The Shameful (and Recent) History of Chemical Weapons Abuses by the US Government

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During this unsettling march to war with Syria, political leaders in the US have repeatedly stated that Syria has broken an agreement, put in place at the end of World War I, that chemical weapons are not to be used in warfare.  Some may be left believing that chemical weapons have been absent from the theatre of war between then and the Syrian attacks on August 21st 2013.  This is not the case.  In fact, the US is the biggest abuser of chemical weapons on earth, deploying these weapons across the world right to the present day.

The Chemical Weapons Timeline to World War II

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Chemical and biological weapons have been with us since the Spartan Greek’s used sulphur fumes on enemy soldiers in the 400′s BC.  They became the tool of imperialism and colonialism from the 17th century and beyond.

In the 18th Century, colonialists seeking to overcome the Native American population distributed small pox infected blankets as ‘gifts’ of peace to native American communities.  In 1770, almost 30% of the population was wiped out by small pox infection.  In the 80 years of European immigration to the North American continent, the Native American population reduced from 37,000 to 9,000 – largely due to the various diseases and epidemics perpetrated against them.  You can read a fuller account of the devastation of indigenous communities here.

At World War I (1914-18), the German army reintroduced chemical weapons, using chlorine gas at the second battle of Ypres. By the end of the war, with all sides deploying mustard and chlorine gas, 85,000 had been killed and 1.2m injured by these toxic weapons.

Between the end of World War I and the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the world went on a bit of a chemical weapons binge.  The Russian forces used poison gas against the Bolsheviks (with UK support), Spain and France used mustard gas in Morocco, and Britain tested mustard gas by releasing it against Iraqi populations.  Winston Churchill stated that “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes”.

Despite a brief stand off during the first year of World War II thanks to fears of reprisals from all sides, chemical weapons were again deployed in 1942.  The Nazi government used Zyklon-B to gas ‘undesirable’ groups such as Jews, disabled people, mentally ill people and dissenters of the regime.  By the end of the holocaust, 5.8 million Jews and 5 million other ‘undesirables’ had been killed, including 1.5 million children.

The US Becomes the World’s Worst Chemical Weapons Offender Post World War II

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Since the Second World War, the US has led the world in the development, production and deployment of chemical weapons on both military and civilian populations at home and across the world.

At Home

According to the San Francisco Chronicle:

“In 1950, the Army secretly used a Navy ship cruising just outside the Golden Gate to spray supposedly harmless bacteria over the entire city and its outskirts. Eleven people were sickened by the germs in San Francisco, and one of them died.

From 1956 to 1961, the CIA, in a secret behavior modification program called MK-ULTRA, dispatched agents to test the effects of mind-altering drugs such as LSD and synthetic mescaline on unsuspecting people in San Francisco, Mill Valley and other cities across the country. Many of the victims hallucinated, many became sick and at least two deaths resulted from the experiments.

From 1944 to 1974, both the Defense Department and the Atomic Energy Commission conducted hundreds of secret experiments in San Francisco and around the country that exposed unsuspecting patients to dangerous doses of radiation, including injections of plutonium.”

It didn’t stop there.  Global Research reports:

“1951: Racist experiments are carried out. U.S. Army researchers deliberately expose African-Americans to the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus to discern whether they are more susceptible to infections caused by such organisms than white Europeans. Also in 1951, black workers at the Norfolk Supply Center in Virginia were exposed to crates contaminated with A. fumigatus spores.”

This list is by no means exhaustive, and you can see the full history of domestic use of chemical agents as weapons on domestic US populations here.

Across the World

The Korean War – 1950-53

During the war, North Korea and China accused the US of using the germ warfare agents they had developed in 1947.

