An Open Letter to Congress on Syria

Quicker, easier, more seductive -- and wrong
Quicker, easier, more seductive — and wrong

Here is the letter that I sent to my senators and congressman on Syria. Whether you agree or disagree, I urge you to email or call your representatives. Let them hear your voice!

I implore you to vote “no” on military intervention in Syria. No vital U.S. interest is at stake, and an attack will have unforeseen consequences that are nearly impossible to predict. The proper response to the Assad regime’s use of poison gas is not more killing. I don’t want American cruise missiles slamming into Syrian bodies in my name. Neither should you.

Respectfully yours,

William Astore, professor and retired lieutenant colonel (USAF)

Astore may be reached at wjastore@gmail.com.

Also featured at Huffington Post.

Why We’re Outraged by Poison Gas

Zyklon-B stockpile used by the Nazis in World War II (Image: USHMM)
Zyklon-B stockpile used by the Nazis in World War II (Image: USHMM)

W.J. Astore

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.

Syria (Maybe) Used Chemical Weapons — And the U.S. Sits in Judgment?

Nick Ut's famous photo of children fleeing napalm in Vietnam (NPR)
Nick Ut’s famous photo of children fleeing napalm in Vietnam (NPR)

W.J. Astore

The Obama administration’s outrage over the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government smacks of hypocrisy.  We might recall that the U.S. refuses to become a signatory to a ban on cluster munitions, which are particularly dangerous to civilians and children in the days and weeks following their deployment.  Or that the U.S. remains by far the leading weapons dealer in the world today, accounting for more than half of the world’s trade in arms.  Or that the U.S. has been profligate in its use of firepower (including depleted uranium shells) in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Given these facts, and especially the profits we make from dominating the world’s arms trade, there is something quite morally obtuse about our nation’s posturing about the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria as a cause for war.

The outrage against chemical weapons stems from World War I, when western nations were at pains to kill or wound one another by chlorine gas, mustard gas, phosgene gas, and similar chemical agents.  More than a million casualties of World War I were chemical casualties.  Western nations who had found plenty of excuses to gas each other during the war came together after the war to ban them.  And rightly so.

But then again, why not ban all chemical weapons?  Just think of the massive quantities of napalm (chemical incendiary), Agent Orange (chemical defoliant), and high explosive (yes, more deadly chemicals) we rained down on the Vietnamese in the 1960s and early 1970s.  Heck, bullets are propelled by a chemical reaction.  Let’s ban all these too.

And if we do that, then maybe, just maybe, our nation will have the moral authority to act outraged in cases like that of Syria today.