Has there been an occasion where ranged weapons were available but not used?

Has there been an occasion where ranged weapons were available but not used?

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I have been trying to prove my thinking wrong. I believe that there can never be an occasion where ranged weapons are available in outdoor battles / skirmishes that they would not be used.

I am hoping to find a case based on historical evidence where this was the case. In my mind, in the days of sticks and rocks cavemen would throw rocks from a distance and use the stick for close combat not just wait. It seems human nature and logical to try to damage the enemy as much as possible at a distance unless you knew their range weapons were much better than your own.

Also, it would be good to see a case where skirmish parties would not even bring along range weapons and choose to stick with melee. Lets say visibility might drop at times such as a blizzard or sandstorm but also might be clear. This would not include missions that were totally inside, in caves or forest. It would be anticipated that most of the mission would be on open ground.

From what I have found ancient Greeks and Romans had javelins and slings. And since that time ranged weapons were always employed unless your own range weapons were very inferior in which case you want to close to melee as soon as possible.

Yes, so many that I'm only going to give one example of each or I'll be here all day.

Reasons to not use a ranged weapon include: stealth, conserving ammunition, not wanting to be lethal, close quarter combat, and (in the era of muzzle loaders) to have a repeating weapon.


Forgoing loud, ranged weapons, specifically firearms, in favor of melee has a history about as long as firearms. You avoid shooting in order to cross a killing ground, and to surprise (or avoid) the enemy. The musical Hamilton describes a scene from the Battle of Yorktown.

Hamilton: Get yo bullets out yo guns, Get yo bullets out yo guns. We move under cover, And we move as one. Through the night we have one shot to live another day. We can not let a stray gunshot give us away. We will fight up close, Seize the moment and stay in it. It's either that or meet the business end of a bayonet. The code word is, 'Ro-Sham-Bo.' Dig me' Choirs: Ro-Sham-Bo! Hamilton: You have your orders now, Go man, go!

This is a whimsical, but accurate, description of Hamilton leading 400 light infantry in a sneak attack at dusk on British Redoubt 10. The British didn't take notice until the Americans were hacking at their wooden defenses with axes. Their stealth allowed them to cross a killing ground unmolested, avoiding casualties, and catching the British unprepared.

Stealth is by far the most common, guns go bang. They make a tremendous amount of noise audible for miles. A typical military rifle or pistol is in the 150-160 decibel range, louder than a jet engine at full power.

Silencers aren't silent. You don't just screw a thing on the end of a pistol like in the movies and get a little "PHOOT". They're more properly termed a "suppressor" reducing the noise and flash of the gun, but it still sounds like a gun. A good suppressor will reduce the noise to about 140 dB which is still extremely loud. Suppressors also come at a cost, reduced muzzle velocity meaning reduced range, accuracy and stopping power. There are a handful of actually silent guns out there, the Welrod pistol being the most famous, but this is a purpose designed weapon with many, many compromises for its level of silence.


Obviously if you run out of ammunition your ranged weapon is nothing but an awkward club. A smart commander who is running low on ammunition will hold their fire to conserve their limited ammunition for the most critical moments. Rather than firing on, say, a lone soldier, they will wait until there's a large group of troops. Or hold their ammunition in reserve until there's an enemy breakthrough.

Once you run out of ammunition, the enemy can move in the open with impunity. They can move their own artillery and support units closer and into better defensive position. So long as you have ammunition, even a little, you maintain the threat of firing back. Most armies are adverse to casualties and will not use attrition to run out an enemy's dwindling supply… unless you're the Soviets.

Towards the end of the Russo-Finish Winter War, the Finns ran critically low on everything, especially artillery ammunition. At the beginning of the war well sighted Finnish artillery had a field day firing at large masses of Soviet troops advancing across open and pre-sighted terrain. As the war went on, ammunition supply dwindled, and artillery had to choose their targets more carefully. Towards the end of the war, the Soviets could gather in the open for an attack and the Finns could not respond; they were reserving their dwindling ammunition for only the most critical moments. Artillerymen wept at these textbook targets. A week before the war ended the Finnish 2nd Corps had just 600 shells left in reserve for all guns.


Pulling a gun means you're going to kill someone. There's no "I'll shoot the bad guy in the leg" or "I'll shoot the gun out of his hand", guns simply aren't that accurate, and you can bleed out or go into shock from any number of bullet wounds.

Using troops with rifles loaded with lethal ammunition as crowd control, especially if they have little training in crowd control, can have disastrous consequences, such as at Kent State when Armored Cavalry of the Ohio National Guard advanced on unarmed students with live ammo and fixed bayonets. Predictably they panicked and began firing their weapons killing 4 and injuring 9 civilians.

There's any number of situations where you need an equalizer, but don't want to risk death or even serious injury. Even well trained personnel can panic and fire their weapons into civilians. Any police action, particularly crowd and riot control, needs a less-than-lethal option. There have been any number of attempts to do this with firearms, but they all run into some fundamental trade-offs of accuracy, weight, and effectiveness.

Range and accuracy for a typical projectile is a function of weight and velocity. The faster the bullet, the further it will go, and the less it will drop. The heavier the bullet, the further it will go, and the less it will be affected by wind or soft barriers. The problem is fast and heavy also means more kinetic energy which means more chance of injury and accidental death. There's been any number of attempts to remedy this from Thompson Riot Ammo to modern Pepper-spray balls with various levels of success. The fundamental problem remains, you're still firing a high speed projectile at an unarmored person.

But when you come down to it, nothing beats the precision and control of a baton (assuming the person wielding it also has precision and control).

Close Quarter Combat

Military rifles, particularly prior to WWII, were very, very long and cumbersome. Black powder burns at a slower rate than modern smokeless powder and needs a longer barrel to get the full effect of powder charge. Even after the switch to smokeless powder, long barrels were retained to allow for a longer sight picture (ie. the distance between the rear and front sights) to allow for more accurate long range shooting. We now know this rarely happened, and modern military rifles are optimized for a max of 300 meters.

For example, the French Lebel and ubiquitous German Gewehr 98 (aka "the Mauser") were 1.3 meters long! These were later cut down into carbine versions like the Karabiner 98k, but still very long at 1.1 meters. The US WWII M1 Garand service rifle was also 1.1 meters. Even a modern M16 rifle is 1 meter long.

Add a bayonet that's up to half a meter long, and you can see how this rapidly gets unwieldy. Bayonets were designed to give musketeers a sort of pike to prevent massed cavalry charges (more on that below). This worked well against a massed charge into your fixed defenses, the enemy basically runs into a wall of blades, but they're terrible on the attack, especially into the tight spaces of a modern defensive position.

Such a long weapon is not very good in the tight spaces of a trench or building. InRangeTV has an excellent video demonstration of the limitations of bayonet fighting and the use of the knife, club, and spade in WWI trench fighting. Yes, a shovel like this Russian/Soviet MPL-50 entrenching tool makes a pretty nasty and ubiquitous close quarters weapon.

A long weapon made even longer with a bayonet limits how you can go around corners, through doors, or turn around. The long "shaft" of the rifle can be easily side-stepped and grabbed by your opponent turning it into a liability. In these cases a pistol or dedicated close-quarters rifle is much preferred, but many soldiers lack these. So they pack a short, brutal, often improvised melee weapon.

Modern armies are switching to even shorter weapons like the M4 carbine at 0.84 meters as their service rifle to ensure every soldier has a rifle that works in as many situations as possible.

Repeating Weapon

Finally, in the era of single shot muzzle loaders a melee weapon would be used simply because you couldn't reload your gun fast enough in the chaos of close quarter combat. This could be a bayonet, a sword, or even swinging your rifle like a club as in this popular (and probably not terribly accurate) painting of Davy Crockett in the Battle of the Alamo.

You fired your one shot, then switched to melee rather than try to take the 10 to 15 seconds to load with the enemy right in front of you. Even later breech loading weapons such as revolvers, tube magazine fed repeaters, and stripper clips were slow and awkward to reload in close combat. It wasn't until disposable, detachable box magazines became standard at the end of WWII that reloading in close quarters became really viable.

