Thursday, September 5, 2013

My Chemical Weapons Romance

So here’s the deal with chemical weapons:

The “Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare” prohibits the use (not the manufacturing, storage, or sale) of chemical and biological weapons. It was signed in Geneva on June 17, 1925, but by World War II, the United States still had not ratified the treaty (nor had Japan). This is what people actually mean when they say “the Geneva Convention” with respect to chemical weapons.

I'm not sure what they're talking about here, though.
Despite not having ratified the treaty, the United States did not use chemical weapons during WWII. Why could this be? We’re all familiar with the horrors of mustard gas and whatnot during WWI, but where were these horrors in WWII? Are we really supposed to believe that this treaty, not even ratified by two of the primary players during the war, kept us all in check [1], at the same time that we developed and deployed the first nuke?

It's scarier in color, isn't it?
The answer is no, we shouldn’t believe this, because the idea is fucking idiotic. The reality is that, by the end of WWI, chemical weapons were no longer effective thanks to those famous gas masks we all like to use during foreplay. Uh, we all do that, right?

Anyway, even the fucking horses had gas masks by the end of WWI, which made chemical weapons next to useless against any well equipped army. The whole effort to ban these weapons would never have happened had they retained their usefulness. Just look at how nukes have played out: no one who has them will agree to get rid of them, because they’re fucking effective. No one’s going to give that up. But we’ll gladly ban the blunderbuss and pat ourselves on the back for being great humanitarians.

So why do we still see Saddam Hussein dropping mustard gas on the Kurds and whatnot? Well, remember what I said about chemical weapons being ineffective against well equipped armies. In the Middle East, or any place where the “armies” are about as well armed as your average goat herder, it’s a whole other story. Without a gas mask, you’re fucked.

They use blunderbusses too, the bastards.
This is why the only use of chemical weapons during WWII, Japan in China and Italy in Ethiopia [2], were against poorly armed populations. It’s also why chemical weapons tend to be used against populations that are often defined as “unarmed” or “civilian.” This gets peaceniks all in a huff and claiming that chemical weapons are instruments of “terror” and “mass murder,” but somehow not of warfare.

Newsflash: winning a war requires both terror and mass murder.

Pictured: mass fucking murder
The people who want to put rules around warfare seem to think that a war involves clearly divided lines, like a video game that doesn’t let you shoot non-combatants. All of the soldiers are in this place, all of the civilians in that one. The civilians have nothing to do with the soldiers and vice versa. When the last soldier is defeated, the war is won.

Good guys white, bad guys red. How hard is that, Syria?
This is not how it works. People are not born soldiers. They have to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is the civilian population. Nor are armies supported, financially and spiritually, by themselves in a purely internal, self-sustaining process. The “home front” is an actual front on which successful wars must be fought. This is why Hitler expended so much effort to win over German women and why Rosie the Riveter continues to be one of the most iconic women of all time. Civilians are a crucial component of any war effort, and when the war is actually taking place within your borders (“at home”), the line between civilian and soldier can be invisible if not non-existent. Those are some actual blurred lines for you.

So if your justification for “punishing” Syria for its use of chemical weapons is that chemical weapons are illegitimate because they don’tfurther the ultimate goal of war, you need to check your superpower privilege. Not every country can afford gasmasks for all of its soldiers and civilians. Not every country has had over 100 years of domestic tranquility. Oh, and when we didn’t? You’d better believe we targeted the shit out of civilians. We burned farms, we burned cities. Hell, even the Emancipation Proclamation itself was an attempt to gum up the works not in the Confederate Army but in Confederate society.

This never would have happened had the South ratified the Geneva Protocol.
Wars end when the costs rise too high to continue, and that cost is usually being tallied and weighed by civilians. A soldier’s life is already viewed as forfeit. How many soldiers have to die for war to end? All of them [3]. Not because they’re the ones doing the fighting, but because they’re the ones standing between the bullet and the people who put them there to catch said bullet. We talk about human shields- what are soldiers but the ultimate human shields? Ones we don’t have to feel bad about using, because once a man becomes a uniform and a serial number, it’s easy to ignore his humanity.

On a scale from 1 to sociopath, how comfortable are you with sending these men to die?
The correct response to a human shield is to ignore it- or to go around it. To end a war, make the civilians feel the cost of war. For people who already live in gross poverty under an oppressive society, a tyrannical government, and perpetual civil unrest, it’s going to be pretty fucking hard to drive the cost to the point where they finally think “Yeah, I was better off before all this revolution stuff.”

"The rebels gave me a sweet ride!"
I don’t support the Syrian government. It’s evil in just about every way. But what makes them evil is not the way in which they choose to fight their civil war. Latching onto chemical weapons to justify entering this conflict is a cowardly cop-out. It’s a tactic to avoid evaluating the two sides, because if anyone looks closely at these rebels, they won’t be able to justify taking their side any more than they can justify taking Assad’s. It’s a long and difficult debate to identify who the lesser of these two evils is and from there an even longer debate to justify intervention. For starters, you’d have to recognize that “Syria” is not now and has never been a cohesive entity and that there aren’t really two sides at war with each other but ten or twelve. Arab Sunnis, Alawite Shias, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Turks, Christians, Ba’athists, and Druze, to name a few. Oh, and then you’d have to answer the question “Why Syria?” and not any of the other mass-murdering, civilian-torturing, chemical weapons-using countries. Unfortunately the “yes we can” presidency doesn’t have the stamina for this debate, thus we fall back on the tired old WMD standby.

"It was the other guy, I swear! OSCAAAAAR!!!"
Let’s hope Assad looks as good in a hole.

Peace and love,

S. Misanthrope

[1] Japan did employ chemical weapons against China, and Italy did so in Ethiopia.
[2] Italy had even ratified the Geneva Protocol already. Tsk tsk. Can we bomb them next and annex all the gelato?
[3] During World War I, approximately 71% of the eligible male population (males between ages 18 and 45) of France were killed or injured in combat. 71%. Just let that sink in.

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