The Real Deal About Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Warfare: A Soldier's Viewpoint on Surviving NBC Attacks 

From: SFC Red Thomas (Ret)
Armor Master Gunner
Mesa, AZ

Since the media has decided to scare everyone with predictions of chemical, biological, or nuclear warfare on our turf I decided to write a paper and keep things in their proper perspective. I am a retired military weapons, munitions, and training expert.

Lesson number one: In the mid 1990's there were a series of nerve gas attacks on crowded Japanese subway stations. Given perfect conditions for an attack less than 10% of the people there were injured (the injured were better in a few hours) and only one percent of the injured died. 60 Minutes once had a fellow telling us that one drop of nerve gas could kill a thousand people. Well he didn't tell you the thousand dead people per drop was theoretical. Drill Sergeants exaggerate how terrible this stuff was to keep the recruits awake in class (I know this because I was a Drill Sergeant too). Forget everything you've ever seen on TV, in the movies, or read in a novel about this stuff, it was all a lie (read this sentence again out loud!)! These weapons are about terror, if you remain calm, you will probably not die. This is far less scary than the media and their "Experts," make it sound.

Chemical weapons are categorized as Nerve, Blood, Blister, and Incapacitating agents. Contrary to the hype of reporters and politicians. They are not weapons of mass destruction. They are "Area denial," and terror weapons that don't destroy anything. When you leave the area you almost always leave the risk. That's the difference; you can leave the area and the risk; soldiers may have to stay put and sit through it and that's why they need all that spiffy gear.

These are not gasses, they are vapors and/or airborne particles. The agent must be delivered in sufficient quantity to kill/injure, and that defines when/how it's used.

Every day we have a morning and evening inversion where "stuff," suspended in the air gets pushed down. This inversion is why allergies (pollen) and air pollution are worst at these times of the day. So, a chemical attack will have its best effect an hour or so either side of sunrise/sunset. Also, being vapors and airborne particles are heavier than air so they will seek low places like ditches, basements and underground garages. This stuff won't work when it's freezing; it doesn't last when it's hot, and wind spreads it too thin too fast. They've got to get this stuff on you, or, get you to inhale it for it to work. They also have to get the concentration of chemicals high enough to kill or wound you. Too little and it's nothing, too much and it's wasted. What I hope you've gathered by this point is that a chemical weapons attack that kills a lot of people is incredibly hard to do with military grade agents and equipment, so you can imagine how hard it will be for terrorists. The more you know about this stuff, the more you realize how hard it is to use.


We'll start by talking about nerve agents. You have these in your house, plain old bug killer (like Raid) is nerve agent. All nerve agents work the same way; they are cholinesterase inhibitors that mess up the signals your nervous system uses to make your body function. It can harm you if you get it on your skin but it works best if they can get you to inhale it. If you don't die in the first minute and you can leave the area, you're probably gonna live. The military's antidote for all nerve agents is atropine and pralidoxime chloride. Neither one of these does anything to cure the nerve agent. They send your body into overdrive to keep you alive for five minutes. After that the agent is used up. Your best protection is fresh air and staying calm. Listed below are the symptoms for nerve agent poisoning.

If you are in public and you start experiencing these symptoms, first ask yourself, did anything out of the ordinary just happen, a loud pop, did someone spray something on the crowd? Are other people getting sick too? Is there an odor of new mown hay, green corn, something fruity, or camphor where it shouldn't be?

If the answer is yes, then calmly (if you panic you breathe faster and inhale more air/poison) leave the area and head upwind or outside. Fresh air is the best "right now antidote". If you have a blob of liquid that looks like molasses or Karo syrup on you; blot it or scrape it off and away from yourself with anything disposable. This stuff works based on your body weight. What a crop duster uses to kill bugs won't hurt you unless you stand there and breathe it in real deep, then lick the residue off the ground for while. Remember they have to do all the work. They have to get the concentration up and keep it up for several minutes while all you have to do is quit getting it on you/quit breathing it by putting space between you and the attack.


