Why chemical attacks are so shocking

Alexia Klingler

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Chemical weapons are almost as old as the war. Yale University’s researchers recently demonstrated Persian army had asphyxiated dozens Roman soldiers in the 3rd century before Christ, by sending on a tunnel sulfur dioxide made thanks to wood charcoal.

On April 4th, sarin gas — a substance 500 times more toxic than cyanide — was used to kill 90 inhabitants of Khan Sheikhoun in Syria’s Idlib province.

Suddenly, like after every chemical attack, the whole world got outraged.

It was a slow and brutal death for so many — even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.

Chemical weapons are more likely to provoke reactions from international community that classic bombings, even though the latter is most of the time the greater killer.

According to Richard M. Price, author of The Chemical Weapon Taboothere are three main reasons.
Chemical Weapons are first indiscriminate. Gas has no favorite and kill indistinctly soldiers and civilians. They are also invisible and odorless and it betrays the old theory of “just war”. Fighters are supposed to know their enemy and oppose face to face. The pictures of victims dying slowly strengthen this feeling of a coward and immoral method.

The third reason Richard Price mentions is that there is also a kind of tradition installed during the 20th century : the less chemical weapons were used the more they were feared and so, the first weapon of mass destruction was even less employed.

Even Hitler, who had a huge stock of chemical substances, refused to use it on the battlefield, what led Richard Price to comment :

‘They must be really bad if even Hitler wouldn’t use them’

It is only on April 29th, 1997 that an agreement for the prohibition of Chemical Weapons has been reached. The arm control treaty outlaws the production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and their precursors.

Among the 165 signatories States can be found United States, Russia, France, but Syria as well. Bashar Al-Assad ratified the Convention on October 2013 after operating a chemical disarmament — at least, officially.

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Alexia Klingler

MA Journalism student, Griffith College Dublin.