Chlorine and Conscience

In an ironic twist on this ‘Earth Day’, this also marks the 105th anniversary of the first use of chemical weapons in warfare – as the Germans unleashed tons of chlorine gas on the Allied troops, wafted into their trenches during the Battle of Ypres in 1915. Even the Bosch were shocked by the horrific effects – and I can believe it, as I once had a smidgen of exposure in my days as a lifeguard. The chlorine burned their eyes and throats, choking, gagging, pulmonary edema, blindness. It killed thousands and maimed thousands more. But that not stop them. The Allies retaliated in kind, then the Germans invented mustard gas – even more debilitating, with skin blistering and infections. Although chemical warfare has not really been used in conflicts since (with some exceptions, apparently, in the Middle East), the Germans in the next World War would use their expertise with ‘gas’ in the chambers of the Holocaust.

In another twist of providence, Harry Truman was captain of an artillery unit that fired poison gas on the Germans in 1918. Twenty-seven years later, he would order the nuclear bombing, and incineration, destruction or slow death by radiation poisoning of all the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – including women and children, the sick and the old.

Not all is fair, nor moral, in love or war, as we are discovering to our peril. We are either governed by our conscience, or by nothing much at all.