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The Limits of Freedom

Last September, the United States government issued new provisions aimed at strengthening control over research into potential biological weapons. Recently several studies have been done that involved manipulating genes of viruses and bacteria to make them more infectious or virulent. The problem with such research is that it is too easy to fall into the wrong hands, and difficult to control once it is out of the bottle.

The snowball started to roll due to experiments on bird flu conducted by Ron Fouchier of Holland and Yoshihoro Kawaoka of the United States. Their goal was to develop a weakened strain of the virus that could possibly be used as a vaccine. Instead, they ended up producing two of the most virulent strains of the virus. The researchers were asked to halt the research. While Ron Fouchier agreed, Kawaoka continued his research. He argued that his studies would help scientists understand the mutations that cause a virus to become infectious, and understanding the virus is the only way to prepare for a possible outbreak.

These studies and the public uproar that followed led, in October 2014, to even more stringent rulings by the U.S. government to halt all funding of research that could lead to a global epidemic. If that were not enough, a search conducted in the wake of these rulings in various National Institute of Health laboratories revealed unprotected refrigerators with forgotten vials of smallpox and anthrax…

All this might seem very alarming, but actually the news is not as bad as it appears. The rules of modern warfare are very different than in the past. Mass killing of civilians is being replaced by very targeted “pincer strikes” aimed at eliminating the greatest threats while leaving civilian infrastructure and lives intact. Today we use the power of technology not to increase the number of deaths but to limit them as much as possible.

On the one hand, we have almost unlimited capacity to wreak havoc through chemical or biological weapons, poisoning the water supply or dropping an anthrax bomb on a small city. The question is not whether we can, but whether we will.

However, the desire and motivation to cause mass casualties are no longer there. We are approaching the time when the words of the prophecy will be fulfilled: “A nation will not lift a sword against another nation, and they will no longer study war.” The world is ready for Redemption. Increasingly, nations of the world are turning to non-violent means of settling their differences, and the most repressive regimes have fallen or are falling apart. The Redemption can’t be far off. As the Lubavitcher Rebbe says, we need only to open our eyes to see it.



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