Home Opinion Opinion: Who used it first, the US or Syria?

Opinion: Who used it first, the US or Syria?

9 min read

A few minutes of research discredits the Oval Office’s case for bombing Syria.

According to the White House, chemical warfare is an insufferable atrocity, and the users of chemical weapons must be brought to justice, even if that requires military intervention. In response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s alleged use of sarin gas, President Barack Obama’s administration has adopted a principle that demands the retroactive punishment of regimes that deploy chemical weapons. Taken to heart, that principle leads to unwelcome conclusions.

For example, Israel—better known as ‘Our Friend and Ally, Israel’—used skin-melting white phosphorus weapons in its 2009 siege on Gaza. In order to uphold their newfound principles and avoid hypocrisy, the White House camarilla would be bound by duty to bomb Israel.

The United States also used white phosphorus during its 2004 attack on Fallujah. It would therefore appear that the U.S. is obliged to bomb itself, with or without congressional approval. American military forces also fired nearly 400 tons of a highly-toxic, radioactive, armor-piercing metal called depleted uranium during its two invasions of Iraq in 1991 and 2003, which some researchers believe is responsible for Gulf War Syndrome. Prior to these invasions, U.S. officials aided Saddam Hussein when he gassed Kurds in the 1980s. As part of a chemical warfare program known as Operation Ranch Hand, U.S. forces doused Vietnam with 19 million gallons of chemicals, including 11 million gallons of the herbicide known as Agent Orange. Throughout its invasion of Vietnam the U.S. used 373,000 tons of napalm, a flaming gel that sticks to skin. In a single bombing raid during World War II the U.S. dropped 1,665 tons of napalm-loaded shells on Tokyo, killing about 100,000 people in one night. In the midst of World War II the U.S. made 183 million pounds of mustard gas, which it tested on its own people. Most alarming of all, over the past few decades the U.S. has secretly developed and stockpiled weapons-grade anthrax in military facilities.

Apologists for the White House might argue that these events all occurred within the context of a legitimate war, unlike Assad’s assault on his fellow Syrians. Such apologists might be dismayed to learn that in 1951 the U.S. Navy, in conjunction with the Army Chemical Corps, launched Operation Sea-Spray which showered San Francisco residents with the bacterium Serratia marcescens and caused an outbreak of illness that killed at least one man. In the mid-1950s the U.S. military initiated Operation Big Buzz and Operation Drop Kick in which almost one million mosquitoes were rained from aircraft in order to test the dispersal patterns of weaponized insects that were infected with yellow fever and allowed to feast on civilian populations. According to one account, “Hundreds of residents fell ill, suffering from fevers, respiratory distress, stillbirths, encephalitis, and typhoid. Army researchers disguised themselves as public health workers in order to photograph and test the victims. Several deaths were reported.”

Aside from these events, another kink in the White House’s case is the fact that no bulletproof evidence exists which proves Assad used chemical weapons. Suspiciously enough, Obama ordered Secretary of State John Kerry to instruct Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to halt U.N. investigations into the matter. In breach of basic legal principles, the White House has elected to forgo the need to provide proof that establishes the guilt of the accused. Perhaps the Oval Office tried to block the investigation because insiders knew such an inquiry would disprove their claims, especially in light of the fact that U.N. investigators found evidence which suggests the U.S.-backed anti-Assad rebel forces used sarin gas.

As the current imbroglio with Syria makes clear, chemical weapons are vilified far beyond conventional weapons. This vilification is curious considering that common weapons will kill people just as well as nerve agents; a bullet will easily blow your brain out the back of your gas mask. Nevertheless, according to prevailing attitudes, spraying bullets is permissible but spraying chemicals is barbarous.

But if a child is killed in war as collateral damage, the parent doesn’t much care whether it was caused by a gas or a solid.

For some reason, U.S. officials are easily roused to action when it comes to opposing the killing of innocent bystanders that accompanies the use of chemical weapons, and yet they refuse to sign international treaties banning land mines and cluster bombs, while continuing to manufacture nuclear weapons, all of which kill people indiscriminately. In light of the U.S.’s moral posturing against chemical weapons, it is useful to recall that the U.S. is the only nation to use both chemical and nuclear weapons in warfare.

It is also useful to recall that if a multitude of Americans gathered in public to protest against bombing Syria, the police would deploy chemical weapons and pepper spray the eyes of peaceful protestors while suffocating them in a painful cloud of tear gas.

There is one lesson to be learned from the situation is Syria that applies everywhere: people of the world should reject violence-prone leaders who are too irresponsible or too untalented or too cowardly to relentlessly pursue diplomatic solutions.

