A Suffocating Nature: Environment, Culture, and German Chemical Warfare on the Western Front [article]

(:Unkn) Unknown, University, My, Jay Lockenour
2020
The story of chemical warfare is that of a relationship between nature, the military, industry, and culture. By the turn of the twentieth century, German industry, especially its chemical companies, came to dominate Europe. Their success brought both considerable economic development and considerable environmental damage from chemical pollution, especially to rivers such as the Rhine and the Emscher. These economic changes made in exchange for landscape degradation conflicted with long-held
more » ... ural beliefs in Germany that promoted the beauty of nature and the importance of conserving its aesthetics. The First World War's effect of the environment, including the effects of chemical weaponry, highlighted this paradox on a nationwide scale. In an effort to win the Great War, German military leaders turned to their chemical industry for answers. Using the flat terrain of Western Europe, winds strong enough to push massive toxic clouds, and their extensive knowledge of chemistry, the Germans chose chemical warfare agents based on meteorological conditions and their ability to overcome the obstacles of trench warfare. Millions of acres were doused in chemical clouds and shells, killing every form of life at the front and all but permanently altering the landscape and soils. This created an atmosphere of total environmental war, where chemicals were intentionally used to contaminate land and kill all life for the sake of military gains. The home front also suffered, as in Germany where the levels of chemical contaminants in their rivers were directly linked to the course of the chemical war. Germans wrote numerous diaries, journals, and memoirs that documented the ecological damage caused by these poisonous agents. These visceral descriptions of gas warfare and chemical disasters relating to clean up operations helped to solidify a national picture of what the gas war experience was like, and how many Germans came to see warfare and humanity as a destroyer of nature. Simultaneously, Europeans faced the daunting task of [...]
doi:10.34944/dspace/1524 fatcat:uzhxu7jfgjarvasooyyekbgzqe