Friday, May 15, 2015

Gasbag

The Leader of the Free World gives us a little context:


So, chlorine has not been historically used as a chemical weapon. This would be news to a lot of people who were at Ypres in 1915:
After the batteries were in place, it was decided that wind conditions and the ragged configuration of the front line in that sector made it unsuitable for a gas discharge. New batteries of gas cylinders then were dug in along the northern flank of the salient, the batteries being concentrated at Bixschoote, near the junction between the northern flank of the salient and the front north of Ypres, and at Poelkapelle, near the apex of the salient. On April 11, the batteries were in place on the north flank, ready to deliver about 150 tons of chlorine gas on order. An attack was planned to follow behind the gas cloud, along a southern axis to sweep across the base of the salient, with the Bixschoote-Poelkapelle front as the line of departure for the German assault force.
After several postponements, always awaiting suitable wind conditions, the attack finally was ordered at 5:30 p.m. on April 22, 1915. What followed staggers the imagination.
As seen by the Canadians, who stood to the right of the Algerians, two greenish-yellow clouds formed on the ground and spread laterally to form a terrifying single cloud of bluish white mist. Blown by light wind, the cloud moved down on the Algerian trenches. The Canadians noticed a peculiar odor, smarting eyes, a tingling sensation in the nose and throat, and heard a dull, confused murmuring underlying everything.
Soon, Algerian stragglers began to drift toward the rear, followed by horses and men pouring down the road and finally by mobs of Algerian infantry streaming across the fields, throwing away their rifles and even their tunics. One Algerian, frothing at the mouth, fell writhing at the feet of the British officer who tried to question him.
Sir John French, commander of the British Expeditionary Force, later said: What happened is practically indescribable. The effect of the gas was so overwhelming that the whole of the positions occupied by the French divisions was rendered incapable of any resistance. It was impossible at first to realize what had actually happened. Fumes and smoke obscured everything. Hundreds of men were thrown into a stupor, and after an hour the whole position had to be abandoned with fifty guns.
As seen by the Germans, the effects of the attack were horrible, the dead lying on their backs with clenched fists, the whole field bleached to a yellow color.
But Obama is right -- it's also why whenever there's a chlorine leak from a municipal swimming pool facility, we don't even worry about it.

For further context, see First Ringer's excellent essay on the subject of the chlorine gas attack at Ypres and its aftermath, which he published at Shot in the Dark a few weeks back. Maybe our President could learn something from it.

14 comments:

Brian said...

I understand what you're saying, but manufacture of chlorine isn't prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention, and it isn't considered a weapon under the definitions of that agreement, because of its ubiquity in industrial processes. (Fun fact: neither is phosgene, for the same reasons.)

Though as I understand it, if you use it as a weapon that does violate the convention, and I also believe chlorine was included in the Syrian disarmament agreement.

Mr. D said...

I understand what you're saying, but manufacture of chlorine isn't prohibited by the Chemical Weapons Convention, and it isn't considered a weapon under the definitions of that agreement, because of its ubiquity in industrial processes. (Fun fact: neither is phosgene, for the same reasons.)

Yeah, but not really the point, is it? The statement was not whether the manufacture of chlorine is proscribed; a lot of potentially deadly chemicals are readily available for legitimate uses. I can buy sulfuric acid in a hardware store with no questions asked -- I've done it. Our brilliant president told us that chlorine wasn't historically a chemical weapon. That's simply false.

R.A. Crankbait said...

You have to cut the president some slack. Remember, he was a constitutional scholar, not a history scholar. I think it's right here on his transcript; dang, what did I do with that thing?

Bike Bubba said...

Actually, having watched the blurb, Obama is carefully mapping the path Brian describes. Not on the list, but historically used.

The thing that strikes me is how....uh.....many..... pauses..... he.....has..... in..... his.....answer. Usually that indicates a level of nervousness that corresponds to dishonesty.

Which is, really exactly what he's doing--he's trying to parse out his red line so that he can draw it without being legally obligated to enforce it. Speech like this is why the theater cheered when the T Rex got dinner in Jurassic Park.

Bike Bubba said...

(side note; I saw Jurassic Park with a law student I was dating at the time.....it was priceless)

Brian said...

Mark, do you seriously believe the president is unaware of the events of WWI?

The legal framework by which the UN gets to tell countries what they may and may not have is a pretty important context here.

Gino said...

because the UN has lots or moral authority.

Mr. D said...

Mark, do you seriously believe the president is unaware of the events of WWI?

I don't know what he knows. None of us do, actually. I hope he does know that chlorine, even if it is legal to possess, can be used as a chemical weapon. And I hope he knows that Assad is capable of using it in that way. But again, I don't know. Obama seems to believe some fairly astonishing things.

The legal framework by which the UN gets to tell countries what they may and may not have is a pretty important context here.

To Gino's point, the UN has no moral authority and is essentially meaningless. Countries pay attention to its dictates until they don't. International agreements, and the organizations that support them and are responsible for giving them power, only have value if the signatories are serious about compliance.

Gino said...

the UN is a tactical device. you either use it as a weapon (invasion of iraq) or as a shield (like obama is doing now).

a leader with nads will use it as a scapegoat or by ignoring it.

Brian said...

Sorry to interrupt your Obama bitch session with relevant facts and context. Carry on.

Mr. D said...

Sorry to interrupt your Obama bitch session with relevant facts and context. Carry on.

The only relevant context here is that Obama put out a "red line" about the use of chemical weapons in Syria. Assad wiped his butt on the red line. And Obama let him get by with it.

That might have been the right call. We don't have any good options in Syria. We've never had good options. I don't blame Obama for not wanting to go to war in Syria. I sure the hell don't want to go to war in Syria, either. But he shouldn't have issued a threat he didn't intend to keep.

And as you acknowledged at the very outset of the discussion, use of chlorine as a chemical agent violates every treaty and agreement under the sun. And it doesn't matter, because treaties are only meaningful if the signatories are honorable.

Bike Bubba said...

Brian, the trick here is that you're addressing legalese, but the promise the President made was in plain English and should be understood as such.

I'm with Mark, and I believe you as well, in believing that attacking Syria in response to this could have been a huge mistake for any number of reasons. However, that doesn't change the fact that if Syrians died because they trusted the President and didn't flee (some certainly did), or if they're going into the arms of ISIS because of this betrayal (some are doing just that), part of that guilt stains Obama's hands.

Mr. D said...

Put another way -- a baseball is not historically listed as a weapon, but you sure the hell wouldn't want to take a Louisville Slugger to your cerebellum.

Mr. D said...

Er, make that baseball bat.