The Vietnam War 1955-1975

The US used Napalm and Agent Orange as their premier chemical weapons between 1965 and 1972.  Napalm is “a mixture of plastic polystyrene, hydrocarbon benzene, and gasoline. This mixture creates a jelly-like substance that, when ignited, sticks to practically anything and burns up to ten minutes.” Kim Phuc, a survivor of Napalm attacks in Vietnam says “Napalm is the most terrible pain you can ever imagine.  Water boils at 212°F. Napalm generates temperatures 1,500°F to 2,200°F.”

You will likely remember Kim as a 9 year old naked child fleeing this Napalm attack, her photo becoming one of the defining images of the war.

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The US dropped more than 400,000 tons of Napalm on largely civilian areas of Vietnam through the war.

Agent Orange is a toxic chemical herbicide fifty times more concentrated than regular herbicides.  It was used by the US to devastate crops and water sources, in efforts to drive out Vietnamese into US controlled areas.  The US sprayed 73 million litres of Agents Orange, Blue, Pink, Purple and Green onto Vietnam between 1962 and 1970.  According to a War Legacies research paper:

“The herbicides were sprayed over about 24 percent of southern Vietnam, destroying 5 million acres of upland and mangrove forests and about 500,000 acres of crops (a total area the size of Massachusetts). Of these areas, 34 percent were sprayed more than once; some of the upland forests were sprayed more than four times.vi One study found that 3,181 villages were sprayed as well. Areas of Laos and Cambodia near the Vietnam border were also sprayed.”

The Vietnam Red Cross recorded over 4.8 million deaths and 400,000 birth defects caused by the use of Agent Orange.

Iraq

The US has been directly and indirectly responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Iraq over generations.  We have already covered the testing of weapons on Iraqi populations.  When people claim Saddam used chemical weapons on his own people, they refer to the chemical gas attack on Halabja in 1988, which killed at least 5,000 Kurdish civilians.  This attack was carried out in the dying months of the Iran-Iraq war, while the UK’s Thatcher government were providing military support to his regime.  The Reagan White House continued to maintain Agricultural Credits with Iraq, and blocked congressional sanctions against Iraq.

In the most recent attack on Iraq, the US used White Phosphorous, Napalm and Depleted Uranium in contravention of all conventions.  According to a recent study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Fallujah now has a higher rate of cancer, leukaemia and infant mortality than Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Describing the effects on the ground, this report:

‘Young women in Fallujah are terrified of having children because of the increasing number of babies born grotesquely deformed, with no heads, two heads, a single eye in their foreheads, scaly bodies or missing limbs. In addition, young children in Fallujah are now experiencing hideous cancers and leukaemias.’ Researchers found a 38-fold increase in leukaemia, a ten-fold increase in female breast cancer and significant increases in lymphoma and brain tumours in adults.

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White phosphorus burns at extremely high temperatures and ignites clothing, fuel, ammunition and other combustibles.  If it lands on a person, it can burn through skin and bone.  The US used this on Iraq in 2004.   The number of deaths and injuries is not known.

The above list is not even a full history, but some of the most notable uses.  The US has consistently flouted international conventions on the use of chemical weapons.  Whether we are evaluating by death toll, legacy such as birth defects and crises of public health, or environmental impacts: the US it is the worst abuser of chemical weapons on the planet.

Convention? What Convention?

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The US has actively dodged conventions on the use of chemical weapons, and when it has seen fit to bother signing them, it has simply ignored them.

In 1907, the Hague Convention outlawed chemical weapons, but the US did not join the convention.

In 1928 (first signed 1925), the League of Nations (early attempt at a UN) produced the Geneva Protocol to prohibit gas and biological warfare; the US refused to join the League of Nations.

In 1947, President Harry Truman withdrew the Geneva Protocol from consideration by Congress.

In 1961, President Kennedy increased spending on chemical weapon development from $75m to $330m.

It was not until 1974 that the US ratified the 1928 Geneva Protocols, having spent the preceding years devastating Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia with Napalm and Agent Orange. Yet, by 1985 the US has resumed open air testing of biological agents and supplied these agents to Iraq for the following four years, during the period in which the Halabja massacre occurred.

