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Monday, October 14, 2013

Why the return of chemical weapons is a big deal

One day people will rue the day that poison gas was re-introduced into class warfare and the antiwar movement sat on its hands.

Poison gas is the perfect ultimate weapon for the bourgeois to use against the proletariat. That is why Assad is using it now.

When he took back Qusayr from the revolution, he started to move Shia and Alawite families into the formerly Sunni town in an attempt to secure it through ethnic cleansing. Problem was, since he had taken Qusayr with conventional bombardment, there wasn't a lot left standing to move them into. By using a poison gas that disperses within hours, he solves that problem.

Poison gas is the perfect weapon for the bourgeois to use against the 99% because it doesn't destroy their precious property, only human lives. And there is the sheer terror of an odorless gas that comes in the night and kills the children first. It is the very best weapon for putting down rebellions. With conventional bombardment the Syrian landlords have to destroy their buildings to kill the people. Even where the 1% has nukes, they can hardly threaten to nuke a restive neighbourhood, and biologicals are very tricky. How can you be sure they won't migrant to the local Beverly Hills?

Chemical weapons don't have these problems. Given modern weather forecasting abilities, poison gas can be accurately applied to selective neighborhoods, killing all people and animals but leaving most property unharmed. That alone assures it of a big role in imperialism's battle to remain on top as the struggle between rich and poor intensifies in this century.

Worldwide revulsion at the horrors caused by the use of poison gas on the battlefields of what they called "the Great War," before we knew enough to number them, forced an international ban on chemical weapons. As the great powers moved on to even more grotesque weapons, their role as the "poor man's nukes" help keep the ban in place. That ban has held for almost a hundred years with only one important violation until recently.

From Wikipedia, we see that poison gas proved to be a particularly ineffective weapon in the war between imperialist powers but that right after the war it started to be used for colonial and mass suppression before mass opposition force the ban that is now being violated:
By the end of the war, chemical weapons had lost much of their effectiveness against well trained and equipped troops. At that time, chemical weapon agents were used in one quarter of artillery shells fired but caused only 3% of casualties.[43]

Nevertheless, in the following years, chemical weapons were used in several, mainly colonial, wars where one side had an advantage in equipment over the other. The British used adamsite against Russian revolutionary troops in 1919 and allegedly used mustard gas against Iraqi insurgents in the 1920s; Bolshevik troops used poison gas to suppress the Tambov Rebellion in 1920, Spain used chemical weapons in Morocco against Rif tribesmen throughout the 1920s[44] and Italy used mustard gas in Libya in 1930 and again during its invasion of Ethiopia in 1936.[45]
You will note while it was no longer used in inter-imperialist rivalries, chemical weapons found ready application as a weapon of mass rebellion suppression up until the Geneva Protocols were adopted, and even after. Saddam Hussein’s murder of 5,000 Kurds with poison gas was also a use of this type. The Wikipedia entry goes on to say that mass opposition to the use of chemical weapons led to the ban:
Public opinion had by then turned against the use of such weapons which led to the Geneva Protocol, an updated and extensive prohibition of poison weapons. The Protocol bans the use (but not the stockpiling) of lethal gas and bacteriological weapons, which was signed by most First World War combatants in 1925. 
The Geneva Protocol protections that public pressure won are really quite limited. Ratifying countries were free to stockpile chemical weapons and free to use them if they were used against them. It was violated in its first decade by Italy in Abyssinia and Japan against China. As noted in the Wikipedia entry on the Geneva Protocol, it has a number of important loopholes:
Eric Croddy, assessing the Protocol in 2005, took the view that the historic record showed it had been largely ineffectual. Specifically it did not prohibit:[6]
  • use against not-ratifying parties
  • retalliation using such weapons, so effectively making it a no-first-use agreement
  • use within a state’s own borders in a civil conflict
  • research and development of such weapons, or stockpiling them
Note especially number 3 in the bullet point list. The Geneva Protocol was never designed to make what Bashar al-Assad is doing with chemical weapons in Syria illegal! It was never meant to disallow the use of poison gas by the bourgeois in putting down a revolution in its own country!

As the worldwide crisis of imperialism limps forward and the struggle for survival, which becomes a struggle between the 99% and the 1%, intensifies, I'm afraid that we will see the kind of brutal and vicious defense of the realm that we are seeing in Syria, repeated in places all over the globe. And just as in Syria, the utility of something like sarin for ethnic cleansing or mass suppression is something a morbid system like ours will find very useful in spite of the taboo.

While the Western powers may complain loudly about Assad's use of poisons, they have done nothing to deter him or anyone else. Instead, because he has promised to give up the chemical weapons he denied having, he is welcomed into a new partnership by US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is given the Noble Peace Prize for a year that has seen more chemical deaths than the last twenty years combined. Meanwhile, we have new reports of hundreds of tons of chemical & biological agents being transferred from Syria to Iran through an air-bridge, which, if true, means the whole CW disarmament agreement is a joke.

I suspect that many in that top 1% are secretly happy to see Assad re-introduce chemical weapons into the arena of class warfare. And in a certain perverse way, he was the perfect man for the job, the way Nixon was the perfect US president to approach China. Assad has just enough support on the Left, and so much confusion has been sown around the Syria conflict, that those that might be expected to have a problem with the return of poison gas to class relations and rally the public to defend the hard won ban are missing-in-action.

So let it here be noted that in the year 2013, poison gas was use by a government to suppress a revolutionary people for the first time in a quarter century. I fear it will be less than a quarter century before the next use and that it might become quite common as the struggle for the planet intensifies

So I will not be silent about the use of poison gas in Syria and I will not excuse it and I think in the future the failure of the Left, the anti-war movement and the peace and justice movement to vigorously oppose this first new use will be like a badge of shame for this period.

Click here for a list of my other blogs on Syria

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