Chapter 3: Historical Aspects of Medical Defense Against Chemical Warfare   [open pdf - 311KB]

In discussing the history of the use of any new weapon and the medical response to it, one must also describe the context of the weapon: its scientific, social, and political aspects. For chemical warfare, there is the particular idea that chemical weapons are inhumane and immoral. Medical people, who treat the wounded, may well believe that all weapons are inhumane. Nevertheless, even the terms are relative--consider Pope Innocent II, who, in 1139, forbade the use of the relatively new crossbow as "Hateful to God and unfit for Christian Use." His prohibition was cheerfully ignored; the crossbow was used for over 300 years. In this essay, the author will return to the issue of the moral use of the chemical weapon, but he will begin with the early history of chemical warfare itself. The chemical weapon has a long and ancient history, especially in its presentation as flame and smoke. Modern chemistry made possible the use of chemical agents in a logistically and tactically feasible way in World War I. Most of what was known--and is still understood by the public--is based on the gas warfare of 1915-1918. Since then, "poison gas" has usually aroused public repugnance at its use as a weapon. Modest use in the 1930s against tribes and its lack of employment in World War II suggested that "gas warfare" had ended. The discovery of the German nerve gases after World War II, the Cold War, and the utility of tear gas in Vietnam maintained a military interest in the chemical weapon. The use of gas by Iraq against Iranian troops and the threat of Iraqi use in the Persian Gulf War clearly document that chemical warfare remains possible.

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Textbook of Military Medicine: Medical Aspects of Chemical and Biological Warfare, p. 87-109
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