An Appalling Gas Attack but Not the Worst in History

Daily Mail (London), August 31, 2013 | Go to article overview

An Appalling Gas Attack but Not the Worst in History


Byline: Ian Drury Defence Correspondent

IT was a singularly evil chemical weapons attack, but tragically the hundreds killed in Damascus last week were just the latest victims in a long history of the use of poison gas to kill soldiers and civilians. Indeed, an examination such past atrocities reveals many exacted an even greater toll.

IRAQ AGAINST THE KURDS

Saddam Hussein's regime used chemical weapons to remove Kurds from around 40 villages in northern Iraq. On March 16, 1988, he carried out the most deadly attack, dropping poisons including mustard gas, sarin and VX on the town of Halabja. Men, women and children choked to death in the indiscriminate attack.

The atrocity prompted the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997, an international pact banning production, stockpiling or use of chemical weapons. Only seven nations - including Syria - are not signatories. DEATH TOLL: Up to 5,000.

IRAN-IRAQ WAR, 1980-88

Hussein used sarin and mustard gas against Iran to tip the war in Iraq's favour and force Tehran to negotiate.

But newly declassified CIA documents revealed recently the US knew about the use of chemical weapons but refused to act because Washington feared an Iranian victory.

DEATH TOLL: Up to 20,000.

VIETNAM

Between 1965 and 1975, in the bitter war against communist North Vietnam, the US dropped millions of tons of incendiary napalm to defoliate dense forests in which enemy fighters were hiding. The jelly-like substance ignited and stuck to skin, burning through muscle and bone, causing hideous injury and often death.

America also dropped 50 million tons of Agent Orange, a super-strength chemical herbicide, to destroy all plants. But poisonous dioxins seeped into the soil and water supply, entering into the food chain and leading to severe health problems and disabilities for generations.

DEATH TOLL: More than a million, as well as 400,000 Vietnamese children born with birth defects due to exposure to Agent Orange.

NAZI GERMANY

Hitler refrained from using chemical weapons in battle but millions of Jews were transported to extermination camps, notably Auschwitz in Poland, and were suffocated in gas chambers using cyanide-based Zyklon B. DEATH TOLL: Approximately six million Jews died in the Holocaust, plus gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled, and Soviet prisoners.

WORLD WAR TWO

Between 1937 and 1945, Japan launched both chemical and biological attacks while invading China. …

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