD too many wiped us off the face of the earth.