Naval Boarding Action

In the age of sail, a boarding action would be employed quite often as a decisive move. Until the advent of explosive shell in the latter half of the 19th century, cannon were inaccurate and not terribly effective against even wooden hulled warships. Ships could pound away at each other for hours without decisive result. Often the enemy ship was grappled and a boarding party sent over.

There were a great many reasons to prefer a boarding action to a gun battle until the enemy struck their colors.


In the age of sail, a vessel which found itself outgunned and unable to run away, or duty bound to fight, might consider a boarding action instead. The captain would be gambling that their crew could fight harder than the enemy crew. The British often employed this tactic. In addition to carrying a contingent of Royal Marines (ie. professional soldiers) their crews were often better trained and had higher morale than your average French, Spanish, or civilian crew.

Thomas Cochrane's capture of the 32 gun Spanish frigate El Gamo from his 14 gun sloop HMS Speedy is a good example. He approached under the neutral American flag, a common tactic at the time. By the time Speedy raised her battle ensign she was close that El Gamo could not depress her guns to fire on his much smaller vessel while Speedy fired into El Gamo's crew. Despite being outnumbered 5-to-1, Speedy took El Gamo by boarding action.

Jack Aubrey of the Master & Commander series is based on Thomas Cochrane. The movie Master & Commander: The Far Side Of The World shows a fictional but fair amalgamation of this action at its climax.

Take The Vessel Intact

If you were a privateer, or in a navy that offers prize money for captured vessels, you probably didn't want to smash your payday to pieces with cannon. In this case, a boarding action is called for.

In the more modern era, a raider might wish to plunder its prize for supplies, fuel and food. The more supplies they can capture and use, the longer they can remain a threat at sea, and the further they can roam.

In the case of a smaller and/or faster vessel, the hunter may employ trickery to get close to its prey and grapple to prevent their prey from escaping.

Finally, simple humanitarian and legal reasons would preclude firing on an enemy merchant vessel. At the opening of WWI and WWII, raiders and submarines followed international law requiring unarmed ships be stopped and searched for contraband and their crews be given time to evacuate before sinking. This process was slower. It left the raider stopped and vulnerable, particularly a submarine on the surface. And it allowed the merchant the opportunity to transmit a warning signal.

Conserve Ammunition

Ships at sea have a limited supply. While a raider can resupply common items like fuel and food from captured vessels, specialized supplies such as ammunition cannot be plundered. Once a raider runs low on ammunition, they must return home removing themselves as a threat. A good raider will capture and sink vessels by boarding action as often as possible.

The exploits of German raiders at the opening of WWI and WWII exemplify these tactics. Greatly outnumbered by the British navy, and seeking to do as much damage as possible to Allied shipping before their inevitable destruction, independent German raiders used all these tactics to get the most out of their ships.


The ship which most exemplifies these ideas is the German auxiliary cruiser Pinguin. Basically a freighter with guns, she had no hope of fighting off a real warship, but lasted a year traveling 60,000 miles sinking or capturing 150,000 gross tons. She captured 16 ships, and sunk 6 with a boarding crew to plant explosive charges. She plundered ships for fuel and food, sometimes sending them back to Germany. She used captured ships as auxiliaries to lay mines, resupply, or act as decoys. Pinguin would even use her seaplane to snatch away a target's radio antennas before they could broadcast a warning.

Her exploits capturing a Norwegian whaling fleet are worth studying. Upon discovering two Norwegian factory ships in service of the British were stopped transferring oil, Pinguin snuck along side and captured the vessels without incident, including their whaling boats. They told the crews to continue working with the assurance they'd be paid by Germany (Norway was still neutral). Without a single shot fired and no casualties, they captured 36,000 tons of shipping and 30,000 tons of oil.

Ramming Speed!!!

Throughout naval history, particularly before effective cannon were developed, the ram has proven decisive. Most warships were designed with a "ram bow" to pierce the enemy vessel below the water line. This practice continued even into WWI when the ram bow was eventually replaced by a more hydrodynamic bow.

Ramming remained a common tactic against submarines. While a submarine's inner pressure hull is very strong, their outer hull which provides buoyancy is fragile. Even a diving submarine is vulnerable to being rammed by the large portion of the attacking vessel which is below the water. Before the advent of depth charges, for many warships and merchant vessels ramming was their only means of attacking a diving submarine.

Finally, desperate tank crews might ram the enemy. If they found their cannon knocked out, or out of ammunition, or simply unable to penetrate the enemy. Desperate tank crews, particularly Soviet, would ram the enemy. The Battle of Prokhorovka (the huge tank battle portion of Kursk) featured confused close quarters tank combat and ramming.

The obvious (to me) example that springs to mind comes from the First World War.

Although the First World War is rightly regarded as a highly mechanised war, there was one aspect which was almost medieval in nature. Trench raids were small-scale surprise attacks on enemy positions which were usually carried out at night.

Raiding parties would normally carry ranged weapons, like pistols and hand-grenades, but these were very much weapons of last resort (hand grenades in the First World War were often unreliable, and also risked causing casualties to your own side in the close confines of a trench).

The usual weapons carried were close-quarter weapons like knives, brass knuckles, bayonets, entrenching tools, hatchets, pickaxe-handles, and a variety of homemade trench raiding clubs and maces.

The Lelantine war (c. 720-650) involved most of Greece. According to Thucydides, the two sides agreed not to use projectiles but only swords. He said that it was for religious reasons. He wrote about the war 250 years after it had occurred, but his history is well regarded.

During the American Revolution, at the Battle of Paoli, the English general, Charles "No Flint" Grey deliberately had the flints removed from his soldiers's muskets, so that they could use only their bayonets. He did not want his troops to warn the Americans by firing, because the American soldiers were better at shooting, even thought their weapons were not.

The result was a surprise attack at night that inflicted heavy casualties on the troops of General "Mad Anthony" Wayne, at the cost of 4 British killed and 7 wounded.

The Americans, under the same General "Mad Anthony" Wayne later used similar tactics during the storming of the Stony Point fortress.

In terms of whether 'an occasion where ranged weapons are available in outdoor battles / skirmishes that they would not be used', under certain circumstances, the answer would be: Yes, the ranged weapon will not be used.

Two different scenarios from history:

  1. Aristocrats - Should I use the ranged weapon - even if available (because ritual and convention might not permit)

  2. Soft/Hard Martial Arts - Is the ranged weapon the best tool available for the situation?


Weapons have been used in Chinese martial arts from the time of Shang dynasty (c. 1600 to 1046 BCE), but it became much more prevalent during Zhou dynasty (c.1050-256 BCE). Ranged weapons were available - bows and arrows - but they were limited to aristocrats only because it was one of the higher forms of martial arts:

Archery became the first martial art directly connected to mental cultivation, that is, to a distinct mental focus transcending ordinary concerns. The archer as martial artist projected the practice of a means of violence into a number of realms that we would recognize today. Archery was a practical skill of war, it was a performance skill, it demonstrated proper attitude and deportment, and at its highest level it developed an improved mental state.

SOURCE: Lorge, P. (2011). Chinese Martial Arts: From Antiquity to the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011; p. 38. (Unless stated otherwise, all quotes below are from this book)


This might sound odd in modern world of gunpowder but rules of warfare in ancient China might not permit ranged weapons in certain instances (p.1):

Although the martial arts stemmed from military requirements and related activities like hunting, these skills took on added meaning as markers of status and of certain mental or spiritual qualities. Warfare and hunting were important in the identity of early Chinese aristocrats, for example, and their class was closely associated with chariot-borne archery. Aristocrats not only fought with certain weapons but they also fought under specific rules of combat that reinforced their shared sense of class.


An experienced martial artist will always prefer the soft/internal approach (i.e. without weapons). This is especially true when the opponent does not have a weapon as well.

