Veterans Day—the observance formerly known as WWI Armistice Day—is a good day to look back at the First World War, when chemical weapons (including mustard gas) were a regular part of the arsenals of the combatants.
Their use generated such revulsion that they were banned by the Geneva Protocol in 1925.
In perhaps the most famous poem that came from the war, Dulce est decorum est by Canadian soldier Wilfred Owen, gas warfare is described graphically, and leads to an anti-war message:
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 disappointed shells 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 floundering 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.
The Latin translates as “It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country.”
Easy for others to say, especially non-combatants like W.