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Why Don’t We Use Chemical Weapons Anymore? (acoup.blog)
201 points by nkurz 6 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 155 comments

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime... Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— My friend, you would not tell with such high zest To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.

Incredibly powerful writing. You might give Wilfred Owen props for writing it.

I was waiting for someone to do that for me. ;) Thanks. Agreed. Props to the WW1 poet Wilfred Owen 1893-1918.

(I put together a PD ebook collection of his work at https://standardebooks.org/ebooks/wilfred-owen/poetry)

Fantastic. While lots of folks have read "Dulce et delcorum..." at least once, but Owen has a worthwhile body of work that deserves modern remembrance. Huge loss he died so young.

Thanks for that! Great resource.

You didn't put it in quotes and you didn't attribute it directly. Why not attribute it correctly yourself? That's what's customary.

Here are my three reasons not to be customary in this case: poetic license, public domain, and maximum impact.

Thanks for posting wow.

Latin translation: “It is sweet and fitting to die for the homeland”

I remember reading this before, but don't recall the author... Who was it?

Regarding the article: it seems to miss the obvious points, and sounds almost sociopathic in its use of literary lyricism to suggest that chemical weapons should be regarded as a viable weapon, if only it weren't for the military weaknesses it produces.

> the narrative I got was fairly clear: we didn’t use chemical weapons because after World War I the nations of the world got together and decided that chemical weapons were just too horrible and banned them, and that this was a sign of something called ‘progress.’

The use of chemical weapons, as parent's comment writes, is indiscriminate in who and what it affects, whether it be enemy or own soldiers, or innocents: women, children, animals and even fauna. To have your skin melt, or your lungs liquified because some monster on the other side cooked up a recipe shows how inhumane and lacking in compassion people can be.

I recall being told why modern military don't use high calibre rifles anymore (303 or 762): because a lower calibre tends to wound the enemy, which means that 2 or more enemy soldiers are needed to help their comrade out... Hence 1 smaller & lighter bullet can take out 2 or more of the enemy. That is, modern warfare is about incapacitating an enemy's ability to fight back. This is why sanctions, targetting infrastructure, stealth attack, etc, is what you see on the news all the time.

I think it's well established in the literature that the modern military doesn't use the old larger battle rifle cartridges anymore because the extra range it offered was almost never needed and the smaller assault rifle cartridge allows more ammunition to be carried by each soldier.

Additionally, intermediate cartridges allow more rapid followup shots compared to full power rifle cartridges. An M4 fires lightly enough that soldiers can "miss their way to a hit" - as in fire, fire, fire, oh I'm aiming too low, fire, fire, fire oh i'm a little left fire, fire, fire bullseye. Trying that with an M14, which has much stronger recoil, would just result in your shots going increasingly wild.

You're not wrong but the M4 is particularly good at follow up shot performance (stock in line with barrel and raised sights to keep the barrel in line with your shoulder will do that) and M14 is particularly terrible about being hard on the user.

If you want to be all proper and sciency about it you should probably compare guns that are on the same general platform (M4/AR10, AK/PSL, G3/G33, list goes on).

Anecdotally, proper sling usage makes a huge difference with the larger cartridge battle rifles. The sling needs to be wrapped around your off-arm tightly and seriously pull the rifle into your shoulder, which substantially helps to mitigate the recoil knocking it off its aim. Yes, your shoulder is still gonna be taking a bruising, but that's the much better end of the rifle to be on.

Depends on the area. In Afghanistan there was a much stronger need for range. Old hunting rifles, not AK's were the most powerful small weapon used by the locals. The US had to bring back the old .308 rifles to compete. And even brought in some newly designed .308 rifles.

Another reason for low Calibre rifles- despite a cultural focus on marksmanship, internal studies found number of bullets fired was the number one predictor of enemy casualties. And the more bullets you shoot, the more you have to carry.

Literally survivor bias.

> I recall being told why modern military don't use high calibre rifles anymore (303 or 762): because a lower calibre tends to wound the enemy, which means that 2 or more enemy soldiers are needed to help their comrade out

This is a retroactive justification, and it was never an official one - boot camp stories, more or less.

All it takes to disprove it is to look at the history of M16, since that was the platform that introduced the first small-impulse infantry rifle cartridge, 5.56mm. It was originally developed as the outcome of Project SALVO research, which concluded that two close hits with a small-caliber round are significantly deadlier than a single hit with a (then-standard) large rifle round - and therefore the new weapon should be capable of controlled, accurate burst fire. Then, early M16 tests showed that even a single 5.56 bullet would routinely do more damage than then-standard 7.62 NATO ball ammo, because it would fragment due to higher velocities, producing massive tearing - the early reports are practically gushing about this. In comparison, 7.62 ball, and similar WW2-era rounds, would just produce a straight, narrow wound channel.

