use of chemical weapons since 1961

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1961-71: US uses 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid & 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (collectively known as Agent Orange) in Vietnam.  While technically classified as an herbicide and used as a defoliant (to kill plants & vegetation in large quantities), its effects on humans is widely documented & was well known, even in the 1960s.

UN reaction: NONE
3 June 1963: South Vietnamese soldiers attack Buddhist monks in Hue with concentrated, liquid tear gas. 70 people are hospitalized.

UN reaction: NONE
US reaction: threat to reduce/withdraw support for ruling regime; subsequent reduction of financial support from the South Vietnamese ruling regime leads to a US-supported coup

1980-88: Iraq uses a variety of chemical weapons against Iran in their 8-year war.

UN reaction: condemnation, investigation(s)
US reaction: no public reaction; privately allegedly supports the use of chemical weapons against Iran – this support is partially confirmed by recently declassified CIA documents. The CIA is also suspected of actively suppressing information & hindering UN investigators

16 March 1988: Iraq massacres Kurds in Halabja, killing up to 5,000 people & injuring up to 10,000 immediately. While there’s no official confirmation, from eyewitness accounts, it is believed the attack used mustard, sarin, tabun & VX gasses, as well as hydrogen cyanide, delivered by artillery, rockets & bombs.

UN reaction: NONE
US reaction: accuses Iran of perpetrating the attack

March-April 1991: Iraq uses chemical weapons of an undetermined nature, most likely mustard gas, against a combined Shia/Kurd uprising. Numbers of dead & wounded are not known but are estimated as being near 100,000. US forces in the region informally (and unofficially) confirm use of chemical weapons.

UN reaction: after investigation, denies chemical weapons were used
US reaction: President Bush issues stern warning
Delayed reaction, 2008: “Chemical” Ali Hassan al-Majid gets a 2nd death sentence for his participation in chemical weapon use against civilians, including this event.

15 May 2007: Terrorists set off a chlorine gas bomb in Abu Sayda, Iraq, killing about 50 people & wounding about another 50.

UN reaction: NONE
US reaction: denies use of chlorine in attack

21 August 2013: Syrian gov’t uses sarin gas, a potent nerve agent, in a rocket attack against rebels near Damascus. 1,400 are reported dead, including several hundred children.

UN reaction: investigation, report not issued yet; UN officials say report will only determine IF chemical weapons were used, not who was responsible for their use
US reaction: calls for attacks against the ruling regime

What lesson can we learn from this?

When chemical weapons are used in a way that furthers US interests, it’s fine. If not, well, obviously we must bomb them.

The Americans I’ve talked to in the last week overwhelmingly do not support US military intervention in Syria, chemical weapon use or not. They say almost the same thing: “Aren’t we already fighting 2 wars?”  The ones that support US intervention also say nearly the same thing: “Assad must be punished for using chemical weapons.” Where was this desire for justice or punishment when it was Saddam Hussein killing Kurds & Iranians?  Nobody seemed to give a shit back then.

I find it very interesting that the same politicians (Obama, Pelosi, Kerry, Schakowsky) who not only opposed the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan but also contributed mightily to the budgetary clusterfuck that led to sequestration are the ones supporting the idea that we spend even more money & possibly more American lives by getting militarily involved in Syria.

We barely have enough money to run this country, but the president wants to start dumping a shitload of money into a THIRD war?

I’ve supported President Obama on some of the things he’s tried to accomplish in his time as our nation’s leader, but I’ve got to draw a red line on sending our troops after Syria. It might start with smart bombs and cruise missiles, but it’s not beyond the realm of imagination that those things can easily be followed by enforcing no-fly zones, advisors & later, troops on the ground.  It’s happened before.

I also find it very interesting & more than a little suspicious that many of the celebrities that have been quite outspoken against the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan haven’t said a goddam word about the prospect of war in Syria. I’m talking about Martin Sheen, Danny Glover, Madonna, Sean Penn, Martin Scorsese, Dustin Hoffman, George Clooney, Janeane Garofalo, Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins, Andy Serkis, Kim Basinger, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Samuel L Jackson, Richard Gere, Jessica Lange, Natalie Maines, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen & more. They raised a hue & cry about going to war in Iraq or Afghanistan, but they’re keeping their mouths shut about going to war in Syria.

Maybe, like many Americans, they’re just sick & fucking tired of talking about war.

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get in there and hurt somebody

I was just looking through a list of wars the US has been actively involved in, dating back to the 1st shots of the American Revolution in 1774. In those 239 years, we’ve been at war somewhere here or there for 176 years, including dozens of wars against native American Indian tribes throughout most of the 1800s. Even during the devastating Civil War, the US Army kept fighting the Indians.

I wonder what the stats are for other countries in their 1st 240 years of existence, or even the last 240 years of their existence.