The logic of this is a bit difficult to explain and it is going to sound too exotic for practical minds but the idea of fighting/defending by using Chinese martial arts stems from Chinese Philosophy and Chinese Medicine. So, for instance, Taijiquan (also known as T'ai chi) - a well-known art form - is in fact part and parcel of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in particular Nurturing Life (yang-shen). Hence, the preference is always not to kill but to disarm (incapacitate), yet still win the fight. In the case of ranged weapons, it will more likely than not kill, so it might not be used even if one is available.

There is an old Chinese weapon, the ge or dagger-axe, it is in fact an ideal weapon for aristocrats (martial artists) because it has range (like a pole) but it is not real ranged weapon (a spear). It was a traditional multi-purpose weapon that has both long and short-range. In modern times, it has fallen to disuse because it is generally not well-understood in modern fighting, p. 18:

The dagger-axe is a curious weapon. It appeared long before cavalry or even chariots took the field in China, but certainly after simple wooden spears. This chronology tells us that it was not designed, as some might otherwise guess, to drag down a horse-rider or chariot passenger. Daggeraxes evolved in form over time without changing the essential concept of a blade fixed perpendicular to a shaft. The shaft itself could be short, for close combat like a hatchet or tomahawk, or much longer, closer in size to a spear… Dagger-axes needed to be swung to be effective, and a tightly packed group of men would have rendered the weapon unusable.

Jack Churchill: "Any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed."

The British Soldier Who Killed Nazis with a Sword and a Longbow

Badass of the Week: Jack Churchill

Fighting WWII with Sword & Bow

Has there been an occasion where ranged weapons were available but not used? - History

A look at some unique and unusual Medieval Weapons

The Middle Ages was a time of much conflict and warfare. During this time many unusual weapons were created to solve battlefield problems. Many of these weapons are familiar to us such as the sword, axe, or lance. But there were many lesser known and unusual weapons that were created during this time in history.

Not all weapons were created specifically for battle or for hand to hand combat against an armored foe and a good example of this was the Man Catcher. This unusual weapon was a long pole arm with a semi-circular pronged shape catch at the end. There was a spring-loaded trap on it and it was used to reach up, capture, and pull down someone mounted on a horse. The primary use of this weapon was to capture enemy royalty for later ransom.

This was a shield believed to be used by the personal body guard of Henry VIII. It is of Italian design and it has, at its center, a breech loading match lock pistol. In use around 1544-1547. The small square above the barrel of the gun is an observation port.

Here is a picture of an actual gun shield that is on display in the Higgins Armory. I have more information about this armory here: The Higgins Armory

My thanks go to a web visitor (Brad) who made a gun shield out of cardboard! Thanks Brad!

Want to make unusual weapons and armor out of paper mache and cardboard? I have a whole lot of projects on my other website here: Paper Mache and Cardboard Weapons and Armor

Medieval Spiked Flail

This ancient weapon was once used by foot soldiers as a deadly weapon. After the 16th Century, flails were used only as historical decoration. Each fine replica is hand crafted from top quality materials. The 1 lb spiked steel ball is supported by a studded chain attached to a 15 1/2" rivited hardwood handle. Also available in a double ball.


This is a brand new pair of medieval armor gauntlets. This will make a wonderful piece in your medieval artwork collection. This is strictly for decoration only! For your own protection, do not wear this or any other armor in any combat activity unless it is approved by SCA Officials prior to event. The manufacture and we are not responsible for inappropriate and unauthorized use of this product always follow SCA rules and guidelines. This medieval armor gauntlets is made to look antique with 18 gauge steel metal hand polished finishing therefore, please do not think this is a used or a piece of museum art. The pair set of Medieval Armor Gauntlets come in one complete box.



The Sword breaker was another unique weapon developed and used during the Middle Ages. This was a long and very sturdy dagger that had slots on one side much like the teeth of a comb. This was a standard off hand weapon that was used to capture an opponent&rsquos sword blade. Once the blade was caught a quick twist of the sword breaker would snap the opponent&rsquos sword blade.

Not all weapons were hand-held and the caltrop is a good example of the ingenuity of the art of combat and the dynamics of the battlefield. The caltrop was a fabrication of metal that had four points much like a childs Jack. The unique thing about the caltrop was that if you threw it on the ground, because of the four pointed structure, it would always fall with one point standing straight up and this was a serious danger and deterrent to cavalry or even foot soldiers. The Sword Breaker shown in the picture here is available at Amazon.com The Knights Swordbreaker Dagger

Some of the most unique and unsual designs in weapons were in the realm of the dagger and many different daggers came out of the Middle Ages including the Rondel which was a long conical shaped dagger. It was specifically a piercing weapon and it&rsquos conical shape made it look much like a long and slender ice cream cone. The Poniard was another unusual dagger because it had either a square or triangular shape. This shape was effective for piercing armor.

The Middle Ages saw a trememdous development in many types of weapons. Some of these weapons are still in use today but some of the more unique ones, because of their very specific applications, are no longer seen. Yet they remain as a testament to the nature of the medieval battlefield.

The Spring loaded Triple Dagger

The Triple Dagger was an unusual weapon used by fencers in the European Middle Ages. It was a weapon that had a bit of trickery about it. At first appearance it was a normal dagger. But when the wielder pressed a release the two spring loaded sides came out to form a "V". This was a rather effective weapon for parrying and capturing an opponents weapon, particularly if it was a longer weapon like a rapier.

The drawing here shows it in the closed and open positions.

The Strangest Medieval Weapon ever created: The Lantern Shield

After the Dark Ages the world was thrust into a two hundred year period of incredible creativity and growth called &ldquoThe Renaissance&rdquo. This creative force of time brought about some wonderful masterpieces. It also brought us some really quirky and odd ideas. One of these ideas was the lantern shield.

The Lantern Shield originated in sixteenth century Italy. This was a time of the late Renaissance when creativity was at its maximum and a lot of things were being created. One of the basic tenets of creativity is that of fusion where things are added together to make a new thing. The Lantern shield is a good example of this fusion &ndash taken too far. It attempts to create something that has defensive characteristics, offensive characteristics and even a bit of psychological warfare!

What is a Lantern Shield?

It is a small shield in the shape of a buckler and generally about a foot in diameter. And this basic shield was turned into a veritable swiss army knife of a weapon by the addition of a variety of other things such as a gauntlet with serrated blades. These serrations were theoretically used to break an opponent&rsquos blade. There was also a long blade attached to the shield that ran parallel to the users shield arm. This could be used to thrust at an opponent. The shield also often had spikes protruding from it which could be used as piercing weapons. But the most unusual thing about this weapon, and the thing that gives it its name, is the lantern. It had a hook in the middle of the shield where a lantern could be attached and often times there was a leather flap covering this lantern. The theory was that if attacked the wielder could throw open the flap and the light from the lantern would dazzle and confuse the attacker. It was a bit of psychological warfare thrown in to the mix.

The use of the Lantern Shield

Generally, the lantern shield is believed to have been used not for combat but for walking around Italian cities at night. It was protection against ruffians and robbers more so than against combatants in battle.

How effective was it as a weapon?

The effectiveness of the Lantern Shield in real combat is questionable but in the context of walking around a dangerous city at night it does warrant some interesting conclusions. First off, it was probably very ominous looking and any would be robber was probably inclined to just move on to the next victim. And if a combative situation arose the whole contraption was probably reasonably effective at staving off injury much in the same way as a porcupine does! The addition of the lantern was also a strong deterrent against attack because any nighttime robber would just avoid the illumination and exposure. So as a real weapon it was probably not very good but as a deterrent it was probably reasonably effective. Any robber or ruffian seeing someone carrying this thing would probably just move on to the next victim.

