Winston Churchill Used Chemical Weapons?

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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Nearly 100 years ago, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill not only advocated for the use of chemical weapons, he planned and executed a chemical attack on Russia, according to The Guardian.

During the third battle of Gaza in 1917, Gen. Edmund Allenby fired 10,000 cans of asphyxiating gas on the enemy, but it wasn’t very effective. By the end of WWI in 1918, a British laboratory unveiled a much more dangerous, top secret weapon called the “M Device.” It was an exploding shell that contained fatal toxic gas called diphenylaminechloroarsine.

Churchill and the head of his chemical warfare production, Sir Keith Price, believed using the M Device against the Russian would collapse the Bolshevik regime. The cabinet was not convinced, but that didn’t stop 50,000 M Devices being shipped to Russia.

He also wanted to use chemical agents against rebellious tribes in North India. When his cabinet refused, he criticized them for their “squeamishness.”

He believed "the objections of the India Office to the use of gas against natives are unreasonable. Gas is a more merciful weapon than [the] high explosive shell, and compels an enemy to accept a decision with less loss of life than any other agency of war."

It didn’t occur to Churchill that there was something undignified about using chemicals.

"Why is it not fair for a British artilleryman to fire a shell which makes the said native sneeze?" he asked. "It is really too silly."

The shell didn’t make the Bolsheviks sneeze, however. When they were first used on Aug. 27, 1919, in the Russian village of Emtsa, Bolsheviks soldiers fled as the green gas spread. Those who could not escape, vomited blood before losing consciousness.

These attacks continued, targeting Chunova, Vikhtova, Pocha, Chorga, Tavoigor and Zapolki. BY September they stopped and the remained weapons were dumped into the White Sea, but this wasn’t the end of Churchill esteem for chemical warfare.

When Churchill wanted to use chemical weapons against Germany in 1944, his own military chiefs would not consider it.

During the 1930s, chemical weapons were used by Italy against Ethiopia and by Japan against China.

While there was controversy at the time surrounding chemical weapons, Churchill believe ethical arguments against them were “simply a question of fashion,” the Economist reported.

By WWII, chemical weapons were ever more taboo. At the time they were only utilized by Japanese forces.

But chemical weapons did not “catch on.” A strong case was made for the U.S. military to use toxic gas before attacking Iwo Jim to snuff out Japanese soldiers who hid inside caves. President Franklin D. Roosevelt turned down the idea flat.

In 1946, he was opposed to naming the branch of the US Army tasked with defending against Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) hazards a “Corps.”

“To dignify this Service by calling it the ‘Chemical Corps’ is, in my judgment, contrary to a sound public policy,” FDR wrote.

Sources: Guardian, Economist