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Friday, September 06, 2013


Poison Gas : If you've got a large amount of a type of gas legally available here, you're probably keeping the stuff under pressure in those heavy steel tanks hospitals have for oxygen or clowns have for hydrogen or helium -- the stuff they put in those balloons they give you that allow the balloons to defy gravity.

Those same heavy steel tanks can be used for storing and transporting poison gas. If you can bring enough of the stuff up close enough to some fortified position you're enemy is defending, you can send a small lethal cloud rolling off along the ground on a gentle breeze; just make sure your side has gas masks should the breeze prove unreliable.

Shortly after the battles of Verdun and the Somme, German ingenuity produced poison gas artillery shells. These were first used against the Russians in the German push to take the port of Riga on the Baltic and in that battle the Russians would not have known what hit them. The Germans began by firing the high explosive shells.  The Russians were dug in and ready for it, and it was only after the regular shells had landed that the gas shells were sent. The poison gas was thus thought not to be anything other than more of the smoke from the first exploding shells.

So, had you been one of the Kaiser's Generals after their big victory at Riga, and you happened to have a couple of boxcars filled with poison gas shells, your plan would probably be to use them when you're planning an attack. Gas shells wouldn't be what you'd want to hit an enemy with should they be attacking you in force. If your lines are crumbling and you're falling back, it might be better if you used your shrapnel shells. If a pack of angry bikers have you cornered in a bar it's better you have a friend who can toss you a fully loaded sawed-off shotgun than a small container of mace.

In the calm following the Armistice, a treaty was drawn up and signed banning the use of poison gas as a weapon of war. The first to cross this “red line” was Mussolini in Ethiopia.  Later, as the Second World War was getting under way, the British began to provide as many of their people as they could with gas masks on the off chance there'd be another gas attack.  As we all know now, what poison gas the NAZIs had was not used on the battlefield.

There would be no further military use of poison gas until Saddam Hussein used it, first in his war with Iran and then against the Kurds.  Now, depending on whom you believe, Assad might or might not have fired rockets containing poison gas at his al Qaeda enemies in Syria. I'm inclined to think he had, in spite of the assurance we've been given that he has by an administration that's done nothing but lie to us.

My thinking is, if I were Assad I might at least consider the use of poison gas. The stakes for him are high enough. It's not as though he can surrender to a guy as pleasant as General Grant and then go off to a job at a university - and I doubt Assad's forgotten what happened to Colonel Gaddafi.

In the world outside the academic institution, in the world of real people, it matters who your enemies are.  Had the Cambodian government used poison gas against Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, I doubt a crossing of the red line on that occasion would have caused us to throw a fit. In any case I doubt we'd be mad enough to want to lend our air power to Pol Pot out of deference to the red line.

Thus, for what it's worth, I'd vote no. This might be a war worth being branded an Isolationist for not supporting. If ObamaCare hasn't given you a thrill up your leg and you're not pro- amnesty, you've already been called every other bad name there is and, against those, "Isolationist" may well be the nicest thing anyone calls you this year.

And then there's this :  If Assad's using poison gas he isn't likely to stop on account of one, lone rocket strike from our ships. That will either have no effect whatsoever or it will be our first move in a war we'll have to fight in order to find out just how fiendish the fanatics we'll have been supporting are.

The other reason, of course, for not supporting the war would be that John McCain is in favor of it. By now I think we've learned that we can trust McCain to always be wrong -- what else is there that we can be as sure of?

Tim Lund is a writer, historian, illustrator and political cartoonist.  His work is also published on From the Rampart (fromtherampart.webs.com).

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