I’m not feeling very outraged or inspired this evening, kind of casting about for topics…
Historically, the first major use of chemical weapons was nearly 100 years ago, in the First World War. Because of the front-line, trench warfare paradigm, the vast majority of the casualties were military and not civilian. The awful effects on both those killed and on the survivors led to the Geneva Convention ban (1925) on all chemical weapons. A previous ban, The Hague Convention of 1899, was invoked in protest but soon abandoned by both sides.
By the end of the war, soldiers were trained and equipped to resist the worst of the chemical-weapons attacks and their ability to generate casualties was replaced by use to force troops to wear the cumbersome gas masks and other equipment, reducing their mobility and effectiveness.
There was some use of CW agents in suppressing colonial uprisings in the years immediately following the war, but this mostly tapered off after 1925.
Military use of chemical weapons against soldiers in WWII was nearly nonexistent, but notoriously, the Nazis gassed millions of Jews and other prisoners during the Holocaust. They also developed the first nerve gases, most likely experimenting on concentration camp prisoners.
The Cold War saw an arms race in all areas between the USA and USSR, including in development of chemical weapons and their countermeasures.
The 1980s saw a return of chemical warfare as Iraq used mustard gas and nerve gases against Iranian troops and civilians, notably the Kurdish population of Halabja. Iraqi possession, and apparent willingness to use, chemical weapons, was a major factor in the Bush administrations decision to start a war. “We know they have chemical weapons, we have the receipts” -a joke based on tacit US support for Iraq in its war against Iran.
In the mid-1990s, Japanese religious terrorists Aum Shinrikyo used Sarin in two attacks. Despite the crowded and enclosed subway conditions, the attacks killed few people, though many were sickened.
( that wasn’t really a quote, just a way of setting off a digression)
Which brings us, finally, to the present events in Syria.
Once again, the gas attacks hit a population that was not expecting them nor prepared with masks.
Deliberate attacks on civilians are bad.
Deliberately killing the children of ones enemies? Well, that’s Biblically sanctioned in Psalm 137:8-9, though I think that’s one of those conveniently ignored bits.
Is use of gas more or less evil than use of napalm, bayonets or rocks? What could motivate the Assad regime to risk the international political condemnation? Were they thinking, “We have no friends anyway, and our enemies fear the opposition more than they hate us.”?
And what can or should the US and international community do? By sitting on the sidelines while the protests spiraled into full-scale militia warfare, we have forsaken our ability to cultivate democratic forces among the rebels. Instead, many of them are now Jihadi extremists with no love for the West. Tough decisions.
As a chemistry teacher, I find the use of chemistry as a weapon to be both repugnant and a little fascinating. As a moral human being, attacking innocents is sickening. And as a person with some empathy, the suffering of those affected hurts inside.
But I don’t know what to do.