I smell gas…where can the children go?

A child’s grave in the Kühner-Schramm Family Cemetery. Photo by Wilhelm Kühner (2016).
“We saw everyone was on the ground. People were squirming. Some had foam coming out of their mouths. We started picking people up…I couldn’t breathe.”
— Khaled al-Nasr (Reuters: April 5, 2017)

On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. Of course, the U.S. no longer declares war and has even stopped disclosing information about troop deployments to the American people. But in the war to end all wars that had been raging for nearly three years, the U.S. formally and constitutionally entered the fighting almost exactly two years after the Germans first introduced chemical weapons into World War I.

Washington Daily News (Washington, N.C.), November 05, 1915 — DigitalNC.org.

The Germans used chlorine gas on April 22, 1915, and by November of that same year the “ingenuity and resourcefulness of the American brain” was already putting their methods to use domestically to control prairie dogs. By 1918, the U.S. government was mass producing toxic gases at the Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, where they would later use them in low doses in extensive human experiments on U.S. soldiers (under informed consent) between 1948 and 1975. However, the mass production of poison gases by the U.S. that started in 1918 was not well known to many Americans until the end of the war the following year. From the Polk County News and The Tryon Bee, January 31, 1919:

While the men who have been working in shipyards and munitions plants have received just praise for their fulfilment of patriotic duty, there is an army of men 10,000 strong who have worked faithfully, carefully screened from public notice, performing some of the most important work of the war…Day after day they have secretly worked in the manufacture of the poisonous gases which routed the Huns and impressed upon the Germans the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the American brain.
Shells are filled with mustard agent on Edgewood Arsenal Nov. 11, 1918. | U.S. Army photo (via APG News).
These men of the Edgewood arsenal stayed on American soil, never had the excitement of an ocean voyage or adventure in a foreign country or the hero worship of those who have been overseas, and yet while staying right in this country they ran greater risks than many of the men on the firing line…
Phan Thi Kim Phu fleeing napalm, by Nick Ut — Fair use.

The Syrian attack currently in the news is horrific, but it’s unfortunately just the latest episode in our tragic 100 year legacy of using poison gas against our enemies. Germany was first, but the U.S. soon followed their lead. A chemical weapons attack by allies of the U.S., which my brother was serving in another undeclared war in Vietnam, would become one of the most iconic photographs of my childhood.

Today we have video from Syria, and we turn our heads or thump our chests for even more violence — targeted, of course, and using ordinary explosives for the “sane” ones among us. Meanwhile, the children continue to run and hide. But where can they go? Perhaps we could use the “ingenuity and resourcefulness of the American brain” to figure something out?

Just think of the beautiful little babies. How many more children have to die before Amerika cares? Maybe history provides some clues about what we should do?

By Giulia Afiune and John Wihbey for Pacific Standard (March 9, 2017).

And, just as importantly, what we should not do…

By Joshua Keating for Slate (March 6, 2017).

Update — April 7: Not surprisingly, an unpopular president under FBI and Senate/House investigations for colluding with the Russians to rig his election has lashed out at their allies for crossing lines — which they have now been warned not to do when killing children. And as long as it doesn’t start WWIII, we’ll probably just go back to quietly bombing Syria — and Iraq, which we have been doing almost daily since 1991 — and forget about the “beautiful little babies” killed regularly by conventional explosives (or drones) by far too many nations (including my own). So in the final analysis, the most pressing question remains (even without the poison gas): Where can the children go?

By Greg Grandin for The Nation (April 7, 2016).
By Zack Beauchamp for Vox (April 6, 2017).
By Greg Grandin for The Nation (Janurary 15, 2017).
By Josie Ensor and Roland Oliphant for The Telegraph (April 7, 2016).

If you enjoyed this post, please click the heart to recommend it. You might also like my eBook about my German ancestors who came to America in the 18th Century to escape wars and religious persecution in their own native home.

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