The western powers are going to go to war in the Middle East once again. There are good diplomatic, political, moral arguments for and against but there is one overriding reason why civilised nations cannot let this atrocity go “unchecked”. I can’t say it any more eloquently than the renowned WWl poet Wilfred Owen already put it ..
Dulce et decorum est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots,
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est Pro patria mori.
8 October 1917 – March, 1918
Somewhere in the house I still have a CBN (chemical, biological and nuclear) suit and gas mask. What I learned about the effects of VX, Sarin etc while being trained in how to use the kit horrified me. These are weapons of incomprehensible cruelty.
Their use anywhere in the world at anytime diminishes all of us. I know many people have said that it is wrong that only now after 100,000 deaths in Syria that the west should intervene. They have a point but they completely misunderstand the difference between conventional and chemical warfare.
To give the order to fire an artillery round containing nerve agents mixed with emulsifiers (to make them stick to surfaces longer) is an act of only the most cynical and the most depraved. I don’t believe in ideas like pure evil, but the person who caused this to happen is unsaveable. Knowing what we know about the kind of deaths they cause and the population wide terror they inflict there is only one moral response.
Having worked in The Balkans, Occupied Palestine, Iran and Iraq I would love to be able to agree with those who say that anybody who gives the order to kill another person lives outside the moral community. That is unfortunately a naive stance. The use of chemical weapons however is not. This has to remain fixed line to which we all respond swiftly and unanimously.