Monday, April 29, 2013

Psychological Consequences of CBRNE Terrorism

A reporter from the Times of Israel interviewed me recently for an article. She had come across a chapter I had written on CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, high-Explosive) terrorism. The chapter content supplies much of the background for the article. You can read the news article here. An excerpt:

During World War I — the first war in modern history that included the widespread use of chemical weapons — 500 soldiers of the US Army’s 3rd Division exhibited debilitating symptoms of gas exposure: chest pain, difficulty breathing, and blurred vision. It was later discovered that the division had never been exposed to a chemical agent. The press quickly dubbed the phenomenon “gas mania.”

Seventy years later, during the six-week Iran-Iraq War of the Cities of 1988, at least 100,000 (some estimate as many as 1.5 million) residents fled Tehran in response to Saddam Hussein’s threat to load chemical warheads onto the Scud missiles that were hitting the Iranian capital.

In 1991, during the Gulf War, nine people were killed as a result of missile attacks on Israel, seven of whom died by suffocating inside their gas masks when they failed to release the airtight cap. Twenty-seven percent of all injuries during this time were the result of unnecessary atropine injections.

“The punchline in all these events, of course, is that chemical weapons weren’t even used. Just the rumor — the threat — of chemical weapons was enough to cause something of that magnitude,” said Glenn Sullivan, a psychologist who co-authored a book on the psychology of terrorism.

But research also suggests that Israelis are particularly adept at habituating to recurring stressors when compared to people of other nations.

I'm not sure that Israelis are better at habituating to stressors, but that seems to be the point of the article.

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