Looking at the wars fought by the Roman Republic in the 239 years between 351*-112 BC, Rome was at war for a total of 99 years. In the last 239 years of the Roman Empire (155-394** AD), Rome was in an active state of war (or civil war) for 115 years. I think we can all agree that Rome certainly meddled in the affairs of the nations/tribes surrounding it, so, like the USA, there was certainly military action going on in other years, but I’m talking about active, publicly declared wars of some sort.

To recap: USA is 239 years old & has been at war for 176 of them. The beginning & ending 239 years of the Roman Republic/Empire, Rome was at war for 99/115 years respectively.

I suppose you can balance that out by looking at Napoleon, who reigned for 19 years (1796-1815, 1st as a member of the Directory & later as Emperor) & was only not at war during 1803, 1810-11 & during his exile on Elba from May 1814 to February 1815 – let’s call that 1 year. During 19 years of rule, then, Napoleon was actively at war with somebody for 15 years. That’s a mighty percentage.

What, exactly, is my point?  I don’t know, exactly, except to say that for the first time in a long time, I think it’s time that the US stop dropping bombs on the people of some other nation simply because we don’t like what they do to their own people. Yes, if it did indeed happen, it is reprehensible that Bashar al-Assad, the leader of Syria, used sarin gas on the rebels that have risen against him.

It was less than 100 years ago that many of the major civilized nations of the west – England, France, Germany, Austria, Russia and the United States – were using chemical weapons against each other with enthusiasm. Oh, it started innocently enough with tear gas, which police forces & militaries around the world continue to use to pacify crowds. It went on from there, though, to xylyl bromide, chlorine (produced by the German company BASF, which is still in manufacturing today), phosgene (invented by French scientists & responsible for most of the gas-related deaths in the war), a nifty blend of chlorine AND phosgene, and, of course, mustard gas, which wasn’t really meant to kill many people (and didn’t) but rather as a way to make the battlefield (or at least the enemy’s trenches) uninhabitable.

Chemical weapons, though universally recognized as horrific, remained in vogue in military circles worldwide throughout the 1920s, but haven’t really been used in large-scale combat since 1925, when most WW1 combatants (not the US, though) signed the first treaty banning the use of such weapons. The US didn’t sign the Geneva Protocol until the 1970s. Note that the GC only bans the USE of chemical weapons – not the creation or stockpiling of such weapons.  The last country to use chemical weapons during a war in a big way was Iraq, which used mustard & other gasses to kill or wound about 100,000 of Iran’s forces.

In between, of course, was Germany again, using Zyklon B to gas into oblivion millions of European Jews during WW2, but I think we can all agree that doesn’t really count as combat.

The USA is still the only nation in the world to have used the entire suite of NBC weapons – nuclear, biological & chemical – to kill its enemies. While our leaders have promised not to use chemical or biological weapons in the future, that doesn’t stop them from continuing to manufacture and stockpile them.  It takes a pretty sturdy soap box to support you in condemning any government from using chemical weapons when you yourself produce tons of them every year.

None of this makes it right for Assad to attack his own people with chemical weapons (if, indeed, he did) – but is it any more right for the US to drop bombs on Syria as “punishment” for his having done so?  My mother always told me that “two wrongs don’t make a right” (even though three lefts do), so I’m having a hard time reconciling that the USA is making plans to spank Syria for gassing its own people.

As many people have pointed out, the revolution in Syria has cost at least 100,000 lives so far. Why is the most recent 1,000 of them, though killed by sarin gas, the ones that finally “demand” action from anywhere else in the world?

I think it’s time for the US to stop acting like the world’s police force and stick to fixing things in its own back yard.  With an active war going on in Afghanistan (because, you know, previous wars involving Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the Mughals, the British & the Soviet Union all turned out so spectacularly) and another one in Iraq mostly winding down, is the US just so bored that it’s time to start another war that’s going to cost billions of dollars & possibly thousands of lives?  They SAY “no boots on the ground” now, but things hardly ever stay that way.

Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our health care costs are out of control. Our education system is in shambles.  Our leaders are corrupt.  Our businesses are robbing us blind.  Our borders are porous.  Our atmosphere is disintegrating.  Our power grid is being pushed to capacity.  We have 100s of 1000s of people in this country that are unemployed, hungry or homeless. How about instead of throwing expensive weapons at another nation, we dump some of that money into fixing problems here in the United States?

I think the underlying reason we don’t pay more attention to our own problems is because it’s easier to point the self-righteous finger of judgment at the actions and ideas of others than it is to examine the gaping holes in our own system.

* 351 BC saw the end of the war between the Roman Republic & the Tarquinii, Falerii & Caere – while it’s debatable as to when the Roman Republic can first be considered an empire, there is NO DOUBT that after 351 BC (the end of this 8-year war), the Romans were the dominant power in the region.

** 394 AD wasn’t the end-end of the Roman Empire, but with the end of the last of the real Roman Civil Wars in this year, it can easily be identified as a clear end-point for the Romans despite another 100+ years of the barbarian tribes of Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East & Northern Africa picking apart the remnants of the empire.