The Fourth Horseman: The Tragedy of Anton Dilger and the Birth of Biological Terrorism

The Fourth Horseman: The Tragedy of Anton Dilger and the Birth of Biological Terrorism

by Robert Koenig
     
 

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The story of Anton Dilger brings to life a missing chapter in U.S. history and shows, dramatically, that the Great European War was in fact being fought on the home front years before we formally joined it. The doctor who grew anthrax and other bacteria in that rented house was an American—the son of a Medal of Honor winner who fought at Gettysburg—on a

Overview


The story of Anton Dilger brings to life a missing chapter in U.S. history and shows, dramatically, that the Great European War was in fact being fought on the home front years before we formally joined it. The doctor who grew anthrax and other bacteria in that rented house was an American—the son of a Medal of Honor winner who fought at Gettysburg—on a secret mission, for the German Army in 1915. The Fourth Horseman tells the startling story of that mission led by a brilliant but conflicted surgeon who became one of Germany's most daring spies and saboteurs during World War I and who not only pioneered biowarfare in his native land but also lead a last-ditch German effort to goad Mexico into invading the United States. It is a story of mysterious missions, divided loyalties, and a new and terrible kind of warfare that emerged as America—in spite of fierce dissention at home—was making the decision to send its Doughboys to the Great War in Europe.

This story has never been told before in full. And Dilger is a fascinating analog for our own troubled times. Having thrown off the tethers of obligation to family and country, he became a very dangerous man indeed: A spy, a saboteur, and a zealot to a degree that may have so embarrassed the German High Command that, after the war, they ordered his death rather than admit that he worked for them.

Editorial Reviews

Washington City Paper
... Holds a contemporary lesson...Dilger is just the sort of foreign operative that could do great harm to national security today.
San Francisco Chronicle
Koenig has pieced together a detailed portrait using family letters, postcards, archives and oral history.
St. Louis Post
... Interesting and impressive...hooks readers not only by disclosing Dilger's oddities, but by peppering the book with lots of fascinating context.
ForeWord
As intriguing as a well-written espionage novel.

Virginian-Pilot
A compelling read . . . Told by a master storyteller, The Fourth Horseman is a cautionary tale.

Publishers Weekly
The specter of germ warfare lends an overblown touch of drama to this tepid tale of espionage and sabotage in WWI. In 1915, Anton Dilger, an American citizen who became a surgeon in Germany and was recruited by German intelligence, arrived in Baltimore to set up a secret lab to mass-produce the bacteria that cause anthrax and glanders. His intended target was not people but horses and mules procured for the Allied armies in Europe. It's not clear how many, if any, equines died because of the plot, but the author allows that the numbers weren't significant. Equally ineffectual was Dilger's subsequent mission to draw Mexico into war with the U.S. Indeed, aside from some bombings of munitions installations that Dilger had little to do with, the German covert operations detailed here seem half-baked and mired in incompetence and squabbling. Journalist Koenig also uses Dilger's life to probe the conflicted loyalties of German-Americans during the war and the (weak) irony of a healer trying his hand at destruction (of animals, that is). The author's efforts to associate Dilger with latter-day anxieties about anthrax and other much-hyped bio-menaces don't make this story more compelling. Photos. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Convoluted tale of an American-born doctor who attempted to sabotage the U.S. effort against Germany in World War I. Journalist Koenig's reconstruction of the Anton Dilger story ultimately feels like a series of ironies, coincidences, near- coincidences and rumored possibilities. Dilger (1884-1918, barring, as the author suggests, a slim possibility that he faked his death) was born on the family farm in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, son of a German immigrant who rose to the rank of general as a renowned Union cavalry officer in the Civil War. Having returned to Germany for an extensive education culminating in medical school, he got involved as an army surgeon at the outset of hostilities in the Balkans in 1915; family and friends were already noting that he showed little interest in reestablishing American residency. At some point, with America poised to enter the War after German U-boats sank the Lusitania, Dilger went to German intelligence operatives with the idea that he could return to the U.S. as a spy and, ultimately, "germ saboteur." The hero cavalryman's turncoat son then set up a secret lab in Chevy Chase, Md., outside Washington, where he produced blanders and anthrax bacilli that would be used to infect horses being shipped to Europe to support the military; stevedores in U.S. ports were paid by German agents to do the actual inoculations. But Dilger's germ warfare plan was hardly effective: Perhaps one percent of all Allied war animals died of the diseases, leaving the reader to ponder the point of its lengthy treatment here. He moved on to Mexico to foment anti-U.S. activity, also without significant consequence, before dying of Spanish flu in Madrid. German-Americanequestrians, full charge; all others may safely pass.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781586483722
Publisher:
PublicAffairs
Publication date:
01/28/2007
Pages:
376
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Norman Dietz, a writer, an actor, and a solo performer, has recorded over 150 audiobooks, many of which have earned him awards from AudioFile magazine, the ALA, and Publishers Weekly. Additionally, AudioFile named Norman one of the Best Voices of the Century.

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