Saturday, 7 September 2013

invasive species

The BBC presents an article about the veracity of a supposed effort on the part of the Americans to cripple East Germany agriculturally. Having heard similar rumours before, I had believed that these little red and black, Aztec-patterned bugs, called the Zimtwanze (Corizus hyoscyami) were weaponised versions of the related box-elder bugs that we had in Oklahoma but to propagate that story was false as the bugs are native to Europe and Asia and don't seem to do much harm, just appearing in hordes every once and a while and getting stepped on.

The return of the pest, the Colorado Potato Beetle, however, in the 1950s, timed with daily relief flights over East German territory by American cargo to the enclave of West Berlin, proved for some farmers and Warsaw Pact politicians too great of a coincidence. A heated assault dispatched children to the fields after school to collect as much of the menace that they could manage and blame was squarely placed of capitalist conspirators, hoping to starve East Germany into submission. While the bugs threatened to cause a famine regardless of where they came from, there are two points of view—and it's hard to say what's an apologist's argument and what's reality. I expect a lot of situations are like this, and propaganda can be persuasive—especially for the victors. The article points out that the beetles had already been accidentally introduced in the 1800s, destroying a large part of the potato harvest. These destructive ambassadors had been subdued in the meantime, but it follows that the Colorado Potato Beetle could have made a come back after the war, with pesticide production limited and many farmers unavailable to dedicate time to pest-control, all on its own and without being dropped from the bomb-bays of passing flights. On the other hand, there was talk during the war of initiating the same biological warfare on both sides, whose actual execution was supposedly halted due to fears they would be unable to effectively contain what plagues that they unleashed.