The BrandiStock:

It was a pole weapon that had a retractable blade. the blade could be one or three pronged and they were held stored in a hollow cavity of the handle. If the polearm were thrust forward sharply the blades would slide out and lock into place. This type of weapon was also called a buttafuore or feather staff

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Plague, or Black Death as it is commonly called, is an infectious disease caused by the bacterial agent Yersinia pestis. Popular tradition dictated that the disease derived its ominous name from the black coloration of the swollen and very tender lymph glands that characterize the bubonic form of the infection, or the black coloration of those who died of septic plague. Other experts suggested that the name came from the Latin atra mors, which translates into 'dreadful death' or 'black death.' This name seemed only to have been used since the 18th Century. The disease is transmitted from rodents to humans by Xenopsylla cheopis, the oriental rat flea, or Pulex irritans, the human flea. The Yersinia pestis bacterium is credited with not only immeasurable human destruction, but also credited with facilitating sociological sea changes that altered the course of human civilization. A prominent example of such change was the demographics transformation in the late 14th Century Europe that destroyed the feudal system.

Medieval History of Plague

So Nature killed many through corruptions,
Death came driving after her and dashed all to dust,
Kings and knights, emperors and popes
He left no man standing, whether learned or ignorant.

William Langland (c. 1330-1387)

The first global pandemic of plague was believed to have began in the Middle East in the in the 6th Century CE. It reached Egypt by 542 CE, brought destruction upon the Eastern Roman Empire under Justinian, and spread across the European Continent. Constantinople suffered approximately 40% fatality, and the destruction ushered in the Dark Ages in Europe. Spontaneous outbreaks continued until the 8th Century CE.

The second pandemic began in China in 1330s. Between the years 1337 and 1346, a series of environmental disasters ranging from floods to locusts to earthquakes struck China. On the heels of these disasters came a plague that slowly spread westward along trade routes. Gabriel de Mussis of Piacenza chronicled how the plague arrived in Europe. In 1346, the plague arrived in Asia Minor and the suffering precipitated violence between the Tartars and the Genoese merchants who retreated to the Crimean coastal city of Kaffa, the present day Ukrainian city of Feodosia. The Tartars besieged the city and catapulted bodies of plague victims across the walls. Plague spread within the besieged city, more likely because of flea-infested rats rather than the gruesome Tartar projectiles. The Genoese merchants abandoned the city to return to Europe with the deadly bacteria in tow. Historians suspected the plague entered Europe through other trade routes as well. By 1348, the plague swept into Sicily and the Italian peninsula.

    "The symptoms were not the same as in the East, where a gush of blood from the nose was the plain sign of inevitable death but it began both in men and women with certain swellings in the groin or under the armpit. They grew to the size of a small apple or an egg, more or less, and were vulgarly called tumors. In a short space of time these tumors spread from the two parts named all over the body. Soon after this the symptoms changed and black or purple spots appeared on the arms or thighs or any other part of the body, sometimes a few large ones, sometimes many little ones. These spots were a certain sign of death, just as the original tumor had been and still remained."

Chronicles disagreed about the length of the disease some describing bubonic plague recorded that death arrived in 4-5 days while those who described pneumonic plague placed death at 3 days. Other accounts described death within a few hours, a characteristic of septic plague. Chronicles also disagreed about how the disease was transmitted between victims: through person-to-person contact or through the poisoned air called miasma. All agreed to the horrifying nature of the symptoms as the victims wasted away in excreted, putrid bodily fluids. All agreed to the disease's destruction of the social fiber of society as victims were abandoned by fearful family and friend, and the legitimacy of civil and religious authority eroded. Many historians maintained that the labor shortage of the late 14th Century created by the plague fueled demands for higher wages and facilitated the end of feudalism and rise of the middle class.

In the 14th Century, the lack of adequate medical knowledge to address questions regarding the plague's origins and transmission inspired social panic and massive witch hunts. Chronicles recorded that women who survived the epidemic were frequently attacked as witches and 'plague-spreaders.' One legend popular in central Europe and Scandinavia blamed the plague on Pest Jungfrau, a maiden who traversed the skies as a blue flame waving her hand or a red handkerchief to spread the deadly disease.

Home remedies against infection ranged from practical suggestions regarding sanitation and disposal of corpses to bathing the victims in rose water and vinegar to drinking stewed mixtures of ground eggshells and marigold flowers. Some scholars speculated that 'Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses' alluded to the plague. In accordance with the popular British nursery rhyme, a pocket full of posies or fragrant herbs and spices were used to ward off the miasma that carried plague infection. Conjectures also connected the popular song "Scarborough Fair" to the plague. The parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme mentioned in the song could have alluded to herbs that were used to ward off plague. Flagellants, who believed the deadly epidemic was punishment from God for human sins, publicly whipped their own flesh as penitence. Pope Clement VI denounced the flagellants as heretical, but their popularity persisted in times of plague outbreaks. When King Philip VI of France commissioned professors at the University of Paris to study the plague in 1348, they attributed the epidemic to the fact that Saturn was in the house of Jupiter.

Historical records on the mortality rate vary widely. Most agreed mortality numbered at least 20 million people in Europe and was higher in cities than the countryside. Best estimates by historians suggest that between 20% and 30% of the population of Europe was destroyed by the plague. The next global epidemic that would cause more deaths was the Spanish influenza of 1918 that killed 50 million in a year.

The plague remained in Europe until the Great Plague of London in 1665. Charles II and his court left London for Oxford. The plague started in the overcrowded poor parish of St. Giles-in-the-Field. Authorities quarantined all infected households a red cross and the words 'Lord have Mercy on Us' were painted on the door to indicate a doomed house. At night, the dead were collected and buried in large communal pits, one at Aldgate and one at Finsbury Fields. In an effort to control the epidemic, the Mayor of London ordered all cats and dogs to be destroyed, but such measures only worsened the plague by allowing rats to thrive without their natural predators. The plague in London caused 15% fatality in the population. Then the plague reached an abrupt conclusion. The Great Fire of London in 1666 that destroyed the city was believed to have destroyed the plague as well.

In the late 20th Century, medical historians have questioned the exact nature of Black Death. One argument, spearheaded by British zoologist Graham Twiggs and Edward Thompson of the University of Toronto, suggested that in addition to bubonic plague, anthrax outbreaks augmented the high fatality rates that devastated the Medieval European civilization. Physicians in the 14th Century may have conflated the similar preliminary symptoms of both diseases. Further, plague ravaged 14th Century Iceland, but rats were not introduced to Iceland until the 17th Century. Many historians concede that the two diseases perhaps coexisted to bring about the high fatalities associated with the Black Death.

19th and 20th Century History of Plague

In 1894, Swiss-French bacteriologist Alexandre Yersin of the Pasteur Institute was credited as the first to isolate the bacteria Yersinia pestis that causes the plague. In 1894, Yersin joined the Colonial Health Corps and traveled to Hong Kong where the plague raged. In Hong Kong, Yersin isolated the bacteria, connected the bacteria with bubonic plague, and published his results in French. At roughly the same time, Japanese bacteriologist Shibasaburo Kitasato also isolated the bacteria in Hong Kong and published his results in Japanese and English. Yersin named the bacteria Pasteurella pestis after his mentor, Louis Pasteur, but by 1970, the bacteria was renamed Yersinia pestis after the bacteriologist who discovered the bacteria and linked it to the disease.

In 1896, during an outbreak of plague in Bombay, the Bombay authorities turned to Waldemar Haffkine for a medical miracle. Haffkine was a Jewish bacteriologist born in Odessa. Denied positions because of his Jewish origin, he moved to Geneva, Switzerland and later discovered a vaccine for cholera at the Pasteur Institute. For months, Haffkine raced to find a vaccine for Yersinia pestis in his makeshift laboratory at Grant Medical College. By January 1897, a vaccine created with killed plague bacteria was developed. Haffkine tested the vaccine on himself before testing it on volunteers from the Byculla jail. In 1898, EH Hawkin and Paul Louis Simond were credited with discovering the role of rats in transmission of bubonic plague, and in 1900, Simond was further credited with uncovered the role of the flea as well.

