As we all know, the use of chemical weapons — or even the alleged use of chemical weapons — is the most heinous crime that can be committed by a government. It is worse that murdering civilians at weddings and funerals with drone missiles; it is worse than murdering teenage children for the crime of having fathers who had earlier been murdered for uncharged, unproven crimes; it is worse than launching wars of aggression on false premises that result in the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians; it is worse that imposing murderous sanctions that cause the unnecessary deaths of more than half a million innocent children; it is worse than dropping napalm on thousands of innocent civilians and literally burning them alive with unquenchable fire, and so on. Any nation or national leader that uses chemical weapons — other than napalm, white phophorous, depleted uranium and atomic bombs, of course — is cast beyond the pale of the human community, and must be summarily punished in order to preserve the “moral credibility” of the civilized world.
We know all this, because titans of moral rectitude like John Kerry and the Peace Prize Laureate his own self, Barack “Dronebomba” Obama, have told us this, at great, even nauseating length in the past few days. Indeed, Kerry went on the national teevee just the other day and declared that Bashar al-Assad was the equivalent of — wait for it — Hitler and Saddam Hussein because of his alleged use of chemical weapons.
It’s odd that Kerry didn’t include, say, Lloyd George in his list of beyond-the-pale villains who have used chemical weapons. Or even the deity of all interventionists, Winston Churchill, who was — as we’ve oft noted here — an enthusiastic advocate of the use of chemical weapons. The Guardian gave us a useful reminder of St. Winston’s predeliction for airborne poisons in Monday’s edition:
Secrecy was paramount. Britain’s imperial general staff knew there would be outrage if it became known that the government was intending to use its secret stockpile of chemical weapons. But Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war, brushed aside their concerns. As a long-term advocate of chemical warfare, he was determined to use them against the Russian Bolsheviks. In the summer of 1919, 94 years before the devastating strike in Syria, Churchill planned and executed a sustained chemical attack on northern Russia.
The British were no strangers to the use of chemical weapons. During the third battle of Gaza in 1917, General Edmund Allenby had fired 10,000 cans of asphyxiating gas at enemy positions, to limited effect. But in the final months of the first world war, scientists at the governmental laboratories at Porton in Wiltshire developed a far more devastating weapon: the top secret “M Device”, an exploding shell containing a highly toxic gas called diphenylaminechloroarsine. The man in charge of developing it, Major General Charles Foulkes, called it “the most effective chemical weapon ever devised”.
Trials at Porton suggested that it was indeed a terrible new weapon. Uncontrollable vomiting, coughing up blood and instant, crippling fatigue were the most common reactions. The overall head of chemical warfare production, Sir Keith Price, was convinced its use would lead to the rapid collapse of the Bolshevik regime. “If you got home only once with the gas you would find no more Bolshies this side of Vologda.”The cabinet was hostile to the use of such weapons, much to Churchill’s irritation. He also wanted to use M Devices against the rebellious tribes of northern India. “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes,” he declared in one secret memorandum. …
A staggering 50,000 M Devices were shipped to Russia: British aerial attacks using them began on 27 August 1919, targeting the village of Emtsa, 120 miles south of Archangel. Bolshevik soldiers were seen fleeing in panic as the green chemical gas drifted towards them. Those caught in the cloud vomited blood, then collapsed unconscious.
The attacks continued throughout September on many Bolshevik-held villages: Chunova, Vikhtova, Pocha, Chorga, Tavoigor and Zapolki. But the weapons proved less effective than Churchill had hoped, partly because of the damp autumn weather. By September, the attacks were halted then stopped. Two weeks later the remaining weapons were dumped in the White Sea. They remain on the seabed to this day in 40 fathoms of water.
Even in later years, St Winston was an eager advocate of mass murder with chemical weapons. I wrote about this almost 10 years ago, in a column for the Moscow Times, in which I also noted that Churchill eagerly “slaughtered his own people” in the firebombing of Dresden. Here is the column:
Entertain conjecture of a national leader, in the midst of a ferocious war, plotting to drop tens of thousands of anthrax “superbombs” on the civilian population of his enemy. At his order, his generals draw up a detailed plan for a chemical attack on six major cities: they estimate that millions will die immediately “by inhalation,” with millions more succumbing later through skin absorption of the poisons.
