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Poison Gas

July 2024
1min read

Barton Bernstein replies: John Pancake is correct: there are serious problems in how to use both chemical and biological weapons. Perhaps such concerns subtly influenced Churchill’s advisers, who resisted gas warfare and ultimately rejected anthrax, and possibly these concerns also deterred some American military leaders from wanting to use gas. But by 1945 Generals George C. Marshall and Douglas MacArthur did want to use gas in the Pacific and they did not seem to worry about the problems that Professor Pancake mentions. Perhaps it was because they planned to drop the gas from the air—well before an American attack by ground troops. Undoubtedly they were more optimistic than Professor Pancake’s instructors at Fort McClellan and probably they were more optimistic than the rank-and-file chemical-warfare people. But Marshall and MacArthur, as well as Gen. Joseph Stilwell, were not any more optimistic than the generals who directed America’s Chemical Warfare Service during the war. Those top CWS officers pushed frequently—indeed, with a sense of zealous mission—for American use of gas against the enemy. There is, then, a lurking but important unanswered question raised by Professor Pancake’s letter: Why were the top officers in CWS so enthusiastic but others, lower in rank, quite wary?

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