The third pandemic of plague began in 1892 in the Yunnan Province of China, and spread around the world killing an estimated 6 million in India alone. In 1899, a ship from Hong Kong arrived in San Francisco with two plague victims onboard. Although initially quarantined on Angel Island, the ship was allowed to dock and in 1900, and a fatal case of bubonic plague was discovered in San Francisco's Chinatown. Businessmen feared that any public announcements would hurt San Francisco economically so the city executed a door-to-door search operation in Chinatown. Local authorities burned all houses that contained plague victims and moved the Chinatown population to camps outside the city. Many hid sick and dead relatives. The governor of California denied all allegations of plague until the Surgeon General, with the intercession of President McKinley, had to force new anti-plague legislation on the city. A 1906 earthquake and a 1907 bounty placed on rats finally helped end the epidemic. At the beginning of the 21st Century, the third pandemic of plague continues to appear sporadically on a worldwide scale except in Australia and Antarctica.

In the late 20th Century, bubonic plague continued to appear in central, southwestern, and northern India. In September 1993, an earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale caused more than 10,000 deaths in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra. In 1994, the monsoons flooded low-lying slum areas in the city of Surat and left in its wake piles of garbage lingering in the narrow streets. According to epidemiologists, the first natural disaster dislocated rodent wildlife from nearby forested areas and brought them in contract with domestic rats. The second natural disaster and the garbage piles left in its aftermath provided the plague-carrying rats with a ready home. The two natural disasters were also aided by Hindu cultural and religious proclivity against touching the bodies of dead animals (therefore ignoring plague-ridden corpses rather than disposing of them) and against killing rats.

In August 1994, in the village of Mamala near Beed, a city in the state of Maharashtra, rats began to die off. The first human cases were reported in the Bir district of Maharashtra. By September, migrant workers carried the pneumonic form of the plague to Surat, a historic business area about 200 km north of Bombay in the state of Gujarat. Between 26 August and 18 October, 693 cases of bubonic or pneumonic plague were discovered, and 56 victims died nationwide. Panic spread. The outbreak severely damaged investor confidence in Indian products and a quarantine was placed on travel and exports from India. The economic cost in Surat alone was estimated at 600 million dollars.

Plague as a Biological Weapons Agent

    "I was fifteen years old at the time, and I remember everything clearly. The Japanese plane spread something that looked like smoke. A few days later we found dead rats all over the village. At the same time, people came down with high fevers and aches in the lymph nodes. Every day, people died. Crying could be heard all through the village. My mother and father - in all, eight people in my family - died. I was the only one in my family left."

Beyond bubonic plague spread by plague-carrying fleas, the Yersina pestis bacteria would most likely be weaponized as aerosolized, antibiotic resistant pneumonic plague, the most deadly form of the disease. During the 1950s and 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union biological weapons programs both experimented with aerosolized Yersina pestis. The US program code named Yersina pestis LE. In a 1970 report, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 50 kilograms of Yersina pestis bacteria sprayed over a city of 5 million inhabitants would result in 150,000 cases of pneumonic plague and 36,000 deaths. In 1995, a white supremacist employed in an Ohio lab acquired samples of Yersina pestis, but was arrested before he proceeded further.

Aerosolized pneumonic plague remains one of the most deadly biological weapons agents due to universal susceptibility to the disease, high morbidity and mortality induced by the disease, and quick person-to-person transmission of the pneumonic form of disease.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is there an Active Denial Weapon that could be used at a distance of one mile or so against illegal border crossers?

Answer: The so-called heat gun could be used for this purpose, but its range is much less than one mile. If any other nonlethal weapon could be used at that distance, I don&apost know what it is.

Question: Are heat guns being used against the caravan?

Answer: As far as I know, heat guns are not being used against the migrants.

Question: What about the police using incapacitating drugs?

Answer: As far as I know, drugs, which could be used in a gaseous form, aren&apost used for subduing suspects or lawbreakers, but it&aposs not a bad idea.

Question: Is there a non-lethal gun police use that utilizes cold temperatures?

Answer: I&aposve never heard of a nonlethal (or lethal) weapon that uses cold temperatures to subdue, injure or kill people.

Combined Agency Analysis

The researchers conducted a combined analysis of use-of-force data from 12 large local law enforcement agencies (including Miami-Dade, Seattle and Richland County).[2] The large sample, representing more than 24,000 use-of-force incidents, allowed the researchers to use statistical techniques to determine which variables were likely to affect injury rates. The use of physical force (e.g., hands, fists, feet) by officers increased the odds of injury to officers and suspects alike. However, pepper spray and CED use decreased the likelihood of suspect injury by 65 and 70 percent, respectively. Officer injuries were unaffected by CED use, while the odds of officer injury increased about 21 percent with pepper spray use.

This Syrian doctor saved thousands in an underground hospital

During Syria’s deadly civil war, Amani Ballour treated victims of airstrikes and chemical attacks—memories that still haunt her today.

The crack of thunder a plane streaming overhead a knock on the door. Amani Ballour is afraid of loud noises. The sounds remind her of the fighter jets and ferocious shelling that forced her to reluctantly flee her native Syria in 2018.

The 32-year-old pediatrician does not find relief in the quiet of her sparsely furnished two-room apartment in Gaziantep, Turkey. In the stillness, she remembers the young patients she calls “my children,” those who survived and the many more who didn’t.

For two years, from 2016 to 2018, Ballour ran an underground field hospital known as the Cave in her hometown of Eastern Ghouta, near the Syrian capital Damascus. There, she witnessed war crimes including the use of chemical weapons and chlorine bombs, and airstrikes on hospitals, attacks that targeted a place of refuge and those already wounded.

“There was no safe space,” Ballour says. “Imagine being the victim of an airstrike, you're treated in hospital, and then bombed there too. The hospital was hit many times. I've been asked to verify how many strikes. Believe me, I couldn't count them all.”

As the administrator of the Cave, Ballour was responsible for a staff of some 100 people in a town besieged by troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. For years, essential items such as food and medical supplies were restricted or forbidden from entering the rebel town of Eastern Ghouta, part of Assad’s “starve or submit” stranglehold, forcing Ballour and others to smuggle goods in.

Assad’s warplanes and, beginning in September 2015, Russia’s fighter jets drove the hospital deeper underground into a maze of tunnels and bunkers.

Ballour’s journey is featured in National Geographic's documentary, The Cave. Nominated in the 92nd Academy Awards' Documentary Feature category, The Cave was directed by Feras Fayyad and produced by Kirstine Barfod and Sigrid Dyekjær. In 2018, Fayyad was nominated for an academy award for Last Men in Aleppo. The Cave tells the harrowing story of Ballour’s struggle to provide healing and comfort in the midst of war in a subterranean hospital. (Find it in select theaters near you.)

The youngest daughter in a family of three girls and two boys, Ballour says that from childhood she aspired “to do something different” rather than become a homemaker like her older sisters, who married in their teens and early 20s. Her heart set on mechanical engineering, she enrolled in Damascus University. But the pressure of societal gossip, and her father’s opposition to her plans, prompted her to switch to medicine, a discipline she says was considered “a more appropriate career for a woman, but as a pediatrician or a gynecologist.”

Ballour chose healing children and ignored the many naysayers who mockingly told her that “‘once you get married, hang your degree in the kitchen.’ I heard this phrase so many times.”

In 2011, when the wave of peaceful Arab protests reached Syria, Ballour was a fifth-year medical student, a year away from graduating. The protests quickly engulfed Eastern Ghouta. Ballour marched in a demonstration but didn’t tell her family, certain that her parents “would have been a million percent against it [because] they were very afraid something would happen to me.” At another protest, she captured brief snippets of video but was too scared to disseminate them. “I was terrified of being detained,” she says. Still, the experience was exhilarating. It felt “like I was breathing freedom, it was incredible. It was so empowering simply to say ‘no’ to what was happening in this country that had been ruled for decades by one regime.”

