What Are Chemical Weapons: From World War One to Syria and Back

On Tuesday, April 4th, the Syrian Government launched a chemical weapons attack on Syrian citizens, causing more than 80 deaths, 30 of which were children. The attack was carried out in a  rebel held town in rural Syria. US officials claim that the chemicals were dropped by Syrian government planes, while the Syrian government and Russia deny this.

What is Wrong With Using Chemical Weapons?

Hundreds of horrific events are associated with war, but many have noticed that the  international community takes the use of chemical weapons as an injustice that should not be associated with war. Why?

The use of chemical weapons began in WW1 in Europe, and the effects were so horrific, even opposing sides found the effects of the weapons disturbing and morally reprehensible. Therefore, between WW1 and WW2, the use of chemical weapons were universally banned in an agreement called the Geneva Protocol, signed and ratified by affected nations in 1925. During the cold war period, many nations began stock piling chemical weapons, causing the international diplomatic community to address the looming threat of a humanitarian crisis. 20 years ago, an additional agreement called the Chemical Weapons Convention was signed at the Conference on Disarmament by 192 nations in Geneva.

The use of chemical weapons is considered inhumane as it causes a slow and painful death that mutilates the skin and organs.

What is a Chemical Weapon?

A chemical weapon is a chemical or combination of chemicals that is toxic to the human body. The concentration of the chemical, or mixture of chemicals causes an extreme reaction when in contact with skin, or breathed in. Depending on what is used, victims of a chemical attack will develop severe burns on their skin and in their lungs.

In WW1, mustard gas and chlorine were used to burn the skin and choke opposing forces. An estimated 100,000 deaths were caused by chemical weapons in WW1, and one million deaths have been caused by chemical weapons since. In Syria, the government is using a chemical called Sarin, which causes pain beyond that of the substances used in WW1.

About Sarin

Sarin was originally developed in Germany as a pesticide in 1938. Once it was discovered that it causes terrible effects on the body, it was turned into a nerve gas.

In its original state, Sarin is a liquid that is clear and oder-less, but can be evaporated into a gas. It is heavier than air so it easily sinks down to the ground to affect civilians. It cannot be detected until it is inhaled or comes in contact with the skin.

Exposure to small amounts of Sarin would result in watery eyes, weakness, headache, difficulty breathing and possibly fainting. According to biopsies carried out in Turkey, Syrian civilians were exposed to large amounts of Sarin, and possibly some Chlorine. Exposure to large amounts of Sarin causes loss of consciousness, paralysis (not being able to move), convulsions (violent involuntary movements, generally from the abdomen), and an inability to breath. Large exposure to Sarin almost always leads to death.

Work Cited:



What sarin, the chemical weapon used in Syria, does to your body




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