Quote of the Day: Death and Delivery

 

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.

Dulce et Decorum EstWilfred Owen

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.

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There are 9 comments.

  1. Thatcher

    Very good essay. I’ve always found the poem stunning. Owens was killed several days before the armistice. His parents were notified on November 11.

    • #1
    • April 22, 2019, at 5:33 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  2. Thatcher

    Wilfred Owen’s poems were used by Benjamin Britten in his 1962 War Requiem. Although the passage above was not used, here is an example of Britten weaving Owen’s text within the traditional Latin Requiem:


    The Quote of the Day series is the easiest way to start a fun conversation on Ricochet. We have 2 open dates left on the April Schedule. We even include tips for finding great quotes, so choose your favorite quote and sign up today!

    • #2
    • April 22, 2019, at 6:22 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  3. Member

    The only deterrent to the NBC threat is to say, “Yeah? Our schmegma is way worse than your schmegma. I would add a Trumpian “Sad.” But we’re dealing with the real world, here. It’s not sad if it prevents a single US troop or civilian giving up his last coughing up blood and sputum; worse, a civilian watching his kids go first via this vile tactic.

    I’d…do a lot to keep that from happening.

    • #3
    • April 22, 2019, at 7:26 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  4. Member

    Just a comment with respect to the precise nature of the first German gas attack at Ypres Belgium in April 2915. The gas wasn’t fired from artillery projectiles or bombs, but was rather released from hundreds of gas cylinders near the front of the German line. The wind conditions were such that that the gas (it was chlorine gas) would drift over to the Allied front line which it did. The primary recipients of the attack were in fact French Senegalese colonial troops and parts of the British expeditionary force. The Germans had already used tear gas against the Russians on the eastern front before this, but this was the first use of a truly deadly agent.

    • #4
    • April 23, 2019, at 3:48 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown Post author

    Washington Square (View Comment):

    Just a comment with respect to the precise nature of the first German gas attack at Ypres Belgium in April 2915. The gas wasn’t fired from artillery projectiles or bombs, but was rather released from hundreds of gas cylinders near the front of the German line. The wind conditions were such that that the gas (it was chlorine gas) would drift over to the Allied front line which it did. The primary recipients of the attack were in fact French Senegalese colonial troops and parts of the British expeditionary force. The Germans had already used tear gas against the Russians on the eastern front before this, but this was the first use of a truly deadly agent.

    Yes, the attack experienced by Owen happened later.

    • #5
    • April 23, 2019, at 5:59 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  6. Coolidge

    Back in 1985 as a second lieutenant in the final weeks of our 6 month Basic School class, we conducted an attack using full MOPP gear (carbon impregnated outer garments, gas mask, hood, etc.). We were pretty well trained at that point and highly motivated to do the attack well.

    I learned that an attack in a chemical environment is a really bad idea. Defense isn’t so bad, but an attack is a disaster in the making. You can hardly see or hear anything. We had an advantage over our Warsaw Pact counterparts who could not drink water while suited up and masked, and their suits didn’t breathe at all. Most of their infantry in an attack would die of heat stroke, to be sure.

    I also didn’t like how they trained us to unmask. It’s not well publicized, but if your unit is not in contact with someone with chemical detection gear, and you need to unmask, there was actually a published procedure to adhere to. Step one, identify your least valuable Marine. Step two, take away his weapons. You can imagine the rest.

    There’s no way in hell I could ever do that — not because I can’t stomach it, frankly I could because I’d never try it if I weren’t 100% sure it was safe. The problem is that there is no way your men would ever trust you again. The remaining step was to transfer that Marine to another unit (I hope).

    Chemical warfare is a nightmare, even if you’re properly equipped. It’s hellish if you’re not.

    • #6
    • April 23, 2019, at 7:04 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  7. Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown Post author

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Back in 1985 as a second lieutenant in the final weeks of our 6 month Basic School class, we conducted an attack using full MOPP gear (carbon impregnated outer garments, gas mask, hood, etc.). We were pretty well trained at that point and highly motivated to do the attack well.