Blood agents are cyanide or arsine which affect your blood's ability to provide oxygen to your tissue. The scenario for attack would be the same as nerve agent. Look for a pop or someone splashing/spraying something and folks around there getting woozy/falling down. The telltale smells are bitter almonds or garlic where it shouldn't be. The symptoms are blue lips, blue under the fingernails rapid breathing. The military's antidote is amyl nitrite and just like nerve agent antidote, it just keeps your body working for five minutes till the toxins are used up. Fresh air is the your best individual chance


Blister agents (distilled mustard) are so nasty that nobody wants to even handle it let alone use it. It's almost impossible to handle safely and may have delayed effect of up to 12 hours. The attack scenario is also limited to the things you'd see from other chemicals. If you do get large, painful blisters for no apparent reason, don't pop them. Don't let the liquid from the blister get on any other area. The stuff just keeps on spreading. It's just as likely to harm the user as the target. Soap, water, sunshine, and fresh air are this stuff's enemy.

Bottom line on chemical weapons (it's the same if they use industrial chemical spills); they are intended to make you panic, to terrorize you, to herd you like sheep to the wolves. If there is an attack, leave the area and go upwind, or to the sides of the wind stream. They have to get the stuff to you, and on you. You're more likely to be hurt by a drunk driver on any given day than be hurt by one of these attacks. Your odds get better if you leave the area. Soap, water, time, and fresh air really deal this stuff a knock-out-punch. Don't let fear of an isolated attack rule your life. The odds are really on your side.


These are the only weapons of mass destruction on earth. The effects of a nuclear bomb are heat, blast, EMP, and radiation. If you see a bright flash of light like the sun, where the sun isn't, fall to the ground! The heat will be over in a second. Then there will be two blast waves, one outgoing, and one on its way back. Don't stand up to see what happened after the first wave; anything that's going to happen will have happened in two full minutes.

These will be low yield devices and will not level whole cities. If you live through the heat, blast, and initial burst of radiation, you'll probably live for a very, very long time. Radiation will not create fifty-foot tall women, or giant ants and grasshoppers the size of tanks. These will be at the most 1 kiloton bombs; that's the equivalent of 1,000 tons of TNT.

Here's the real deal, flying debris and radiation will kill a lot of exposed (not all!) people within a half mile of the blast. Under perfect conditions this is about a half mile circle of death and destruction, but, when it's done, it's done.

EMP stands for Electro Magnetic Pulse and it will fry every electronic device for a good distance. It's impossible to say what and how far, but probably not over a couple of miles from ground zero is a good guess. Cars, cell phones, computers, ATMs, you name it, all will be out of order.

There are lots of kinds of radiation. You only need to worry about three; the others you have lived with for years. You need to worry about "Ionizing radiation." These are little sub-atomic particles that go whizzing along at the speed of light. They hit individual cells in your body, kill the nucleus and keep on going. That's how you get radiation poisoning. You have so many dead cells in your body that the decaying cells poison you. It's the same as people getting radiation treatments for cancer, only a bigger area gets radiated. The good news is you don't have to just sit there and take it, and there's lots you can do rather than panic.

First; your skin will stop alpha particles, a page of a newspaper or your clothing will stop beta particles. You just gotta try and avoid inhaling dust that's contaminated with atoms that are emitting these things and you'll be generally safe from them. Gamma rays are particles that travel like waves (quantum physics makes my brain hurt) and they create the same damage as alpha and beta particles only they keep going and kill lots of cells as they go all the way through your body. It takes a lot to stop these things, lots of dense material. On the other hand, it takes a lot of this to kill you.

Your defense is as always to not panic.

Basic hygiene and normal preparation are your friends. All canned or frozen food is safe to eat. The radiation poisoning will not affect plants so fruits and vegetables are OK if there's no dust on them (rinse 'em off if there is). If you don't have running water and you need to collect rainwater or use water from wherever, just let it sit for thirty minutes and skim off the water gently from the top. The dust with the bad stuff in it will settle and the remaining water can be used for the toilet which will still work if you have a bucket of water to pour in the tank.