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One Comment

  1. Frank Bumb

    September 11, 2013 at 12:15 PM

    We’re really going to compare tear gas (which is NOT covered by the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention) to Sarin and other nerve gasses? Really? That’s the equivalency you’re going to draw? Par for the course, I guess.

    Nor is white-phosphorous covered under the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention or is anywhere close to Sarin. The reason being that white phosphorous is, by the military, primarily used as a smoke screens for providing cover and concealment for ground troops. Can it cause harm in direct contact? Sure, but that is not its primary purpose. You’re doing the rough equivalent of saying the military must ban flares because while their primary purpose is to illuminate and to locate people but someone can severely burn themselves with direct contact.

    Depleted uranium, likewise, is not a chemical weapon as defined in either the 1993 CWC or the 1925 Geneva Protocol because the damage you’re referring to (radiation) is not a chemical process. Furthermore, Depleted Uranium Munitions have been ruled out, repeatedly, as a cause of Gulf War Syndrome. To whit:

    “In the Balkans war zone where depleted uranium was also used, no GWS-like symptoms or illnesses have been identified(…)”

    “A group of veterans with high levels of uranium in their urine from embedded particles have been monitored for any adverse health effects of these particles dissolving, and no such effects have been identified.” (Friedl, K. E.; Grate, S. J.; Proctor, S. P. (2009).)

    Maybe try actually researching what actual researchers believe before you try making an insinuation. The U.S. has enough legitimate issues with its conduct with out you adding in the spurious and conspiracy theories.

    As to Agent Orange: It is a herbicide and defoliant, and not covered under the controlling chemical weapon agreements.

    Napalm, likewise, is used as an explosive and incendiary weapon. Its process does not rise to the level of Sarin.

    Further, it is incredibly naive, simplistic, and shows zero regard to history to compare the use of wide-area bombing in WWII when there were literally ZERO advanced weapons guidance for munitions compared to the present day.

    The U.S., along with every great power, stockpiled weapons such as mustard gas specifically to act as the equivalent of mutually-assured destruction. It is precisely BECAUSE the U.S. and U.K. held such stockpiles that the Nazis never used THEIR chemical weapon stockpiles against Allied troops. For a lesson in what happens when you don’t have such a deterrent, take a look at what the Japanese did to the Chinese.

    Operation Big Buzz, Drop Kick (along with other such tests) do represent criminal uses of weaponized chemical and biological weapons. So I’ll agree with you there and move on.

    Also, I want to be clear on something before I respond: Are you asserting that it was the rebels that perpetrated the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack and not the Assad regime? I want to be absolutely clear on that before I respond to that topic.

    Further, the constant desire to draw an equivalence between chemical weapons and conventional arms does not take into account the nature of the chemical weapons we’re talking about: They are odorless, colorless, tasteless and can kill within one minute. By the time you realize something has happened (and even if you process exactly what IS happening accurately) it’s already too late. If you hear gunfire or shelling, you can attempt to flee the target area. You have no such warning with Sarin, VX, etc. Also, the manner of death is significantly different:

    “Initial symptoms following exposure to Sarin are a runny nose, tightness in the chest and constriction of the pupils. Soon after, the victim has difficulty breathing and experiences nausea and drooling. As the victim continues to lose control of bodily functions, the victim vomits, defecates and urinates. This phase is followed by twitching and jerking. Ultimately, the victim becomes comatose and suffocates in a series of convulsive spasms.”

    But let’s take your point on moral outrage of chemical vs. conventional to its logical conclusion: The U.S. should have stopped the – conventional or chemical – slaughter of Syrian civilians by Assad long ago and never allowed this point to be reached. If that’s the point you’re attempting to make, then bravo Mr. Abram! But given your track record in your columns, I sincerely doubt that you’re going for the angle of alleviating the mass slaughter of civilians by an oppressive dictator. Why do that when you can make rhetorical points against the United States? Easy to do when your ivory tower is not the one being covered in Sarin.

    But to end on a note of agreement: “people of the world should reject violence-prone leaders who are too irresponsible or too untalented or too cowardly to relentlessly pursue diplomatic solutions.”

    I absolutely agree with this. So tell me, what should the people of the world do to Assad? What should the people of the world do to a dictator that, when faced by peaceful protests from civilians, begins to slaughter them in the thousands? How, exactly, do you propose to “reject” such leaders? Perhaps you should go lead sit-ins, street protests and wave banners urging diplomacy in Syria! Surely THAT will make Assad see the error of his ways!

    Your closing statement makes absolutely NO differentiation between the person who responds with mass violence, borderline genocide, to initial peaceful protests and calls for reform and the people that are trying to stop said mass murder. Your inability to do so (and proclivity for automatically assuming the U.S. has to be at fault) is perhaps the single constant throughout all of your writings.


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