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The Dangerous Effects Of Chemical Warfare In World War One

1086 words - 5 pages

Upon the battlefield of World War One, soldiers huddle in trenches, faces veiled behind gas masks. These bulky facial coverings were designed to protect the soldiers from deadly gases used by the enemy. The use of chemical agents in World War One led to the need for the production of better protection from the deadly effects of the agents. Chlorine gas could be dropped from cylinders above the victims, its high density causing it to flow downwards onto its unsuspecting foe (Fire 121). Also, the British Authorities struggled to decide whether or not to approve the use of gas for offensive use, and whether a large scale chemical war was something to be avoided at all costs (Girard 107).
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The physiological effects of chlorine gas included painful asphyxiation, violent coughing, and death (Fire 121).
Therefore, to combat this, soldiers in the early days of chemical warfare during World War One, used muslin-which was ineffective, and later, a thiosulfate laced cotton pad which effectively neutralized chlorine gas. Mustard gas however needed more protection since it caused contact dermatitis along with weeping burns (Columbia). The term for the psychological trauma caused by constant gassing, which soldiers thought inhuman, was Gas fright. Soldiers would believe that even their food was contaminated in a gas attack, panic when gas drills were initiated, and rave madly in fear. Gas fright, coupled with shell shock, led to intense PTSD in soldiers, along with their physical ailments staying with them after the Armistice as a shadow the war left behind with them (Fitzgerald 612).
The treatment of gas victims was a precarious ordeal with mustard gas because the mustard gas could spread from the victim to the other patients and medics (Fitzgerald 618). In the face of such dangerous chemicals, the soldiers made use of protective equipment designed to protect them. Civilians were not so lucky, however, they did not have immediate access to gas masks nor the proper clothing. For example, over all the estimated civilian death count was 5200 lives lost to gas attacks (Fitzgerald 616).
Over time, along with civilian and soldier gas masks, the masks for dogs, pigeons, and horses serving in the war became more advanced to adapt to deadlier combinations and levels of chlorine, mustard, and tear gas (Walk). Gases created hazards in the environment long after their release as well. Since mustard gas and chlorine gas is much heavier than air they will settle in trenches and ditches, shell holes and other places a soldier may hide away from his enemy. Therefore, the soldier merely has to stir up the mud, dirt, or water, and suffer gas exposure (Fire 121).
It was imperative that soldiers avoid these areas after a recent gas raid to avoid any unfortunate mishaps due to the left over gas. Gas attacks became more copious between 1917 and 1918 (Fitzgerald 617). Countries still grappled over whether or not the use of gas should be banned from the war or not (Gerald...

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