Chemical Weapons and U.S. National Interest

Otto Dix, German Gas Attack, 1924

Perhaps the most moving poem with imagery evoking the horror of the first World War is “Dulce et Decorum Est” written in October 1917 by Wilfred Owen, the British writer who was killed in action a year later, aged 25. His condemnation of the use of gas against people haunts us today.

It is not clear which country, France or Germany, first used poison gas in that war. But the most memorable occasion was the use on April 22, 1915 by Germany of lethal chlorine gas against French colonial, mostly Algerian, divisions, at the second battle of Ypres. About this horror of the use of gas, Owen wrote, “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.” Chlorine did produce choking and suffocation, but the contending armies in the war soon used stronger gases, phosgene and above all, mustard gas.

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