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What's Wrong with Gas Warfare?

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Research paper

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Germany initiated gas warfare at the Second Battle of Ypres on 22 April 1915 because her advance across France had been halted and machine guns prevented direct attack of entrenched positions. Germany gained complete tactical surprise with gas, and if the resulting gap in the Allied lines had been exploited fully, the history of the world might be different. Although defense quickly caught up with offense and gas became an accepted weapon for the remainder of the war, the image of the first gas attack has remained in the public mind. The horror associated with the attack on defenseless soldiers in Ypres with deadly chlorine gas magnified the publics innate fear of suffocation. Choking to death on the battlefield was a new and frightening concept, and the subsequent reaction against Germany established gas warfare as an evil, cruel, and indecent means of war. This image has persisted to the present, with memories of Ypres refreshed and strengthened through the ensuing five decades by Italian and Japanese use of gas in war, sensational journalism, Communist propaganda, and the attitude of world leaders, notably president Franklin Roosevelt. The recent world-wide furor over chemical operations in Vietnam demonstrates that gas warfare will not be accepted as a rational means of war without fundamental changes in public attitudes. This research paper proposes actions that can and should be taken to gain public understanding and support for gas warfare. The author presents improvements on the deployment of gas weapons that should improve their combat effectiveness, a new national policy on gas warfare that supports the strategy of controlled use, and the rationale for gas warfare to be allowed under just war doctrine. The paper concludes with suggestions for an effective public information program that will explain gas warfare, counter the memory of Ypres, and convince the American public of the necessity for preparedness.

Subject Categories:

  • Sociology and Law
  • Humanities and History
  • Psychology
  • Chemical, Biological and Radiological Warfare

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