By that time, the Assads—Bashar and, before him, his father Hafez—had ruled Syria with an iron fist for more than four decades. Ballour remembers how as a child she knew that “it was forbidden to speak of certain things, to mention the name of the president, Hafez al-Assad, in any way except to praise him [because] the walls had ears.” She’d heard only whispers of the 1982 Hama massacre, when Hafez al-Assad’s forces killed thousands of people, insurgents and civilians, in a short-lived Islamist insurrection. “My parents didn't tell us about the Hama massacre, and they should have,” she says.

When Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father in 2000, Ballour wondered why Syrians couldn’t elect a leader with a different surname. “When I asked about it I was told to be quiet, that somebody might hear us,” she says. “It was very frightening.”

As the Syrian state violently cracked down on the protest movement, beating demonstrators with whip-like rods and firing tear gas and live bullets into crowds, Ballour was drawn into the worsening situation, but not as a protester. In the early years of the Syrian revolution, security forces routinely hunted wounded protesters in hospitals. Those seeking medical treatment risked being detained—disappearing into the regime’s network of dungeons—or worse, killed on the spot. Secretive field clinics quietly sprung up in homes and mosques and other places.

Ballour remembers being summoned from home by neighbors to treat her first patient, who was wounded in a protest. It was in late 2012 and she had just graduated. “He was a child who was shot in the head. What could I do for him? He was dead,” she says. “He was about eleven years old.”

Her first job, as a volunteer without pay, was treating the wounded in a field hospital set up in a partially constructed building that the regime had slated to become a hospital. She was one of two full-time physicians working there. The other was the clinic’s founder, Salim Namour. A general surgeon 26 years Ballour’s senior, Namour remembers meeting the young woman soon after she graduated. “She introduced herself and offered to help,” Namour recalls. “Many experienced doctors were fleeing to safety but here was this young graduate who stayed to help.”

At the time, the facility consisted of an operating room and an emergency room in the basement. It would soon expand into a web of underground shelters and become known to locals as the Cave. Wards including pediatrics and internal medicine were added. More doctors, nurses, and volunteers joined the effort. The hospital relied on machinery and equipment taken from damaged hospitals near the frontlines, and smuggled medical supplies paid for by international and Syrian NGOs in the diaspora.

Ballour was not a trauma surgeon, but when the casualties came in, even veterinarians and optometrists treated the wounded. She had to learn quickly, not just emergency medicine, but dealing with the horrors of a savage war. The first mass casualties she saw were charred bodies. Even years later, she can vividly recall “the smell of people burnt beyond recognition and some of them were still alive. It was the most shocking thing I’d seen at the time, I still didn’t have experience, I was a new graduate. I was so shocked I couldn’t do my job. But then I saw many massacres, so many casualties, and I got to work.”

On August 21, 2013, Ballour and her dedicated colleagues faced a new horror: chemical weapons. The Sarin attack on Eastern Ghouta killed hundreds. Ballour recalls rushing to the hospital in the dead of night, picking her way past people, dead and alive, sprawled on the floor to reach the supply room to begin treating patients. “We didn’t know exactly what it was, just that people were suffocating. Everybody was an emergency case. A patient who is suffocating cannot wait, and they were all suffocating. We saved who we saved and the ones we didn’t get to in time died. We couldn’t manage.”

The following year, Namour formed a local medical council from the 12 remaining physicians serving a population of some 400,000 people trapped in Eastern Ghouta. The council included two dentists and an optometrist. Not all of those on the council worked in the Cave but together they decided to elect an administrator of the Cave to a six-month term, later expanded to a year. Toward the end of 2015, Ballour decided to stand for the position. “I didn’t see why I couldn’t be an administrator especially if it was just because of my gender. I am a doctor and they (the two previous male administrators) are doctors. I was in the hospital from the first day, I knew what it needed, I had ideas to expand it, I had a plan.”

Her father and brother advised against it, given that Ballour was already spending all of her days and many nights in the Cave. “My father feared for me but I couldn’t come home,” Ballour says. “There weren’t enough doctors. He told me that people wouldn’t accept me, that I’d face a lot of problems. The next day I nominated myself and was elected hospital administrator.”

Ballour assumed her position in early 2016, a few months after the airstrikes ratcheted up with the arrival of the Russian Air Force in the skies above Eastern Ghouta. The backlash from some patients and their relatives was swift and predictable. “What I heard from a lot of the men was, ‘What? Have we run out of men in the country to appoint a woman?’ A woman. They wouldn’t say a female doctor, but a woman.”

A petite, gentle woman with a face reminiscent of a Renaissance portrait, Ballour contended with conservatively patriarchal men—mainly patients and their relatives—who challenged her authority to run a wartime medical facility.

“I used to strongly answer back,” she says, referring to the men who would tell her that her place was at home. “I wouldn’t stay silent because when you are right, you are right.… Some of the men would say it’s dangerous, the area is besieged, it’s a difficult job so a man should do it. Why? A woman can also do it, and I did.”

She was fully supported in her efforts by the hospital staff, including Namour. “I couldn’t accept this [patriarchal] talk,” he says. “I’d tell the men: She’s here with us, working day and night whenever we need her while some of the male doctors we all know fled to regime-controlled areas to work in safety. Which do you prefer? It’s not about gender, it’s about actions and ability, and Dr. Amani made many positive changes to the hospital.”

Ballour expanded the Cave, deepening its bunkers and digging tunnels to two small medical clinics in town—and to the cemetery. “We needed to bury the dead but it was too dangerous to be above ground,” she says. “We couldn’t move above ground.”

As the siege tightened and warplanes screamed overhead, there were opportunities to leave through the tunnels, but Ballour didn’t take them. “How could I leave?” she says. “Why did I study medicine and focus on children if not to help people? To be there when they needed me, not to leave when I wanted to.”

The daily casualty toll climbed into the triple digits. The hospital was repeatedly targeted in air strikes that penetrated deep into the Cave, destroying a ward, killing three personnel and wounding others. On one occasion, Ballour had just stepped out of a ward into the corridor when the rockets crashed behind her. “I couldn't hear anything or see anything. The corridor was full of thick dust that was suspended in the air.” When it cleared, she found her dead colleagues: “Their bodies were in pieces.”

Ambulances were struck and rescuers killed as they retrieved the wounded. Assad’s final push into Eastern Ghouta in February 2018 included a chlorine attack. “The smell of chlorine was overwhelming,” Ballour remembers. “I don't have the words to describe what it was like, what we lived, but I want to so that people understand why we left. People were tired and hungry. Many surrendered, including fighters who'd drop their weapons and go toward the regime soldiers. … The army was closing in on us. They weren’t far, we had to flee. We feared they'd kill us if they reached us.”

A UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria would later report that Syrian and allied forces committed war crimes and crimes against humanity during the siege and recapture of Eastern Ghouta. Assad’s methods of warfare in Ghouta were “barbaric and medieval,” the UN report said, including “the longest-running siege in modern history, lasting more than five years.”

On March 18, 2018, Amani Ballour and her team evacuated the wounded and abandoned the Cave, but not before the doctor walked through every room and bade it farewell. “I thought about all the people who had passed through this hospital. I was a child when the building that would become the hospital was built, and I later worked in it for six years. We were besieged there, attacked there, we saved and lost lives there. I had so many memories in that place, most of them painful but we had good times too. It was very, very painful for me to leave the hospital.”

She walked away with nothing but the clothes on her back, leaving behind the cherished white coat that she’d worn since she was a medical student. “It was so bloody that I couldn't take it with me,” she says. “It was very special to me.”

Ballour and several of her family members and colleagues including Namour initially fled to nearby Zamalka, a suburb of Damascus, but there was shelling there too. Ten days later, Ballour was again on the move, this time to Idlib province in northwestern Syria bordering Turkey, the last rebel stronghold in the country. She’d never been to Idlib before. She moved from town to town in the province, but there was no escaping the warplanes.