In 1989, 140 nations condemned the use of chemical weapons at the Paris Conference, initiated by the US after the Iraqi gas attacks which they were in part responsible for; it was later revealed that the US was producing poison gas even as it signed the treaty.

The latest Chemical Weapons Convention was signed by the US in April 1997 and came into force the same day, and we have seen the level of chemical warfare they have engaged in since that date.

Hypocrisy

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The reality is, if we want to take action against the most dangerous violator of chemical weapons in our world – we need to take on the United States. This in no way excuses the use of chemical weapons by any other state or group.  But a US government that has devastated regions of Iraq with napalm, white phosphorus and depleted uranium must not be allowed to grandstand on the world stage without mention of these outrageous war crimes.  If we are to be serious about such international conventions, they must apply to all nations.

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27 thoughts on “The Shameful (and Recent) History of Chemical Weapons Abuses by the US Government

  1. In 1990, I visited Vietnam to discuss a joint venture project to build a chlorine/caustic soda plant to supply a MSG operation. I worked for a major U.S. chlorine producer. I was told by the Vietnam producer that the United States Army used their chlorine during the war to kill VC in tunnel systems.

  2. Pingback: Appelbaum, Campbell, Rusbridger on NSA and mass surveillance | Wikileaks on spies | Darker Net

  3. All very fascinating. But how does your clever-clever Hypocrisy Hunting help the Syrian people defend themselves against the might of Russia? About as much as Russian obstructionism and arms shipments, in fact.
    The real hypocrisy is that of those ignoring Russia’s intervention in Syria, which has no UN approval to my knowledge. Imagine the outcry if the US were to propose such an action, even on a limited scale against military targets and in response to an outrageous breach of the international convention on chemical weaponry, let alone as part of a concerted campaign to destroy all opposition to a brutal puppet regime.
    At times it goes beyond hypocrisy into a Looking-Glass fantsay world where the aggressor is the victim.
    The Guilty!
    http://www.radiozamaneh.com/92016#.Ug-otBa9a5Q

      • Talk to the Cossacks, who could have ended this two years ago if they didn’t value a warm-water port more highly than the lives fo the Syrian people. If they valued Human life at all.. let alone liberty, which doesn’t get a mention from the Intertians and Denialists, strangely enough, seeing as many of them never stop ranting about their ‘rights’ to carry assault weapons, to destroy science-teaching inschools, drill for oil in the Arctic, and every other reactionary, simple-minded agenda on the table.

  4. This is “birth control” to get rid of nations. In the US, black americans are lower in number and don’t seem to be growing at the same rates of other ethnicities. And honestly, when was the last time you’ve seen native americans in any type of number. I’ve lived in 5 states and have met maybe 4 total, and I have a very diverse group of friends and many activities. Middle Eastern populations are being controlled at this time. First you kill as many as possible, and the ones still alive are so damaged that they’ll give birth to kids who probably won’t reproduce, or in another generation won’t be able to. The number of children with disabilities these days seems to be EXPLODING and somehow no one seems to believe that all of these chemicals have long term effects on the populations.

    • People are dying, but bombing them is not going to solve that. The opposite in fact. Why isn’t there a peacekeeping mission, like Kosovo?

      Starting a war for peace is like fucking for virginity.

      • Who is going to ‘bomb them’?
        This kind of casual lying really has to be stamped on before it takes hold. There are many other examples of this kind of thing.
        As for civilian casualties of any attacks, ask the Syrian people if they are prepared to trade them for a future without torture-chambers and the regular massacres by the Assad clan.
        After 3 years of opposing the revolutions aacross the middle east, the reactionary pacifist sect now representing anti-imperialism is now backing Russian feudalism in its attempt to crush freedom of thought, which their brand of orientalist inertia politics is designed to.

      • am new to this site. absolutely LOVE your “starting a war for peace is like fucking for virginity.” we should get bumper stickers and badges with that on it. omg, I just LOVE it!!!