In the end, the leader is thwarted by objections from his aides and allies. To assuage his frustration, he launches another pet idea: “Operation Thunderclap,” a massive conventional bombing raid on the enemy’s capital, also aimed at civilians, designed to “castrate” the enemy population. In a single night, allied forces kill 25,000 people, almost all of them from the city’s working class and poorest districts.
Emboldened, he presses for yet another feast of fire and death. He gets it: a bombing raid on a non-military target, a cultural center, a city glutted with refugees, slave laborers and prisoners of war — his own soldiers and those of his allies. The raid kills 35,000 people or more; no one knows for sure, because the city is completely pulverized — and is bombed again immediately afterward, with special high explosives, in an attempt to kill any survivors hiding in the ruins.
A portrait of Saddam Hussein, at the height of the murderous Iran-Iraq war? No, it’s Winston Churchill, whose shadow looms so large over the carnage being conducted by his historically ignorant successors in the Anglo-American “coalition.” Churchill has long been anointed a secular saint by the chewed cud of received wisdom, especially in America, although those who knew him best seemed to like him least — he was booted out of office by his own people not once but twice: the first time before the end of World War II (which we are now told he won almost single-handedly).
As Mike Davis reports in his book, “Dead Cities,” Churchill’s plan to blanket Germany with 40,000 anthrax bombs was narrowly averted by Franklin Roosevelt. But Winston was allowed to wield his more conventional “thunderclaps” on the civilians of Berlin and then Dresden. Finally, the once-reluctant Americans succumbed to his policy of “terror bombing” and launched “Operation Meetinghouse,” the firebombing of Tokyo that killed more than 100,000 civilians in a single night. Although American war planners called the raid “nothing short of wonderful,” it was, in some respects, a disappointment: they had originally planned a six-city extravaganza with the carefully calibrated target of 584,000 civilian fatalities.
Oddly enough, these attacks were launched over the strenuous objections of some of America’s most battle-hardened military brass, Davis notes. Air Force General George McDonald railed against “indiscriminate homicide and destruction,” which “repudiates our past purposes and practices.” War Secretary Henry Stimson warned, “We don’t want the United States to get the reputation of outdoing Hitler in atrocities.” Major General Laurence Kuter declared “it is contrary to our national ideals to wage war against civilians.”
These honorable stances cut no ice with Churchill (or Roosevelt, in the end). Of course, the pendulously jowled prime minister was a mass-destruction fan from way back. In 1919, Churchill called for airborne chemical assaults on “uncooperative Arabs” (actually Kurds and Afghans, but your great men need not make such petty distinctions). “I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas,” he declared. “I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes.” Some years later, a certain A. Hitler would apply this gaseous philosophy to another troublesome “tribe.”
The two Teutonically-derived statesmen also shared a loathing for the lesser breeds. As Churchill put it with customary eloquence in 1937: “I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race, has come in and taken their place.” Hear! Hear! cried Hitler, as he sent his “higher-grade” hordes swarming eastward into the vast Slavic manger.
Churchill’s understandable thirst for revenge against the Nazis who had bombed English cities took a curious turn, however. The mass British counter-raids aimed at “breaking the enemy’s morale” were targeted almost exclusively against the “lower orders,” who died by the hundreds of thousands in the “area bombing” that neither broke civilian morale nor substantially hampered German war production (although it did waste the lives of thousands of allied airmen). Yet the sumptuous, undefended villas of Nazi leaders (the very men who had ordered the blitz on English cities) and major Nazi industrialists (who, along with their American partners like Prescott Bush, had built Hitler’s war machine) were specifically excluded from the attacks. What stirring chivalry among the warrior elite!
Today, Churchill’s bust adorns the office of George W. Bush — a gift from his loyal tributary, Tony Blair. Churchill is their lodestar, their magic totem, the mythic foundation of their “moral authority” as war leaders. But as history shows, there is no “moral authority” in war, even in a “good war”: There is only “indiscriminate homicide and destruction,” the unleashing of the beast within all of us — even the “great ones,” made drunk with power and terror.