She volunteered to help a pediatrician in a village field hospital but couldn’t stay more than a few hours in the facility. “When I looked at the children in Idlib I remembered my children and what happened to them. I couldn't see that again. I was very psychologically drained and tired.”

She was also tired of hearing some in Idlib, mainly Islamist fighters, blame her and others in Eastern Ghouta for what they termed “surrendering” to the regime. After three months in Idlib she fled to Gaziantep, Turkey in June 2018. She married an activist from Daraa whom she’d communicated with while she was in Ghouta but never previously met.

Now, she is safe, but she is not happy. The winter sun streams through her apartment windows. She is no longer underground, but she lives with the bitterness of being a refugee in a foreign land, struggling with the burden of what she survived, and the memories of those who didn’t, especially the children.

“They are in front of my eyes,” she says. “There are children I cannot forget, it’s impossible to forget them. There were children I’d treat in the pediatric ward (for asthma and other ailments) and then I’d see them when they’d been wounded. It was like working on family. I couldn’t look into their eyes when I worked on them. Sometimes I’d crash, I’d break down.”

She still has nightmares and every loud sound reminds her of a warplane. During thunderstorms, she says, if her husband isn’t home he calls her to reassure her that the noise isn’t an airstrike. She replays conversations with some of her young patients, like five-year-old Mahmoud who lost a hand to shrapnel, and through tears asked Ballour why she’d cut it off. “What could I tell him when he asked me that? I cried a lot that day.” And then there was the young boy who lost his arm at the shoulder. “I can still hear him crying out to me, asking me to help him.”

In Syria, Ballour says, she felt useful, like she was making a difference. “Here, I sometimes I feel like I am nothing.” She spends her days volunteering with a Syrian women’s group and studying English in the hopes of immigrating to Canada, but several applications have been rejected.

“Honestly, the word refugee is a difficult label to wear. I love my country, my home, my life in Syria, my memories of it, but why did we become refugees? People should ask what is behind that word 'refugee' and why we escaped. I’m a refugee because I fled oppression and danger. I didn't want to leave. I would have preferred to stay in Ghouta, despite everything. We were besieged and bombarded and we persisted for six years, we didn't want to leave. It was a very, very difficult moment. … I wish that people who just look at us as refugees ask what we escaped from and why we left. It's a painful word but I didn't have a choice. I don't believe I had a choice.”

Ballour intends to continue practicing medicine, but not as a pediatrician. Instead, she plans to shift to radiology, because she says, “I can't psychologically see patients any more, especially children.” It’s a sentiment that Namour understands. “I’m a surgeon who has spent his life in operating theaters, but after the bitter experience that we survived, after the inhumanity and suffering that we saw in Ghouta, I can’t stand the sight of blood or being in an operating theater,” he says, “Even though to me surgery is a technique, like a painter working on a portrait. We survived very difficult days.”

Ballour is finding other ways to help her people. She is involved in a fund, named Al Amal (Hope), to support female leaders and medical workers in conflict zones. She is a strong advocate for helping the millions of displaced Syrians living in tent cities within Syria and the millions more who have become refugees beyond its borders.

The Syrian war has slipped from the news pages but Ballour is determined to inform people about the atrocities she witnessed in a nearly nine-year-long war that is nowhere near over. “I don't want to tell stories to make people cry and get upset, I want them to help,” she says. “There are still so many people who need help.”

And then, there is the issue of justice. The child whose parents were too afraid to tell her about the Hama massacre is now a female doctor determined to widely disseminate her testimony of the chemical attacks on Eastern Ghouta. “I must get this testimony to organizations that can one day hopefully hold the regime to account for this crime,” she says. “I saw it. It happened.”

“The one thing that helps me is knowing that we were in the right, on the right side of history because we opposed injustice,” she says. “My conscience is clear. I had a duty toward people and I fulfilled it as best I could with the means at my disposal. But sometimes I regret leaving and blame myself, but then I say I had no choice. This is the truth of the conflicting feelings inside me. I tried to help, and that helps me, that I was a humanitarian.”

The Biological Consequences of Plutonium

Plutonium was a new material during the Manhattan Project, and scientists did not know much about the radioactive substance. Therefore, biochemists began working on understanding the harmful effects of radiation on the human body and what level of exposure would constitute a “tolerable” dose. MED officials needed to know when to remove a worker from the job if and when it was determined he had received an internal dose of radiation that was close to or over the limit of what was considered safe.

During the early stages of research, animals were used to study the effects of radioactive substances on health. These studies began in 1944 at the University of California at Berkeley’s Radiation Laboratory and were conducted by Joseph G. Hamilton. Hamilton was looking to answer questions about how plutonium would vary in the body depending on exposure mode (oral ingestion, inhalation, absorption through skin), retention rates, and how plutonium would be fixed in tissues and distributed among the various organs.

Hamilton began administering soluble microgram portions of plutonium-239 compounds to rats using different valence states and different methods of introducing the plutonium (oral, intravenous, etc.). Eventually, the lab at Chicago also conducted its own plutonium injection experiments using different animals such as mice, rabbits, fish, and even dogs. The results of the studies at Berkeley and Chicago showed that plutonium's physiological behavior differed significantly from that of radium. The most alarming result was that there was significant deposition of plutonium in the liver and in the "actively metabolizing" portion of bone. Furthermore, the rate of plutonium elimination in the excreta differed between species of animals by as much as a factor of five. Such variation made it extremely difficult to estimate what the rate would be for human beings.

Had the president got the call himself, he would have had about five minutes to decide whether to launch or not

Which brings us to the issue of involving the deeply flawed brains of bipedal apes in a process involving weapons with the power to flatten entire cities. And clumsy technicians aside, the main people we have to worry about here are those who actually have the power to authorise a nuclear strike – world leaders.

“The US president has complete authority to launch nuclear weapons and he's the only one that does – sole authority,” says Perry. This has been true since the days of President Harry Truman. During the Cold War, the decision was delegated to military commanders. But Truman believed that nuclear weapons are a political tool and therefore should be under the control of a politician.

Like all those who went before him, President Donald Trump is followed everywhere he goes by an aide carrying the nuclear “football”, which contains the launch codes for the nation’s nuclear weapons. Whether he’s up a mountain, travelling in a helicopter or sailing across the ocean, Trump has the ability to launch a nuclear strike. All he has to do is say the words and mutually assured destruction – “MAD”, where both the attacker and the defender are totally annihilated – could be achieved within minutes.

As many organisations and experts have pointed out, concentrating this power within a single individual is a big risk. “It's happened a number of times that a president has been heavily drinking, or subject to medication he's taking. He may be suffering from a psychological disease. All of these things have happened in the past,” says Perry.

The more you think about it, the more disturbing possibilities emerge. If it’s night time, would the president be asleep? With minutes to decide what to do, they’d barely have time to regain consciousness, let alone refresh themselves with a cup of coffee it seems unlikely they’d be functioning at their highest level.

A US military aide carries the "nuclear football" with nuclear launch codes (Credit: Reuters/Tom Brenner)

In August 1974, when US President Richard Nixon was embroiled in the Watergate scandal and on the cusp of resigning from office, he became clinically depressed and emotionally unstable. He was rumoured to be exhausted, regularly binging on martinis and generally behaving strangely – a Secret Service agent apparently once saw him eat a dog biscuit. Nixon had reportedly always been subject to rage, drinking and potent prescription drugs, but this was much more serious. And yet, he still had the power to launch nuclear weapons.

(Intoxication is also a problem among the military personnel who guard the nation’s nuclear arsenal. In 2016, several US air-crew working at a missile base admitted to taking drugs including cocaine and LSD, and four were later convicted.)

How to avoid a catastrophic accident

With all this in mind, Perry recently co-authored a book – The Button: The New Nuclear Arms Race and Presidential Power from Truman to Trump – with Tom Collina, director of policy at the nuclear non-proliferation charity Ploughshares Fund. In it, they outline the precariousness of our current nuclear safeguards, and suggest some possible solutions.

