Tag Archives: chemical weapons

Old Wounds

The ancient fort of Dura-Europos in Syria – possibly the site of one of the world’s first chemical attacks.

The ancient fort of Dura-Europos in Syria – possibly the site of one of the world’s first chemical attacks.

With Syria in the news lately, the specter of chemical warfare once again rears its despicable, gassy head.  If Syrian President Bashar al-Assad really did attack a select number of his own civilians with mustard gas, sarin, or another agent, it actually won’t be the first time such an event has occurred in the region.  Archaeology Magazine reports that around A.D. 256, Roman soldiers at a fort in Dura-Europos – a part of the Sasanian Empire – fell victim to a chemical attack.  There’s no written account of the battle, but recent analyses of remains unearthed in the 1920s and 1930s substantiate claims made by University of Leicester archaeologist Simon James in 2009.

Until then, scientists thought the soldiers had died when the tunnel they apparently tried to utilize to enter the fort collapsed.  Now, according to James, sulfur residue found along in a jar near several of the bodies reveals a bloodier truth.  The Sasanians had strategically placed fire pits throughout the tunnel.  As the Romans encroached, the Sasanians added sulfur crystals and bitumen to the fires.  The invaders inhaled the toxic fumes and perished alongside their armor.

Defining ancient chemical attacks is obviously difficult, if not impossible.  But, in this case, the remains of that sulfur makes it pretty clear what happened.  More importantly, it shows that while we modern folks think we’ve invented everything, history always upstages us.

1 Comment

Filed under History

Okay, Let’s Attack Syria, But…


President Obama has placed himself into a quandary with Syria.  As the world observes what can only be deemed a human atrocity with a chemical assault upon Syrian civilians, the United States collectively contemplates intervention.  Obama won the presidency in 2008 primarily based on his opposition to the Iraq War – the illegitimate enterprise launch by the draft-dodging George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.  We now know that American oil interests used the horror of 09/11 to justify the invasion of Iraq.  Those same entities are surely behind Obama’s sudden desire to attack Syria.

It’s amazing how the U.S. government selects its battles.  President Bill Clinton says he didn’t interfere in the 1994 Rwandan massacre because he simply had no idea what had happened; a dubious claim at best.  Ronald Reagan sent covert military operatives into Central America allegedly to stamp out any communist insurgencies.  In reality, U.S. conglomerates like United Fruit wanted to maintain their lock on local commodities.

Chemical warfare is nothing new.  Technically, people have been using them for millennia; starting with poisoned arrows.  They gained prominence, however, at the start of the 20th century with a chlorine gas attack in Belgium in 1915.  Germany made good use of them during World War I.  Consequently, in 1925, an assemblage of nations banned chemical weapons with the Geneva Protocol.  But, things always look great on paper.

No one jumped when Saddam Hussein used mustard gas and sarin against Kurdish civilians in 1988; perhaps because the U.S. might have been involved.  Hussein may have used chemical weapons against the U.S. military during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.  A decade ago the U.S. accused Hussein of stockpiling uranium, which of course, prompted the invasion.  Notice how these things are cyclical?

Now Obama wants to don the mantle of international hero by ousting Bashar al-Assad.  So far, he hasn’t convinced too many in the U.S. Congress, nor has he been able to persuade our biggest ally, Great Britain.  He plans to take his case to the American public in a televised address tomorrow night.  Good luck.

But, if the U.S. does plan to attack Syria, here are two conditions I’d like to see take place first:

  • Raise taxes on the wealthiest citizens and largest corporations to fund the war.  Our engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan occurred without the benefit of significant tax revenue, which ultimately led to the current economic crisis.  Besides, all those rich folks and oil conglomerates are the one who benefited the most from the conflicts.
  • Institute the military draft for every able-bodied person ages 18 – 25.  But, this time include women and rich men.  Yes, if women want to be treated as equals to men in business and politics, that means they have to serve alongside men on the battlefield.  In the past, sons of affluent families have been able to bypass military service.  (Mitt Romney comes to mind.)  But, if those boys can expend energy racing their million-dollar speed boats or partying all night in Cancún, then they can damn well haul rucksacks across the Syrian desert.  There also should be no exceptions for conscientious objectors, such as Mormons, Amish, or Jews.

I won’t hold my breath on passage of either.  I know it’s a long shot to expect multi-millionaires to share the tax burden (not their hard-dollar wealth), or for “Millenials” to set down their I-pods and actually do something constructive.  But, what’s life worth if you can’t dream?  Ultimately, my dream is for the Syrian people to rise up and depose al-Assad all on their own.  Regardless, war is just too ugly for only a handful of people to endure.

Image courtesy Warrior of Ideas.

1 Comment

Filed under Essays