Monday, August 22, 2005


This stuff was so bad, that not even Hitler would use it.

In the great carnage of 1916-17 there were approximately 17,700 gas casualties counting the Somme, Chemin des Dames, and Passchendaele alone. These numbers would grow considerably higher due to the large number of deaths after the war that would be directly attributed to gas exposure. Despite this high casualty count for both sides, the use of gas continued to grow. By 1918, one in every four artillery shells fired contained gas of one type or another.

In 1918 a German corporal by the name of Adolf Hitler was temporarily blinded by a British gas attack in Flanders. Having suffered the agonies of gas first hand, his fear of the weapon would prevent him from deploying it as a tactical weapon on the battlefields of the Second World War.

(The link is here.)

But of course Hitler had non-tactical uses for gas during the World War Two period. Damn him.

It was really great how the generals knew that these weapons were really just weapons of terror, creating confusion and death both for the attackers and the defenders, but use continued to grow until the war itself ended. What does that tell you?

They never learn. Well, young Adolph did, because he was in a gas attack, unlike the generals of World War One (or, as "musician" Lawrence Welk once referred to it, World War eye. I was at my grandparents house, it was on TV, and I heard that myself.)

I could get sick from the irony. Humor protects me.

Andre Malraux wrote about the gas attacks, and around here somewhere I've got a copy of "Lazarus" in which he describes an episode so chaotic and horrendous that opposing fighters left their trenches and began saving everybody they could, even enemy soldiers. The leaves melted off the trees. Warriors on all sides had come to realize that at that moment, they were not enemies.

The gas was the enemy, and they conspired as well as they could so save themselves from it, dragging one another, coughing and heaving, away from the killing low clouds.

I suppose they did it without even thinking, just going on some impulse deep in the lizard brain activated by a sudden and perhaps unconscious stimulation that made them stop the fight long enough to try to save one another.

Is that the same impulse you felt when you saw little Ali Abbas on the cover of Newsweek back in the spring of 2003? Somebody, some of us perhaps, saved him, Yet some of us also bombed his arms off.

I have not linked to a photo of that famous magazine cover because in your mind's eye you can probably already see it. It has become and will likely remain as one of this folly's lasting emblems, like the famous girl in the picture from the Vietnam War era.

Even if we "win," we will lose, because to win we will just be making a lot more little Ali Abbas. And they will grow up, and they will not be our friends, because of what we did to them. So we will end up killing them, and a bunch of our own soldiers, too, because our leaders are dumber than you-know-who and they will never learn.

To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less.
Andre Malraux

What does that tell you?

1 comment:

Jo said...

Isaac Asimov once wrote an essay on the good uses of evil things. He said that the only thing he couldn't find a redeeming quality for was poison gas.