Finally there's biological warfare. There's not much to cover here. Basic personal hygiene and sanitation will take you further than a million doctors. Wash your hands often, don't share drinks, food, sloppy kisses, etc.... with strangers. Keep your garbage can with a tight lid on it. Don't have standing water (like old buckets, ditches, or kiddie pools) lying around to allow mosquitoes breeding room. This stuff is carried by vectors, that is bugs, rodents, and contaminated material. If biological warfare is as easy as the TV makes it sound, why has Saddam Hussein spent twenty years and millions of dollars trying to get it right? If you're clean of person and home, you eat well and are active, you're gonna live.


Overall preparation for any terrorist attack is the same as you'd take for a big storm. If you want a gas mask, fine, go get one. I know this stuff and I'm not getting one and I told my Mom not to bother with one either. (How's that for confidence?) We have a week's worth of cash, several days worth of canned goods and plenty of soap and water. We don't leave stuff out to attract bugs or rodents so we don't have them.

These people can't conceive a nation this big with this much resources. These weapons are made to cause panic, terror, and to demoralize. If we don't run around like sheep, they won't use this stuff after they find out it's no fun. The government is going nuts over this stuff because they have to protect every inch of America. You've only gotta protect yourself, and by doing that, you help the country.

Finally, there are millions of caveats to everything I wrote here and you can think up specific scenarios where my advice isn't the best. This letter is supposed to help the greatest number of people under the greatest number of situations. If you don't like my work, don't nitpick, just sit down and explain chemical, nuclear, and biological warfare in a document around three pages long yourself. This is how we the people of the United States can rob these people of their most desired goal, your terror.

Addendum of 16 Oct 01:

The talking heads on TV have learned to pronounce the word anthrax and now they're addicted to saying it. Let's put this hype to rest: First; ask yourself honestly "What are the odds of me getting picked out of 270,000,000 other Americans for this attack?" Second; realize that "More people have choked to death on food than have gotten anthrax in the last two weeks and only one died."

The terrorists are preying on your fear and the media's addiction to lazy reporting of sensational news. Here's another real deal from Red. "The fastest way to cut these attacks is to not show them we're scared. The more times they see us shaking in our boots, the happier they will be."

As FDR said. "The only thing you have to fear, is fear itself."


OK folks, here's the real deal on "Dirty," bombs from Red Thomas, the author of the "Real Deal About Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Warfare".

Dirty bombs have three components to worry about: blast, fragmentation, and latent ionizing radiation. The blast will be effective in a very, very short area around the explosion. Explosions on TV and movies use zip-lock bags filled with gasoline and something called detonation cord (det cord is about twice the size of plastic coated clothes line). They put lots of these little baggies of gas wrapped twice in det cord in a long string everywhere. On cue from the director, they touch off the det cord exploding it in a long line at well over 20,000 feet a second vaporizing the gas, then igniting it. This looks cool, but doesn't do any real "work" to speak of. They show it in slow motion and from various angles over and over again to milk it for full effect.

A real explosion from a real bomb and the casualties from the blast will be long since finished in one second. The blast wave looks like a big ice-cream cone so its force goes up and away. Remember, explosives are generally lazy and will always take the path of least resistance which is up and away from you.

Fragments are parts of the bomb, what it was packed in, and anything lying loose around it. These fragments (called shrapnel incorrectly by most people) will lose speed and power at an amazing rate. Just because you're near it doesn't mean you're going to be hurt. Consider the bombers in Israel blowing themselves up with large charges and lots of intentional fragments in crowded places. The vast majority of people there aren't hurt; 99% of the whole fragment danger period will last one or two seconds literally.

Now we're down to the "Dirty," part. The anthrax in the Hart building in Washington, DC was passive; meaning the decontamination crews had to go find it. The good news for us is the contamination will lead cleanup crews (using a Geiger counter) to itself like a beacon. The government will probably be passing out badges like the ones the girl at the dentist's office wears. They signal when you've had a minor exposure to ionizing radiation. (Did you know you get exposed to this stuff naturally every day?) If your badge changes color, you've had a minor exposure that will have no discernible effect on you. The clean up crews will check the places where the most badges change the fastest after an initial clean up period. If you're exposed during the initial attack, a warm shower and washing your clothes will erase the danger. You need long-term exposure to a lot of this stuff to have it harm you twenty years from now. Even if you're near a dirty bomb, you are still more likely to be killed by a drunk driver.