    I learned that an attack in a chemical environment is a really bad idea. Defense isn’t so bad, but an attack is a disaster in the making. You can hardly see or hear anything. We had an advantage over our Warsaw Pact counterparts who could not drink water while suited up and masked, and their suits didn’t breathe at all. Most of their infantry in an attack would die of heat stroke, to be sure.

    I also didn’t like how they trained us to unmask. It’s not well publicized, but if your unit is not in contact with someone with chemical detection gear, and you need to unmask, there was actually a published procedure to adhere to. Step one, identify your least valuable Marine. Step two, take away his weapons. You can imagine the rest.

    There’s no way in hell I could ever do that — not because I can’t stomach it, frankly I could because I’d never try it if I weren’t 100% sure it was safe. The problem is that there is no way your men would ever trust you again. The remaining step was to transfer that Marine to another unit (I hope).

    Chemical warfare is a nightmare, even if you’re properly equipped. It’s hellish if you’re not.

    Drinking out of a canteen while masked and in full MOPP gear was especially fun. As I recall, the story was that Soviet suits were designed to stand up to the nastiest stuff longer, where we planned on moving out of the slime and getting decontaminated before the chemicals wore through our more bearable but less durable suits.

    “Nightmare, even if properly equipped,” absolutely! I will always remember signing into my unit in Korea, at Camp Casey in 1990. I asked the supply sergeant why there was not blue dot, designating a training set, on the un-packaged MOPP suit he issued me. “Sir, we don’t have practice suits here.” I slept every night in Korea with my mask next to my bed. If the siren went off and changed from “alert” to “gas” signal, stumbling around in the dark would have been a poor choice.

    My first platoon sergeant had a theory that the inventors of particularly lousy military equipment were all on a tropical beach, sipping Mai Tais and laughing at us. The head of the crew was universally agreed to be the man who invented the chemical protective overboots:

    https://collection.nam.ac.uk/images/960/168000-168999/168226.jpg

    These caught on everything and picked up mud like no other footwear. They were designed to be single use. Useless was more accurate.

    I am still stunned that at the height of the Cold War the filters were internal to the mask! That is, they could not be changed without taking off the mask.

    http://image.sportsmansguide.com/adimgs/l/2/25231_ts.jpg

    Only after the Soviet Union collapsed did we get serious masks with external filters that spun on/off.

    https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/gasmaskandrespirator/images/6/6d/Indianapolis_Chemical_Company_Walks_Through_Gas_Chamber_DVIDS292761.jpg

    As I recall, the drill was:

    Take several deep breaths. Hold it. Spin off the old filter canister. Break seal off new canister. Spin on. Exhale strongly to clear the seal. Go back to your business.

    Looking this up, it appears the Defense Department moved on to yet another, better mask system, which I did not get to try out before my retirement in 2016. Imagine my disappointment.

    • #7
    • April 24, 2019, at 2:39 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. Member

    My fathers uncle served in France during WWI with the 318 th Engineers. He was gassed, the story being he shared his mask with a wounded buddy. My father said that he was never “right” after that. In the old man’s draft for WWII he was noted as disabled.

    “My first platoon sergeant had a theory that the inventors of particularly lousy military equipment were all on a tropical beach, sipping Mai Tais and laughing at us. The head of the crew was universally agreed to be the man who invented the chemical protective overboots:

    https://collection.nam.ac.uk/images/960/168000-168999/168226.jpg

    These caught on everything and picked up mud like no other footwear. They were designed to be single use. Useless was more accurate.”

    Try flying a Cobra in MOPP4. Just getting into and out of the cockpit was a challenge. The laces on those boots caught on everything.

     

    • #8
    • April 24, 2019, at 4:39 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. Member

    Clifford A. Brown (View Comment):

    Only after the Soviet Union collapsed did we get serious masks with external filters that spun on/off.

    https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/gasmaskandrespirator/images/6/6d/Indianapolis_Chemical_Company_Walks_Through_Gas_Chamber_DVIDS292761.jpg

    As I recall, the drill was:

    So, whatchyew doin’ after the chem attack?

    • #9
    • April 24, 2019, at 6:27 PM PDT
    • 3 likes