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By Olivia Pierson
[First published on Incite Politics 18/4/18]
After the United States, France and Britain intervened in Syria’s civil war this past weekend, over Bashar al Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians, the question that is repetitively raised is why draw the ‘red-line’ over these weapons and not over civilians dying by other horrible means such as bombings, shootings or beheadings? Aside from being against international law as agreed by the Geneva Protocol (which Syria signed in 1968), what is it about the use of chemical weapons that makes everyone erupt into loud, moral convulsions of horror?
It’s an understandable question and one worthy of some kind of explanation.
As I understand it, chemical weapons, along with biological and nuclear weapons, are classified as weapons of mass destruction, which means they are designed specifically for indiscriminate killing on a large scale well beyond the confines of any battlefield (compared with today’s asymmetrical warfare trend, even the very concept of a battlefield now has a slight whiff of the romantic).
Weapons of mass destruction can contaminate territory and ecology with toxic residue, damaging the terrain for any future occupiers, yet this seems almost trivial in comparison with the future horrors such weapons can wreak on survivors in the form of chronic illnesses and cancers, and worse – birth defects in tomorrow’s children. These weapons extend the pain of a war beyond the duration of its dark night and immediate casualties, as if they aren’t bad enough. The effects make themselves felt as a vicious menace long after the war has been won or lost.
Unexpected, creeping, and often scentless and soundless, chemical weapons are more akin to a terror tactic than a war tactic, thus perpetuating an insidious form of psychological trauma. Once deployed there is absolutely no possible way to defend oneself or fight back. During WWI soldiers who were subject to gas attacks in the trenches not only suffered from shell shock, they also suffered from chronic anticipatory fear after the ‘silent green fog’ of mustard gas caused their fellow combatants to die agonising deaths as their skin and eyes burned while their lungs blistered and filled with fluid, drowning them. Gas masks were invented as an effective protective measure.
Today, because of the excellent protective gear that soldiers are assigned, chemical weapons are not considered such an effective weapon to kill combatants, which means that any regime stockpiling them intends them to be used on non-combatants; a particularly unwarrior-like tactic that breaks all the modern codes of humane warfare (yes, such an apparent oxymoron still exists). As the regime of Saddam Hussein showed us with his Anfal campaign in Halabja, March 1988, stockpiles of chemical weapons are usually intended for genocide.
After the Great War, where chemical gases were used with tragic abandon, the Geneva Protocol was set up to ban the use of chemical weapons in armed conflicts. This remarkable treaty echoed a distant time from 250 years earlier when, in 1675, France and Germany (along with other European allies and enemies) agreed formally to a signed treaty that any soldier who used poisoned bullets in his munitions would be severely punished. This first international ban on using chemical weapons was the Strasbourg Agreement, and it was binding for the duration of the war.
Despite the many times it has been flagrantly ignored by some signatories, the Geneva Protocol is still international law for good reason, and for laws to be worth a damn they have to be enforced.
Genocidal maniacs need to be restrained and if that means that Team America has to act like the World Police in order for that to happen, then I say bravo.
If you enjoyed this article, please buy my book "Western Values Defended: A Primer"
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