Imagine a bomb that only kills Caucasians with red hair. Or short people. Or Arabs. Or Chinese.
Now imagine that this new bomb could be set off anywhere in the world, and that within a matter of days, weeks, or months it would kill every person on the planet who fits the bomb's profile, although the rest of us would be left standing. And the bomb could go off silently, without anybody realizing it had been released - or even where it was released - until its victims started dying in mass numbers.
Who would imagine such a thing?
Paul Wolfowitz, for one. William Kristol for another.
And, history shows, when the men who define U.S. military policy from the shadows set their sights on something, it's worthy of our attention.
I have brown hair and eyes, both determined by specific genes, and there are probably other markers deep within my DNA that would show a geneticist that most of my ancestors are Norwegian, Welsh, and English. While there's no one gene for race, there are numerous genes for the various components of what we call race - hair color and texture, skin and eye color, eye and nose shape, predispositions or immunities to disease like Sickle Cell Anemia or Tay-Sachs, and the like.
When creating a genetic bomb to target specific groups, such genetic profiles are actually far subtler and more accurate than the coarse pseudo-category we call race. Among men named Cohen all over the world, for example, researchers have found a specific genetic profile tying them all back to a common ancestor. Another group with a common genetic profile are people with ADHD ("The Edison Gene"), who uniquely share common inherited variations in their dopamine-regulating genes regardless of their ostensible race, geography, or ethnicity.
Thus, anybody who's part of a group with a shared genetic profile may be at risk in the future, suggest the authors of The Project for a New American Century's (PNAC) report titled "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources For a New Century."
The report notes that, "Much has been written in recent years about the need to transform the conventional armed forces of the United States to take advantage of the 'revolution in military affairs....'" They point out that our military requires a dramatic transformation, lest we lose our ability to fight future, unconventional wars. Some may be fought in cyberspace, others underwater or in outer space. And some even within our own bodies.
Consider what would happen if there was a virus or bacteria that only infected a particular type of person, killing, disabling, or sterilizing only those of a particular genetic profile. Consider the political leverage a nation would have if they could credibly threaten the extinction of all people worldwide with almond-shaped eyes, or the sterilization of everybody with a gene that tracks them back to a common ancestor or region.
Three years ago, Wolfowitz, Kristol, and their colleagues suggested this is something the Pentagon should be thinking about. Not just germ warfare, but gene warfare.
And it's not limited just to warfare: Imagine how genetic terraforming could replace diplomacy, could even render the United Nations irrelevant if entire ethnic groups were wiped out or could be controlled by the threat of extinction. Or how it could change the face of politics if an organism got loose that killed off all the people of a particular minority who tend to vote for a particular political party.
Genetically targeted weapons could change world politics forever, according to PNAC.
"And," their report notes, "advanced forms of biological warfare that can 'target' specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool."
Given that Kristol, Wolfowitz, and their conservative PNAC associates like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Eliot Abrams, Jeb Bush, and John Bolton have already brought us two of their early 1998 recommendations - the seizure of Iraq and a huge increase in defense spending - it's tempting to wonder if this is another of their other politically useful ideas being explored by the Pentagon.
Or maybe we'd rather not know. At least not those of us with politically problematic relatives.