Several days ago the Syrian government began assembling “Chemical” weapons, which it was suspected would be used against that nation’s anti-government force, and presumably any innocent civilian bystanders. The United States Government stated that this action would “…cross a red line,” possibly forcing the direct involvement of the US into the situation. My question is; what does the “Chemical” part of it have to do with anything. How is dropping a 500 pound high explosive bomb on a school yard any more or less horrific than dropping a chemical weapon? The kids in the playground aren’t going know the difference. Does it really matter the “way” in which people are slaughtered, maimed, and terrorized in order to provoke and defend an intervention on those people’s behalf? It all seems a little disingenuous to me to tell somebody it’s OK to hit somebody else in the head with a wooden stick, but NOT OK to hit them in the head with an iron bar…. Is it possible that the 500 pounder is seen as more humane? If that were the case we should encourage the Syrian government to use a small yield nuclear devise and end everything in one quick flash. Ultimately, I see the discussion about the violence being lost in how the violence is executed, and I don’t understand why.

Very compelling question. I see your point, but will try my best in response. Probably a panelist should reply who has more first-hand experience in this area (I have not yet killed anyone with chemical agents, wooden sticks, iron bars, and such), but I suspect that what makes some weapons such as chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons of special concern is that they are both more difficult to control (and hence more likely than conventional weapons for indiscriminate damage / harm) and they are part of a family of weapons that puts one on a slippery slope. So, for example, if North Korea launched a preemptive strike against the South, and the USA and South Korea in response used a small, contained nuclear bomb launched with great precision against the invaders and avoided any civilian casualties, this would open the door for the North to use a not-so-small nuclear weapon, perhaps going after civilian as well as military targets. There is another reason that may come into play: as odd as it may sound, I think there is a long-standing, sound tradition about honorable and dishonorable ways of fighting. The oldest poem in the west, the Iliad, records a repudiation of Odysseus who wanted to put poison on his arrows: this was deemed unfitting or wrong. In an important essay on war and massacre published during the Viet Nam War, Thomas Nagel argued (I believe cogently) that there are certain ways of killing that are permissible in a just war, and certain ways that are not. He singled out flamethrowers as especially heinous. I share Nagel's position here. Whether in a case of legitimate lethal force against an individual in self-defense, or use in a war against an invading, military force, I think there are right and wrong weapons and ways of killing. So, I think it was not good that, for example, some USA soldiers in the Viet Nam War smeared their bullets in human feces. This served no military purpose and reflected a demeaning attitude toward the "enemy." (I might add, though, that I thought at the time, and still think, the war was unjust --I was a Conscientious Objector in that era, despite having two brothers who served in Viet Nam in the army.) Perhaps the reason for seeing the use of chemical weapons as a "red line" is because they are deemed inhumane.

But your main point is well taken. It does seem irrelevant whether one kills with a stick or bar; moreover the mere fact that a bomb is chemical rather than conventional is hardly consoling to someone killed on a playground (using your example). I believe that chemical weapons were actually first invented with the intention of creating weapons that would be more humane than not. And if we could come up with a non-lethal chemical weapon that would, say, make an invading army listless and bored and yet enchanted with non-violent, pacifism and the weapon would have no harmful long-term effects, this sort of thing may be hard to resist. Still, in today's world, we are dealing with lethal forces, and I suggest we should make some prohibitions. So, imagine that someone unjustly threatens me with lethal force, and the only way I can escape him killing me is by killing the aggressor, but there are two weapons I could use with equal effectiveness in self-defense: an iron bar which could be used to bring about almost instant death with minimal pain or injecting the assailant with ProStrength Drano Max Gel (resulting in internal bleeding and the person suffering a profoundly painful death), I should use the former.

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