Can the United States cope with biological terrorism? The anthrax deaths have invested this question with new urgency, eliciting many opinions at the Pentagon and in Washington's think tanks. But the dubious benefit of prior experience on which to base those opinions is scarce. One way to get the experience is by the technological play-acting known as simulation.

The US Army has used virtual reality simulations for combat training since the late 1980s. Trainees are placed inside a module, three or four walls of which are filled with computer-generated screens of a battlefield terrain seen from different perspectives. Participants might be inside a replicated combat vehicle or walking a treadmill through a virtual cave. They wear electronic devices that monitor their movements as they encounter those designated as the enemy, who are operating other modules. Everyone is networked by simulated radio communications to battalion and brigade command posts. The military...

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