Just before my unit was sent to Vietnam I was sent to Chemical-Biological-Radiological school in Fort McClellan, Alabama to become the company’s CBR officer. I was appalled by what I saw there. Although I was certainly experienced enough by then to realize war was horrible, I had no idea how horrible it could become due to the work of scientists who had devoted their life to devising new, if not better, ways of killing people. What I saw there led to many a sleepless night and made me question the very sanity of modern “civilization.” Dr. Strangelove took on a new meaning after my experiences there.
It would be hard to rate the levels of horror I felt as I learned more and more about chemical and biological instruments I had never heard of; I’ll just say that by the end of the course nuclear warfare seemed less horrifying than other possibilities.
The one part of the course I’ve never forgotten, though, was the lesson on nerve gas. The class instructor and his assistants put one drop of nerve “gas” on the nose of the goat to demonstrate its potency and how it could be counteracted by the administering of atropine. After the drop was applied, the goat immediately went into convulsions, spasming wildly! It wasn’t at all reassuring, either, that the atropine didn’t stop the convulsing and the animal died panting and foaming from the mouth.I was outraged that instructors would even submit a goat to that kind of torture. Needless to say, I couldn’t imagine how any civilized nation could resort to that kind of weapon. It made mustard gas seem positively benign in comparison. About the only good thing that could be said about it is that it didn’t destroy any valuable property, just people and animals.
I suspect that gives me a different perspective on Syria than most Americans. In most ways I’m probably more anti-war than the average American and have been so for a very long time. Personally, I’ve always believed that democracy and Imperialism, even in the form of American Capitalism, are incompatible. I started this blog in opposition to America’s invasion of Afghanistan and was even more adamant that our invasion of Iraq was both unjustified and unwise, though it might have been justified if we had invaded when Hussein used chemical weapons on the Iranians and the Kurds. Unfortunately, I suspect those agents were provided by the Americans, since we were his greatest ally in his border wars with the Iranians.
It’s clear that America doesn’t hold the moral high ground on these issues just as it is clear that it’s long past time to back away from a drone first-strike mentality. I’m certain that our drone attacks have created more enemies than they have killed. Common sense tells you that constantly firing rockets into another country in never going to gain you allies. Nor is it likely to ever kill enough enemies to deter the movement, as our own generals have repeatedly conceded.
All of that said, I wouldn’t have hesitated a moment to attack Assad and his generals once they had used nerve gas on their own people, and not just enemy troops. Of course, as a mere peasant, I’ve never understood the reason governments are unwilling to target the leaders of countries they are at war with. After all, it’s not the foot soldiers who decide whether or not to use bio-chemical weapons – or at least I certainly hope not. I would have sent a fleet of drones all with Assad’s name stencilled on them and taken him out, along with his commanders who at least had to be complicit in the use of the nerve agents.