September 10, 2013
During this unsettling march to war with Syria, political leaders in the US have repeatedly stated that Syria has broken an agreement, put in place at the end of World War I, that chemical weapons are not to be used in warfare. Some may be left believing that chemical weapons have been absent from the theatre of war between then and the Syrian attacks on August 21st 2013. This is not the case. In fact, the US is the biggest abuser of chemical weapons on earth, deploying these weapons across the world right to the present day.
The Chemical Weapons Timeline to World War II
Chemical and biological weapons have been with us since the Spartan Greek’s used sulphur fumes on enemy soldiers in the 400′s BC. They became the tool of imperialism and colonialism from the 17th century and beyond.
In the 18th Century, colonialists seeking to overcome the Native American population distributed small pox infected blankets as ‘gifts’ of peace to native American communities. In 1770, almost30% of the population was wiped out by small pox infection. In the 80 years of European immigration to the North American continent, the Native American population reduced from 37,000 to 9,000 – largely due to the various diseases and epidemics perpetrated against them. You can read a fuller account of the devastation of indigenous communities here.
At World War I (1914-18), the German army reintroduced chemical weapons, using chlorine gas at the second battle of Ypres. By the end of the war, with all sides deploying mustard and chlorine gas, 85,000 had been killed and 1.2m injured by these toxic weapons.
Between the end of World War I and the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the world went on a bit of a chemical weapons binge. The Russian forces used poison gas against the Bolsheviks (with UK support), Spain and France used mustard gas in Morocco, and Britain tested mustard gas byreleasing it against Iraqi populations. Winston Churchill stated that “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes”.
Despite a brief stand off during the first year of World War II thanks to fears of reprisals from all sides, chemical weapons were again deployed in 1942. The Nazi government used Zyklon-B to gas ‘undesirable’ groups such as Jews, disabled people, mentally ill people and dissenters of the regime. By the end of the holocaust, 5.8 million Jews and 5 million other ‘undesirables’ had been killed, including 1.5 million children.
The US Becomes the World’s Worst Chemical Weapons Offender Post World War II
Since the Second World War, the US has led the world in the development, production and deployment of chemical weapons on both military and civilian populations at home and across the world.