The story of German scientists Fritz Haber and Clara Immerwahr and why the use of poison gas should remain a taboo

At about 5pm on 22 April 1915, French and Algerian troops on the Ypres front in Belgium noticed a lull in the German artillery fire that had been targeting their lines. Bracing themselves for an expected infantry advance, they were puzzled instead to observe a greenish-yellow cloud drifting towards them, then lapping over the tops of the trenches.

A Canadian soldier, AT Hunter, who witnessed what was the first use of chlorine gas in war, described a “passive curiosity turned to active torment – a burning sensation in the head, red-hot needles in the lungs, the throat seized as by a strangler. Many fell and died on the spot. The others, gasping, stumbling with faces contorted, hands wildly gesticulating, and uttering hoarse cries of pain, fled madly through the villages and farms and through Ypres itself, carrying panic to the remnants of the civilian population.”

This is the opening to an article in today’s “Guardian” which explains how a German Jew was behind the first use of gas in war, how his wife committed suicide, and why we should still treat the use of poison gas in war as especially abhorrent.

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