      • oops….sorry about that bad grammar….. need to ask a question: i don’t know who, if not you, originally said that thought about war and virginity, but i’d like to ask permission to use the sentence as a banner on all my email. i’ve been working hard to activate family and friends here in u.s. to write obama and their congressional reps to voice opposition to military strike(s) in syria. is like pushing a piece of spaghetti even though they are all opposed…. your sentence as a banner might get someone’s attention.

    • people are dying in Syria ower 3 years now. Why they decided to attack now? From other kind of weapons dyed much more people in Syria then from that chemical one.

  5. I don’t understand why chemical weapons are still being produced. If they are illegal to use why are they still making them? If they are illegal to use then why are they still being sold? Surely the conventions should have gone futher and banned not just their use but their manufacture too. It is inevitable that if they are available they will be used.

    The US has always and will always live by the motto in your illustration: do as we say not as we do. It will take a united world against them to stop them and unfortunately most of the world is under their control or simply enthralled by them. The only nation that appears to be non compliant with the US is Russia. They seem to be one of the few voice against US miitary strikes in the Syria Crisis. For me this is worrying, I’m old enough to remember the Cold War. The clear opposition between USA and Russia over Syria is highly volatile and I believe the only reason Obama did not order strikes before the G20 summit in St Petersburg is to avoid one hell of a diplomatic incident. Russia, even if they had not retaliated agaisnt the USA over military strikes, would not want a president they viewed as an agressor in their country, no matter where they were from.

    But it’s not just the possible diplomatic embarassment of the USA by Russia that concerns me about the current differences of opinion of these two superpowers. There is the strong possibility that one or other of them won’t be satisfied with just another Cold War between them. Putin is not only extremely vocal about his views on the current crisis in Syria and US intevention, he is also not afraid of his own power and ability to stand up to the USA. So I am concerned that they could lead us to another full scale world war. One where both sides not only have chemical weapons but weapons of mass distruction too. If the US is not afraid of any conventions banning the use of chemical weapons they are hardly likely to abide by the conventions relating to nuclear weapon use either.

    Unless the warmongering voices in the US are silenced, unless the US and Russia can come to an agreement over Syria then armageddon could be just around the corner. This is not longer just a question of the stability in the middle east and who has control. It is about the relationship between two of the worlds superpowers.

  6. Yes a very good and much needed summary of the current hypocritical posturing of Europe and the western elite, but I agree Israel is also a recent culprit in the use of Phosphorus and should be mentioned along with its prime weapons funder the USA.

    • Thanks for your comment and for sharing this for others. In terms of “why?”, this article was focused on US use of chemical weapons and as I say in the piece, the list I have shown is not exhaustive. Sadly, the list of atrocities is so long, I’d need a book, not a blogpost, to include them all.

      • Point taken; but as it’s the US who FUNDS such attacks on Palestinians, to the tune of 3.1 billion dollars paid to israel every year for decades, they’ve surely earned a mention in your otherwise excellent article.

      • the arch hypocrisy and posturing of any war or violence perpetrator is sickening and dangerous. assad’s violence is no worse than others…..and all of them need to be stopped. america “surgically” dealing w/ any storage of chemical weaponry in syria is going to hurt and kill more babies…..and more people, innocent or “guilty of whatever.” it may even be the spark that ignites a good part of the world. america and its henchmen are incredible criminals at the least. I don’t even have a word for them….and i live in the u.s. ashamed though i be. this site is great for information and trying to inspire us peaceniks not to give up hope. hopefully… :-)

    • You are completely correct with that – the US don’t consider it a chemical weapon, because it’s designed to destroy armaments. Just happens to also be completely toxic. Yes it should be included as motivation is irrelevant to the victims.

  7. Not sure anyone can or should ‘enjoy’ this article. Find it a useful point for reflection yes, but unless psychopaths contribute better than the rest, I wouldn’t opt for ‘enjoy’!

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