Straight Talk from Al Jacobs
THE INHUMANITY OF GAS
The report is surreal: “Dozens killed in poison gas attack on Damascus suburb. Rescue workers found 42 who suffocated in their homes.” The U.S. State Department issues a statement: “These reports are horrifying and demand an immediate response by the international community.” Trump tweets Assad of “… a big price to pay.”
During a prior war, the United Kingdom, in November 1943, conducted a series of aerial bombings to residential areas of Berlin, igniting fires and leaving 4,000 killed, 10,000 injured and 450,000 made homeless. The crews of the 440 Avro Lancasters were afterward commended for their brave service and devotion to duty.
I recall the U.S Army Air Corps firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945, where our B-29 raid resulted in the destruction of 16 square miles of the city. The raid, conducted by then-Major General Curtis LeMay, dropped a half-million cylinders of napalm and white phosphorus which turned the city into a firestorm and an estimated 100,000 civilian deaths. As LeMay later said, “Killing Japanese didn’t bother me very much.” He later served as commander of the Strategic Air Command and afterward promoted to Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force.
A momentous day in history occurred on August 6, 1945, when the B-29 bomber Enola Gay, flown by Colonel Paul W. Tibbets, dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima, Japan. The city was mostly destroyed and tens of thousands of its inhabitants died. Those that survived suffered from every conceivable malady, with radiation sickness causing lingering illness and death over the years. The creators of this new weapon were lauded for their ingenuity; Colonel Tibbits received a promotion to brigadier general. After his retirement he became president of Executive Jet Aviation.
On June 19, 1879, General William Tecumseh Sherman, addressing the graduation class of Michigan Military Academy, said: “You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!”
And with that, I’ll pose a question for which I have no answer. What is it about a wartime gassing that is somehow less commendable than a wartime firebombing or a wartime atomic attack?