Trench warfare during World War I resulted in stalemate and accelerated the use of new forms of military technology as discussed in Ch 16, Section 3. In 1915, at the Battle of Ypres, the Germans were the first to use poison gas but both the British and French used chemicals thereafter. Our book’s author states these gases caused “vomiting, blindness, and suffocation” (565). By 1916, chlorine and mustard gas were placed in artillery shells to be used against the enemy. Both sides tried different means to defend against the unseen biological attackers including gas masks (for men and apparently horses). The Library of Congress Memory website has an interesting 1918 “Stars and Stripes” news article that describes a “paste” the American military gave troops in efforts to withstand chemical exposure (Note: article is to the right of soldier throwing a baseball photo). Read this WWI soldier’s memoir that describes his experience with bio-weapons. You may be surprised at the effectiveness of chemical weapons during World War I (great info all the way down the site). Given the information provided in these primary and secondary sources, would you feel confident you were prepared for this type of combat in 1918? Why or why not?
Chemical weapons were banned in 1925 but they have been in the news as of late. Take, for example, the build up to the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom where there were rumors Saddam Hussein was stockpiling chemical weapons. Fears persist that Al Qaeda will obtain the means to this type of weapon but just this week, evidence has mounted via videos that chemical weapons were recently used in Syria. Indeed, a disturbing video showing a Syrian Revolutionary dying of supposed exposure to chemical weapons has gone viral. Western leaders have declared in response that “a red line” was crossed in Syria and issued further condemnation of President Assad and the Syrian regime’s tactics.
Do you think western nations who crossed “the Red Line” during WWI and WWII (when they used chemical and nuclear weapons) are justified in their criticism of those countries (Syria and Iran) who do it or attempt to obtain those capabilities today? If chemical weapons were used in Syria, do you think that would provide justification for the US and western allies to intervene in the Syrian conflict?