Anthrax: Real Threat or Useful Scare Tactic?

  • Sarah N O'Donohue


In the years following the attacks of September 11, both the United States Government and the general public have become increasingly aware of the threat of terrorism and its many forms. Not only do we fear "weapons of mass destruction" such as nuclear missiles, but also microscopic spores such as anthrax which has opened up a whole new world of "bioterrorism." On June 12, 2002, President George W. Bush signed the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act in response to the "Amerithrax" attacks in late 2001. However, the risk of biological warfare use is not well understood, and bioterrorism is a threat without precedent. The extremely low incidence of real biological events in the early 21st century contrasts with the outburst of political rhetoric and mass-media coverage surrounding the subject. Thus, the question arises whether bioterrorism is a real threat or merely a useful scare tactic. Research shows that anthrax is both a real threat—on account of its contagiousness, durable spore structure, complex lethal toxin, and demonstrated use as a weapon of biological warfare—and a useful scare tactic as the bacterium has become a public obsession and the subject of countless hoaxes. America and its allies must confront the reality of bioterrorism by organizing defenses for possible attacks and by further investigating the nature and properties of anthrax and other pathogenic agents—after all, knowing your enemy is the best strategy in any type of warfare.

Author Biography

Sarah N O'Donohue
Sarah O'Donohue is a rising junior from Marietta, Georgia who is passionate about Latin, her work with Project Safe—the domestic violence awareness and response unit of Vanderbilt’s Women’s Center—and human rights issues. She is in the College of Arts and Science, double majoring in Political Science and Classical Studies and pursuing an Honors degree through the College Scholars Honors Program. This summer, Sarah will be interning in Washington D.C. at the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights through the Vanderbilt Internship Experience in Washington (VIEW) program. After completing her undergraduate studies, she plans to continue her education by attending law school.
How to Cite
O'DONOHUE, Sarah N. Anthrax: Real Threat or Useful Scare Tactic?. Vanderbilt Undergraduate Research Journal, [S.l.], v. 5, july 2009. ISSN 1555-788X. Available at: <>. Date accessed: 20 aug. 2019. doi:
Humanities and Social Sciences


Bioterrorism; Anthrax