Dirty bombs are "The" non-event of the year. It's a terror weapon, designed to let everyone's imagination scare the bejeepers out of them with their own worst fears. When we get scared, when we make new laws, when we alter our lives; the bad people win. Right now those boys are giggling and laughing at how we're reacting to their threats. If you want to help in the war on terror, only worry about things that have happened in your immediate area. If you can throw a rock and have it hit the danger, then be concerned (leave). Don't give them the satisfaction of being scared until we've got something right here-right now to be scared of.

Why Terrorism Works And What Do These People Want

Terrorism is a simple process used by a small group of people to force political change. The group isn't large enough to force a government to do anything, so they use our fear to their advantage because we can force our government to change its policy. The idea is to get us out of the Middle East and abandon Israel. Whether you think we should support Israel or not, I don't like the idea of a small group of malcontents deciding who our allies are.

They work like this; they kill a bunch of people in a flashy, attention-getting manner; the population succumbs to the "That could've been me," mentality; the media pumps us full of "It could happen to YOU!" and everyone cries out to the government for protection. If the government can't prevent ordinary crime, why should politically-motivated crimes be different?

The government implements two types of programs, ones designed to make us safer, and programs to make us feel safer. Confiscating nail clippers and frisking grandmothers at the airport are great examples of things to make us feel safe. The government's increased information-sharing and emergency plans are things that actually make us safer.

The terrorists lie low immediately after an attack while government types try to anticipate every possible means of attack, in every possible location, under every possible circumstance, with every conceivable weapon. Everyone wants the government to do "something," but everything the government does is called "reactionary" and "manipulating public fear for political gain", or it doesn't do enough caring only for the rich and powerful with equal zeal. Meanwhile the terrorists sit back and laugh at us, plotting their next move. The cycle of attack, fear, government response, attack, fear, response goes on in a vicious cycle until America caves in under the weight of our own government. Insidious, isn't it? So do you sit back and let them ruin your life, or do you fight back, and if you fight back; how can you fight a group of people thousands of miles away?

Do you remember the old war protest sign that said "What if they gave a war and nobody came?" It's time for a new sign; "What if you're a terrorist, but nobody's afraid of you?" Remember the cycle of attack, fear, and government response? Only we the people can break the cycle.

Not long ago bin Laden played a tape on TV, and ten million Americans soiled themselves. I'm embarrassed. It's pathetic. He didn't hurt anyone and we ran scared. They need our fear, and we blindly obey them.

Let's look at this rationally. The odds of winning the Power Ball Lottery are eighty-million to one (80,000,000:1). Would you buy a Power Ball ticket, quit your job, and max out your credit cards based on the certainty of your winning? Of course not, so why ruin your life obsessing over the odds that you're personally at a greater risk than any of the other two hundred and ninety-million Americans? They can't kill us all; and even if they could, they certainly won't eat us.

I'm not saying terrorist attacks aren't deadly. I am saying the threat of them is far more effective than the attack itself. If your only information about mass casualty weapons and terrorism comes from movies, TV shows, and hyped up news stories, maybe you should consider what's driving your actions. Is it knowledge, or knowledge gleaned from Hollywood writers?

So what should we do? Check out the Homeland Security website (, take the precautions that you reasonably can, then get on with your life. Think about the number of drunk, impaired, uninsured, and aggressive drivers you pass every day. Do you pull over, climb out of your car and stand in a field until every car coming in the opposite direction passes because "they might not be safe"? Ten people died in the anthrax attack following 9-11. Every year 26,000 people die of flu. Are the people who died of anthrax somehow more dead?

As for me, I've taken simple precautions, and I'm not doing anything else until I can hit them or their attack by throwing a rock that far. By refusing to be afraid until there's a clear and present danger, I (and you, too) rob them of the one thing they need, our fear.

Red Thomas

Mesa, AZ

Unlimited reproduction and distribution is authorized. Just give me credit for my work, and keep what I say in context.