First used in 1915 by the Germans in a battle against the French during World War II, chemical weapons were later internationally outlawed at the Geneva Convention. But this treaty, signed by nations from around the globe, has not stopped some countries from violating international law and using them at different times in history. And, although Iraq has yet to use the weapons in the Persian Gulf war, Saddam Hussein has used them in the past and the dark specter remains. According to Pharmacology Professor Emeritus George Koelle, a nationally renowned expert in chemical warfare, Saddam's chemical arsenal would be fully effective in the desert, perhaps even more effective than usual because of the high temperatures in the region. Koelle said that Iraq has nerve gas and vesicants, which cause severe blisters, at its disposal. The Iraqi's most popular form of vesicant is mustard gas, he added. If Iraq did use chemical weapons, the U.S. would not be in violation of the Geneva Convention if it retaliates with them. But Strategy and Policy Professor Brian Sullivan, of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, said he felt the U.S. would, in most cases, not retaliate against a chemical warfare attack. "Because the president and Congress would find it repugnant, even if we suffered casualties [in a chemical warfare attack], there are many other ways we could harm Iraqis in retaliation," said Sullivan. Koelle said Iraq would be more likely to use nerve gas because doses as small as one milligram can be lethal. Nerve gas, which can be absorbed through both the skin and the respiratory system, starts to incapacitate the respiratory system upon contact. People who come in contact with the gas must be treated immediately by the antidote drug atropanine and a reactivator, either pralidoxine or toxigonin. Soldiers carry these drugs in the form of injectors, Koelle said yesterday. Mustard gas, which is actually a liquid, takes several hours before becoming effective, Koelle said. A higher dosage is used than for nerve gas. Nerve and mustard gas can be spread through mines, artillery, or any other type of projectile, Sullivan said. However, mustard gas lingers for months while nerve gas is only effective for a few days at most. When skin is exposed to vesicants, serious blisters develop. These can only be treated with an oxidizing agent such as hypo-chloride, Koelle explained. However, when absorbed through the respiratory tract, it is highly painful and victims develop a type of pneumonia. Koelle said there are treatments only for the symptoms caused by the gas. "There is no drug therapy, no cure," the professor emphasized. "People either die or eventually get over it." According to Sullivan, allied soldiers are all equipped with rubber suits and gas masks to protect them in the case of chemical warfare. Sullivan said although the soldiers have the equipment, it does not guarantee that there will be no casualties in chemical warfare. "There's no way to fight a war where you can guarantee that your soldiers won't be wounded or killed," said Sullivan. "War is chaotic. War is destructive." Both men also said that physical effects of chemical warfare aren't the only difficulty soldiers may face. The safety precautions soldiers must take often present health hazards of their own. "The [protective] clothing causes body temperatures to rise, and the gas mask impairs individuals' overall efficiency," said Koelle. Sullivan also cited psychological effects as another difficulty the soldiers must overcome. "[Poisonous] gas causes panic in human beings," explained Sullivan. "There are psychological reactions that certain people have in dealing with certain types of weapons."Comments powered by Disqus
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