Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Wilfred Owen wrote whereof he knew, having been on the receiving end of the Kaiser’s army’s military innovation. This poem came to mind while considering this day in history, looking back to April 22, 1915:
On April 22, 1915, German forces shock Allied soldiers along the western front by firing more than 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas against two French colonial divisions at Ypres, Belgium. This was the first major gas attack by the Germans, and it devastated the Allied line.
The Germans were unable to achieve any strategic breakthrough with gas, just as the British failed to punch a real hole through the German trench lines with the first use of tanks. It takes much more than a new piece of technology to achieve victory against a semi-competent enemy. The German genius, their world-leading advantage in chemistry, was not integrated into military ideas for use and training from the foot soldier to the most senior general to integrate the technology into a viable system of warfare.
While the Germans only used this evil genius against helpless victims in World War II, the evil genie could never be put back in the bottle. The Iran-Iraq war, 1980-1988, saw a reversion to World War I tactics with late 20th Century equipment. Saddam Hussein used poison gas weapons on the battlefield and against the Kurdish population he feared and hated.
Iranian casualties did not stop with battlefield deaths. Instead, we have learned over the decades that war wounds can kill very slowly:
Iran is today the world’s largest laboratory for the study of the effects of chemical weapons, in part because of the sheer numbers of Iranian victims, but also because of a little-studied phenomenon called low-dose exposure. In 1991, a declassified CIA report estimated that Iran suffered more than 50,000 casualties from Iraq’s repeated use of nerve agents and toxic gases in the 1980s. Mustard gas — in dusty, liquid and vapor forms — was used the most during the war. It was packed into bombs and artillery shells, then fired at frontlines and beyond, including at hospitals.
As the war came to a grinding halt and truce, Saddam Hussein unleashed the largest poison gas attack on civilians since the Germans in World War II. The Kurds were his target.
On March 16, 1988, as many as 5,000 Iraqi Kurds, mostly women and children, were killed when deadly gas was released on the northern town of Halabja by Saddam Hussein’s forces.
One of the survivors described the effects in a poem. The gas used was a persistent agent, one that sticks around instead of quickly dissipating. Mustard gas, so called because of its yellow color, was a German invention in World War I. Choman Hardi wrote of the experience in “Gas Attack:”
… We came out thinking we’d survived
the bombs but a chalky-yellow powder settled
on our skin, smelling of sweet apples at first,
seemed safe to breathe in….
As we reflect on Passover and Easter, this dark history should remind us that humanity needs delivery from its own creations and designs. In both the Exodus and the Passion and Resurrection, we see humanity needing intervention from above. Right on time, members of the religion that must never be named in blame gave a live demonstration with bombs in Sri Lanka–reinforced by the predictable responses of our media and political leftist elites–of the continuing relevance of the real Easter story.Published in