Chemical Warfare Essay

991 words - 4 pages

The images are haunting: men in gas masks rapid firing through dusky vapors, people contorted with a pain that comes from within. It is a common held belief that chemical warfare is a form of modern warfare and the First World War is recognised for introducing this type of combat. Recent archaeological finds show that this may not be the case.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, chemical warfare is “tactical warfare using incendiary mixtures, smokes, or irritant, burning, poisonous, or asphyxiating gasses.” (Chemical warfare, 2011) It is a temptingly appealing way to dispose of one’s enemies without drawing a sword or lifting a gun. Chemical weapon agents, or CWAs as they are more commonly referred, are classified in five main groups: riot control agents, nerve agents, blister agents, blood agents, and choking agents. Each is devastating on those caught in their paths and, for decades, scientists have worked on creating easier to wield, more lethal types. Today, there are eight countries known to possess chemical weapons (OPCW) but, according to new archaeological discoveries, this may not only be a cause for concern prevalent in the modern world.
Contrary to the popular belief that it was the Germans who introduced CWAs to modern warfare during the First World War, the use of chemical weapons has existed since ancient times. Historians consider the use of poison on arrowheads as the beginning of humanity’s foray into this type of tactical warfare. (WIFA. 2005) Toxic substances became the predominant form of chemical warfare in the ancient world, and it was common for attacking armies to poison the water supply of besieged cities or use other poison methods to silently dispose of their enemies. Look up examples of poisons. Although poison does adhere to most definitions of chemical warfare, it can be argued that it does not follow what has come to be its definition in modern warfare as it is sometimes included in descriptions of biological combat. However, poison was only the beginning of “modern” tactics used in the ancient world. By 429 B.C., toxic fumes made up of sulphur were recorded as used in battle. (WIFA. 2005) Most interestingly though, is what has come to light in recent archaeological investigations. Credited as the “oldest … evidence for chemical warfare”, the discovery of twenty Roman soldiers in the city of Dura-Europos, circa AD 256 at first puzzled archaeologists (Syed, 2009). While each soldier had apparently died in combat, they bore no marks to suggest violence was the cause and it was not until the unearthing of bitumen and sulphur crystals nearby that asphyxiation was considered (University of Leicester, 2009). When bitumen and sulphur are burned together, they create “dense clouds of choking gasses” (University of Leicester, 2009), meaning that this discovery is the oldest found form of choking agents. The ancient Chinese are also known for recording the application of poison gasses in combat (Wicken, 2007). This...

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