Re: Fears of nanotech
Sun, 5 Sep 1999 12:04:56 -0400

On Sat, 04 Sep 1999 22:40:45 -0700 Mike Linksvayer <> writes:

> wrote:
Saddam Hussein COULD have used chemical or biological warheads in his SCUDs, but didn't. Hitler could have, but didn't use biological or chemical weapons on the > battlefield.> > Why?

During WWI, gas ('mustard' and chlorine) was used in the trench warfare in Europe, and the number of soldiers who died and were injured in that war was unprecedented. The use of gas was widely condemned as uncivilized, and after the war a treaty (The Geneva Convention) banned gas in warfare, and set up other 'rules of war'. This ban was respected by all parties during WWII. The use of gas by the nazis in their death camps was not (at least by the nazis) considered a violation of that ban. At the same time, gas masks were often carried by soldiers during WWII, because there was sometimes thought to be a risk of encountering gas. And some countries were prepared, to varying extents, to use gas in retaliation, if gas were to be used first by the other side.

So there is an analogy between gas in WWII and nuclear weapons in the years following WWII, up to and including today. In each case, countries which have the capability to use the weapons do not use them in practice, except perhaps as an implied threat.

There is another important difference between WWI and WWII. In WWI, attacks on civilians were rare, but in WWII, massive attacks on civilian population centers (mostly by bombing) were commonplace. For example, Germany bombed London and Coventry early in the war, and the Allies bombed Hamburg, Dresden, and Berlin much later. The fire bombing of Dresden created a firestorm which was about as destructive as an atomic bomb would have been, killing 100,000 people in a few hours. Japan used ground forces against the civilian population of Nanking, and late in the war the US extensively bombed Tokyo with incendiary bombs. When Truman announced the use of the atomic bomb against Hiroshima, he was not only announcing the event, but also the existence of the bomb. In his short speech, he described Hiroshima as 'a military base', and implied that the atomic bomb had been intended for use against Germany, as he said 'we have beaten the Germans in the race to discovery'. He also said 'we will continue to use the atomic bomb until Japan's ability to make war is ended'.

As for Saddam Hussein, there have been reports that chemical weapons were used in the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s, and by Iraq against Kurdish villages inside Iraq. My guess is that the reason Iraq did not use chemical weapons in the 1991 Gulf War was that Saddam Hussein was worried about the response that might bring.

Ron Kean




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