First, up, they would like to see an end to sole authority – so that decisions about whether to launch these weapons of mass destruction are made democratically, and the impact of any mental impairments on the decision is diluted. In the US, this would mean holding a vote in Congress.

“This would slow down the decision about whether to launch them,” says Perry. It’s commonly assumed that a nuclear response must happen quickly, before the ability to strike back is lost. But even if many cities and all land-based missiles in the US were wiped out by nuclear weapons, the surviving government could still authorise military submarines to launch. “The only kind of retaliation that’s warranted is one where you know they are attacking. We should never respond to an alarm that could be false,” says Collina. And the only truly reliable way to make sure a threat is real is to wait for it to land.

Unlike musicians or filmmakers, authors can vanish completely – Christopher Fowler

Ever heard of Alexander Baron’s King Dido? Me neither, and we’re missing out, because apparently, Baron is one of the most consistently underrated novelists of World War Two. According to Fowler, his bildungsroman was “one of the greatest and least-read novels about London ever written, arguably an East End version of Les Miserables.” Then there’s Mary Elizabeth Braddon, who began writing penny dreadfuls as a child and graduated to ‘sensation’ novels like Lady Audley’s Secret that index Victorian anxieties. Braddon caused her own sensation when it emerged that she’d been living in near-bigamy with her married publisher (his wife was in an asylum), and by the time of her death she and her lurid tales were said to have become “a part of England”.

Mary Elizabeth Braddon wrote ‘sensation’ novels like Lady Audley’s Secret that index Victorian anxieties (Credit: Alamy)

Fowler’s own backlist includes the hit Bryant and May mysteries series, and an awareness of how posterity might treat such work adds piquancy to his quest. As he notes: “Unlike musicians or filmmakers, authors can vanish completely. Their print-runs can be pulped, copies misfiled, manuscripts lost, banned and burned. They can be ubiquitous, influential and massively successful only to disappear within their own lifetimes.”

Angela Lansbury starred as Mame in the title role of the Broadway production based on the novel Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis and a subsequent play (Credit: Alamy)

Few disappearing acts are as striking as that of Patrick Dennis. Auntie Mame, his 1955 tale of an eccentric free spirit who sets out to save her shy nephew from small-minded snobbery, was a bestseller that became a musical and not one but two films. Dennis was also the first writer in history to have three books on the New York Times bestseller list simultaneously. Then times changed. To quote Fowler, “As the disillusioned 1970s arrived his delightfully caustic comic fables became an irrelevance.” Setting down his pen for good, Dennis became a butler for the CEO of McDonald’s and apparently never admitted to having been a publishing phenomenon.

Fade to grey

Other writers got barely a sniff of success. In the case of Kyril Bonfiglioli, he never found the right fans in his lifetime. On the surface, his novels appear to be straightforward crime capers, but there’s much more to them than that. They’re powered by his fictional hero, Charlie Mortdecai, a “snobbish, cowardly, dandy art thief” whose defiant political incorrectness channels Bertie Wooster, Falstaff and Raffles. On his dust jackets, Bonfiglioli described himself as “an accomplished fencer, a fair shot with most weapons” who was “abstemious in all things except drink, food, tobacco and talking”. Off the page, he muddled through poverty and alcoholism to die of cirrhosis in 1985. He’s posthumously attained cult – which is to say slender if ardent – popularity but he should have become world famous, Fowler insists.

Johnny Depp starred as Charlie Mortdecai in the film Mortdecai, based on the character created by Kyril Bonfiglioli (Credit: Alamy)

Julian Maclaren-Ross was up against another challenge.A “brandy-breathed Soho flaneur”, he was, as his biographer Paul Willetts has put it, “the mediocre caretaker of his own immense talent”. That talent yielded surprisingly joyous novels filled with snappy comic timing and waspish dialogue, none readily available today. Maclaren-Ross found his way into Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, disguised as the “impecunious and thirsty bohemian” novelist X Trapnel, but in real life he was hampered by being born too late for the Waugh set, and too early to join the Angry Young Men.

Winifred Watson found a degree of posthumous success with a reissue and a film adaptation, starring Amy Adams, of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (Credit: Alamy)

Winifred Watson was another casualty of timing. Though she found a degree of posthumous success with a reissue and a film adaptation, starring Amy Adams, of her quirky hit Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, her potential was stymied by three events: The Depression (which left no money for her to follow her sisters into higher education), the attack on Pearl Harbor (which nixed plans to turn Miss Pettigrew into a Hollywood musical) and the Blitz (which necessitated her move into a single room with her parents, making writing impossible).

But Watson’s potential was stymied by The Depression, Pearl Harbor and The Blitz (Credit: Alamy)

Other writers simply didn’t live long enough, among them Farrell, the 1973 Booker winner. He died three years later aged just 44. As the likes of Salman Rushdie agree, had he lived longer, he’d surely have attained the reputation that his talent merits. And yet if writing too little can inhibit literary posterity, then writing too much – even if you’re able to keep the standard up – can be an even bigger problem. Take thriller writer John Creasey, who used more than 20 pseudonyms and published so many books that even he forgot some of his titles, rang up sales totalling around 2.5 million copies a year. How can this be a bad thing? Because as Fowler notes, “The reading public likes to tie a simple tag on a writer, and that’s tougher to do when the writer has many faces.”

Then there’s Hamilton, the 100-million-word man. One of the most prolific authors in history, hardly any of his books – filled with tales of schoolboy derring-do – can now be found. His creation Billy Bunter seemed Hamilton’s best shot at literary immortality but with his “calorically challenged” physique and slapstick exploits that frequently ended with a caning, he was never going to make it into the 21st Century.

Hardly any of Billy Bunter creator Charles Hamilton’s books can now be found (Credit: Alamy)

Sometimes explanations are more elusive. Why did Christie’s favourite Daly fade from popularity? During the 1940s, when she was in her sixties, she published 16 ‘bibliomysteries’ featuring Henry Gamadge, a cat-loving New York rare books expert who grapples with a series of meticulously crafted puzzles against evocative backdrops. Too esoteric? Too female? Perhaps, except that she was a popular author during her time, and in 1960, was awarded an Edgar for her work by the Mystery Writers of America.

Back from the dead

Ultimately, the reasons for a noteworthy author’s obscurity are as various as the authors themselves. Fowler’s findings show that other contributing factors seem to include underrating their own work (“I sometimes marvel that a third-rate writer like me has been able to palm himself off as a second-rate writer”, said John Collier, author of sardonic, fantastical tales-with-a-sting), reclusiveness (Regency romance author Georgette Heyer never gave an interview), and genre (with notable exceptions, comic writers tend not to be taken seriously enough to preserve). The caprices of fashion hit populist fiction especially hard striving as it does to capture the mindset of its time, it’s inevitably more perishable.

And let’s not forget gender. Fowler devotes an entire chapter to the women who introduced readers to psychological suspense long before it conquered the bestseller lists. These “forgotten queens of suspense”, he writes, were “ignored, underrated, overlooked or taken for granted, the women who wrote popular fiction for a living were often simply grateful to be published at all.”


"US Naval Weapons" and "US Destroyers: An Illustrated Design History" both by Norman Friedman
"Dahlgren" by Kenneth G. McCollum, Editor
"Technical Evaluation of the 8-Inch Major Caliber Lightweight Gun Mount, Mark 71 Mod 0, Report NWL-TR-2854" by D.L. Bowen, Naval Proving Ground Dahlgren, Virginia
"Report: Flight Upgrade/041(4-RJS-1692) Final Report - DDG 51 Variant Study - Installation of Fixed Helicopter Hangar and 8-Inch Gun" by Gibbs & Cox, Inc., 23 September 1991
"Feasibility Study: Mk 71 8"/55 MCLWG Installation with Ammunition Lateral Transfer System on DD 963 Class" Prepared by Ordnance Design - Code 280, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, 20 May 1977
Special help from Leo Fischer (Project Engineer on the Mark 71)