Sometimes I drag myself back from 1918 and think, better log into 2011. So I open up my twitter account and lo and behold, I get stuff like this.
As most people know, gas was first used as a weapon in the first world war. In military terms it wasn't really very effective. It didn't kill a huge number of people, but it disabled a lot, and made fighting very difficult for both sides when it had been used on the battlefield. It is however, good at sowing panic.
Most people know about the use of gas in World War 1 because they study this poem, by Wilfred Owen, in school.
...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
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.
Some things about the life of Wilfred Owen might be recognisable to people alive today. He was middle class, but his family couldn't afford the fees for University. Instead, he got a job as a vicar's assistant. Owen quickly became disgusted by the vicar's comfortable lifestyle, which contrasted deeply with the poverty of his parishioners, so he went to France and got a job teaching English. He joined the officer training corps in 1915. He died in 1918, a week before the end of the conflict.
The chemical weapons which he had written about were banned by the Geneva Convention of 1925. There is some interesting information about the history of chemical weapons here. What is interesting to note is that the first use of chemical weapons in WW1 was in fact tear gas. Tear gas is not included in the Geneva convention, which is why my twitter timeline features stuff like this.
CS gas, which is banned as a weapon in military conflicts. Which leads to the bizarre situation where 'we had to tear gas 'im because he was about to hit us with a mortar round, Sir' is likely to end you up in the Hague on a war crimes charge, while 'we had to tear gas him because he looked at us funny, Sarge', is likely to have your superiors recommending you for a promotion. As they say, ours not to question why, ours but to do and die.
But that's enough poetry. Tear gas, after all, is a non-lethal weapon. It won't kill you. Unless they fire it into your house, like they do in Bahrain. Or at the front of your skull from a range of a few feet, like in Oakland. However, if anyone can explain to me why this stuff is too good for soldiers, but not for civilians, I'd love to hear their argument.
I can't help feeling that if he'd been around in 2011, poor Wilfred Owen, sensitive soul, TEFL teacher, student-fee failure, and critic of the complacent wealthy, would probably have been watching people getting gassed somewhere, and writing poetry about it, just as he was in 1916.
What I'm saying, from a quite selfish point of view, is that I'm trying to write a work of bloody fiction here, and when I put 1918 down, I really don't want to come back and watch people being gassed on my twitter feed. All the bastards want is a bit of democracy. We spent a few millions lives on that in the last century. So lets give the dead their due, and not have to do it again.
NB: the person who posted the medical supplies request, above, is a doctor working in the field hospitals in Tahrir. You can read his blog about the effects of tear gas (in English), here: