Books and Culture has an fascinating review of two books about nerve gas:
War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda by Jonathan Tucker
Chemical Warfare: A Study in Restraints by Frederic Brown
Some quotes from the review:
My favorite of Tucker’s tales is the story of Boris Libman, a native of Latvia who could have walked straight out of the works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Born in 1922, Libman was just 18 when the invading Russians confiscated his family’s land and property and drafted him into the Soviet Army. He was seriously wounded early in the war, returned to duty after a long recovery, and was again badly wounded, the second time left for dead. He survived the war and applied to study at the Moscow Institute for Chemistry tuition-free as an honorably discharged disabled veteran. Libman was turned down because he was officially dead. He managed to prove he was alive, attended university, and became quite a talented chemical engineer. He supervised production of thousands of tons of nerve gas on impossible schedules for many years. In trying to do his best for the Soviet Union, he made an error with a containment pond for toxic wastes. A storm caused a flood, the pond burst its dike, and tons of toxic waste poured into the Volga River. Months later the delayed effects of the spill killed millions of fish for 50 miles downriver. Libman was blamed and sent to a labor camp to appease an outraged public. But as it turned out, no one else could run the nerve gas plant, and Libman was quietly released and returned to work after one year.
Poison gases were used in WWI, but not to any large degree in WWII. All sides recognized the hideousness of these weapons, and the tactical difficulties in their use. Modern day terrorists don’t have the same qualms:
Quite rightly, Brown took a measure of comfort in reflecting that the restraints which existed in World War II continued in the Cold War era. Alas, this modest reassurance does not carry over to our own day. Terrorists are not soldiers. As their name suggests, their purpose is to inflict terror on the civilian population, while at the same time they can trust traditional Western reticence not to respond with indiscriminate murder in retaliation.
Grace and Peace