A good friend of mine wrote to me about chemical weapons/poison gas in World War I, and it got me to thinking about why we’re so outraged by the recent use of poison gas in Syria.
When you think about it (and who really wants to), there are so many bloody and awful ways to die in war. Besides the usual bullets and bombs, the U.S. has used depleted uranium shells, white phosphorous, and cluster munitions in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Why, then, the outrage over gas? And why was it banned after World War I?
I think it was because chemical weapons/poison gas proved both indecisive and inglorious. If chemical weapons had produced decision on the battlefield, they would have been retained, despite their inglorious and wretched effects. But their military utility proved limited and their image disreputable to military concepts of honor, so they were outlawed.
Think of Syria today. The use of chemical agents led to wanton death. They produced no military decision. And, assuming Syrian governmental forces used them, they only added to Assad’s disrepute.
But I also think that, when one thinks of the gassing of innocents, one can’t help but to recall, however tangentially or obliquely, the awful reality of the utter abyss of the Nazi mass murder chambers, where carbon monoxide and Zyklon-B were used to slaughter millions of innocents.
Chemical weapons are a ghastly symbol of man’s inhumanity to man. We are outraged because of the outrageous effects of these weapons and the horrific uses to which they’ve been put.
But let us also be outraged by any weapon that treats human beings as matter to be snuffed out or destroyed. Only then will we seriously question the wisdom (and the humanity) of responding to gas by letting “conventional” missiles fly.