“Six legged Soldiers”
I have come across the most amazing book “Six legged Soldiers” by Jeffrey Lockwood. He talks about man’s use of insects as the earliest weapons. The Bible is full of this. The god of the Israelites Yahweh or Jehovah, in the Old Testament, used “blights” to frighten the enemies of the Israelites. The Egyptians were seen as the enemies of the God of Moses as they held the Israelites captive. He sent them ten punishments.
The first one, written in Exodus was preceded by a warning “Thus saith the Lord, in this thou shalt know that I am the Lord: behold, I will smite thee with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood. And the fish that are in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall loathe to drink of the water of the river.” And so the first plague came to pass with the Nile turning red. Dinoflagellates, which are tiny single-celled sea organism commonly called plankton, multiplied prolifically and covered the river, stopping the flow of oxygen and killing all aquatic life (something that our pesticides are doing today to many parts of the ocean, creating a phenomena called “dead zone” because all marine life dies). But the Egyptians refused to release the Israelites.
So Yahweh went one step further- “If thou refuse to let them go, Behold, I will smite all thy borders with frogs”. (I am writing this article from Goa and there are two frogs hopping across my room. While I find the frogs lovely, as I do all creatures, one person has taken refuge on her bed to avoid being attacked!); and so it came to pass that the frogs , probably driven away from the poisonous river and the smell of dead fish, spread out all over Egypt, frightening as many people as those who are scared of lizards (my niece). Now, without fish and frogs to consume insects, obviously the next thing to happen was the increase in biting insects. Yahweh was environmentally aware, as was Moses. So it is written in Exodus “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, say to Aaron, stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the land that it may become gnat swarms throughout the land of Egypt.”
I have horrid biting gnats in my forested garden in Delhi and they are enough, like the lines by Nana Patekar, to turn a man into a non-man. Gnats can madden both man and animals. Horses rear with anger and refuse to work, donkeys kick their owners, sheep run about …The tormented soldiers guarding the Israelites would have spent more time scratching themselves than wielding their weapons. The Israelites were apparently granted immunity. But the gnats were not enough and so Yahweh decided on a fourth plague.
He warned the Pharaoh, “Else, if thou wilt not let my people go, behold, I will send swarms of flies upon thee, and upon thy servants, and upon thy people, and into thy houses: and the houses of the Egyptians shall be full of swarms of flies, and also the ground wheron they are.” Flies, which probably increased because they were feeding on the decomposing fish and rotting vegetation of the Nile, spread out. Stable flies, horse flies, deer flies – all of which have a nasty bite. But even if they were just houseflies who don’t bite but buzz and infect food, we Indians know that that would have been bad enough.
So the fifth plague was predictable “For if thou refuse to let them go, and wilt hold them still, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon thy cattle which is in the field, upon the horses, upon the asses, upon the camels, upon the oxen, and upon the sheep: there shall be. Very grievous murrain (meaning infectious and fast spreading disease). And the Lord shall sever between the cattle of Israel and the cattle of Egypt: and there shall nothing die of all that is the children’s of Israel.” The animals bitten by the insects ( who apparently had the sense to distinguish between Egyptian and Israeli owned livestock, bearing out my theory that every creature has intelligence) died of viral diseases spread by the flies an gnats of the previous two plagues. The Pharaoh still did not get the message. So Yahweh went to the next logical step for his sixth plague “And the Lord said unto Moses and unto Aaron, take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in the sight of the Pharaoh.
And it shall become small dust in all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast, throughout the land of Egypt.” Obviously what happened next was that people bitten by biting flying insects developed pus filled sores (as you sometimes do when you scratch mosquito bites). Anthrax is one possibility and it is spread by stable flies. The wound becomes a blood filled lump which bursts and becomes a spreading ulcer. And since penicillin, antibiotics and hospitals had not been invented, this one was a killer. Obviously the Pharaoh was like those people who don’t believe in global warming and so he held on to the Israelites. By now his people and animals were sick but there was still food.
So Yahweh sent a hailstorm next and destroyed half the Egyptians crops and followed it up with the next entomological plague “if thou refuse to let my people go, behold, tomorrow will I bring the locusts into thy coast. And they shall cover the face of the earth, that one cannot be able to see the earth: and they shall eat the residue of that which is escaped , which remaineth unto you from the hail, and shall eat every tree which growth for you out of the field.”
Clouds of locusts descended and finished off all the food. (Some years ago, when I was in government, there was a rumour that locusts were coming across to India and I promise you several official meetings were held to see what we could do in the event of the resulting famine!) The Pharaoh finally caved in when, as threatened by Yahweh in his final plague , the children of Egypt, specifically the first born, started dying. Since the first child is loved and fed well even if the parents are starving, he or she probably got to eat the mouldy food from the pits that were used by the Egyptians for storing grain. Doesn’t our government also distribute grain from our silos after it gets funguses – how many children have died is an unrecorded statistic.
And so the Israelites were let go, freed by armies of insects who worked diligently to destroy their enemies. The best recorded example of entomological warfare but not the last. As global warming comes upon us, this is what will happen to all our nations. One dead river can do all this – those who take the dying of the Jamuna and the Ganges lightly would do well to think seriously about the future of India.
Maneka Sanjay Gandhi