Innocence slaughtered : gas and the transformation of warfare and society
London : Uniform Press, 2016
p. 22-45 : photogr., ill.
Although poisons are naturally occurring substances whereas asphyxiating gases are the product of scientific and technological advancement, no distinction exist between the two from a toxicological perspective. Nevertheless, the delegates at the 1899 Hague Peace Conference made no direct association between poisoned weapons and asphyxiating gases: the former was considered an ancient barbarous mode of warfare, whose long-standing customary prohibition generated no controversy, while asphyxiating gases were perceived as a novel development spawned by the growing impact of science and technology on society and industry. This diverging understanding of toxic substances led to the adoption of two separate documents, one unconditionally outlawing the use of poison in warfare (Hague Convention (II) on the Laws and Customs of War on Land) and one narrowly focusing on the use of projectiles the sole object of which is the diffusion of asphyxiating gases (Hague Declaration (IV, 2) concerning Asphyxiating Gases). This chapter describes how advances in chemistry and chemical industry during the final years of the 19th century shaped the legal regime applicable to poisonous weapons and asphyxiating gases which ultimately enabled the Germans to deny that they had violated the laws of war when they introduced chemical weapons to the battlefield during World War I by opening the valves of chlorine-filled cylinders.