The other aspect is logistics. You can make fragmenting 7.62 ammo, after all, and it's deadlier still. But lighter ammo means that soldiers can carry a lot more. And most shots are fired in modern warfare for suppression purposes; all else being equal, the side that can suppress its opponents for longer - and thus outmaneuver them - wins. Thus, more lethal but heavier ammo comes with a considerable overhead.

Another doctrine is to fire blindly at the enemy, effectively suppressing them with overwhelming small arms fire and calling in an airstrike.


I believe he was referring to the article itself, rather than the quote.

Beautiful and terrible poem.

Not even Nazi Germany or Stalin wanted to recreate those battlefields, even at Stalingrad and when the Nazis were on the run from the Russians. Whoever reintroduces these weapons is stepping in front of some real monsters in the history books

Frantic minds are terrified

Life lies in a grave

Silent death rides high above

On the wings of revelation

Multi death from chemicals

Arrogance has won

Annihilation must be swift

Destroy without destruction

Gods on the throne must be watching from hell

Awaiting the mass genocide

Soldiers defeated by death from a smell

Bodies lie dormant no life

Rising new souls on the lands where they fell

Demons not ready to die

Nothing to see where the sleeping souls lie

Thank you. Powerful

As an ex south korean army (mandatory service), our neighbor in the north still think chemical weapon an effective asymmetrical weapon against us because our small piece of land won't really allow any mobility based modern warfare. There are outposts throughout all the borderline.

We do quite a lot of training to protect against chemical attacks and also the protective respiration devices are included for every soldiers. The most probable attack against us will begin with spreading chemical gas on air to crush the first defense line in the borderline.

If situation become really bad and raw - killing all the civilians - chemical weapon would still be a very effective weapon I think.

> If situation become really bad and raw - killing all the civilians - chemical weapon would still be a very effective weapon I think.

The article argues pretty convincingly that this is not actually true, since they are just not as effective as high explosives at killing people.

They are possibly more effective at terrorizing the population into surrendering.

One of the big realizations from World War Two was that plans that involved civilian bombing to "break the spirit" of an enemy population had the opposite effect. Since the bombing only killed a small percentage of the population, the surviving population felt almost euphoric.

This reminded me of two quotes:

"There is no better feeling than having someone shoot at you and miss!" - Winston Churchill

"Combat isn't where you might die -- though that does happen -- it's where you find out whether you get to keep on living. Don't underestimate the power of that revelation. Don't underestimate the things young men will wager in order to play that game one more time." -Sebastian Junger

This will probably also lead to a wave of euphoria once COVID-19 has passed on.

> terrorizing the population into surrendering.

This is asymmetrical warfare in a nutshell

Except terrorizing a population into surrendering hasn't proven to be an effective tactic in history. I'm struggling to think of a single case where it actually happened.

While terrorism (going by the classical definition) hasn’t had had any (or many?) victories of that sort - let’s not pretend that acts of terrorism don’t achieve political goals - and if nothing else they make the people in charge sit-up and take notice.

There’s only one example I can comfortably talk about: I don’t believe Devolution and the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland would have come about if it weren’t for the shadow of the IRA looming over Westminster.

My understanding is that US envoys and a moderator was the main reason for the ceasefire.

Would they have even been there if not for the terrorism?

Uhm, nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

The trouble with realpolitik is when you get more cynical than reality itself. Instead of a binary---either the morality of chemical weapons caused their ban, or their uselessness in battle did---why not take a supply/demand, cost/benefit sort of approach? The moral repugnance of weapons of mass destruction makes them more costly to the users---if they delegitimize your war effort, what have you really gained? They ceased to be used when the costs outweighed the benefits. Therefore the moral repugnance of them likely hastened their abandonment, even if battlefield effectiveness was the greater influence.

This is, in fact, explicitly stated in TFA.

"This isn’t a value question, but a value-against-replacement question – why maintain, issue, store, and shoot expensive chemical munitions if cheap, easier to store, easier to manufacture high explosive munitions are both more obtainable and also better? When you add the geopolitical and morale impact on top of that – you sacrifice diplomatic capital using such weapons and potentially demoralize your own soldiers, who don’t want to see themselves as delivering inhumane weapons – it’s pretty clear why would wouldn’t bother."

I find myself mostly agreeing with this article, although I think it over-states its case slightly and this section highlights why.

Chemical weapons are not very useful on a tactical level, and modernly nuclear weapons are superior on the strategic level. But for a brief period between 1915 and 1945, they were an attractive solution for mass death on a strategic level. A 1,000 pound explosive bomb, with WW2 level targeting, is very unlikely to hit its target and will likely explode some random unpopulated building. A 1,000 ton mustard gas bomb, though it won't hit its target (because WW2 era bombing accuracy), will still have its payload disperse over a wide area and is utterly horrific to deal with. As the article notes, the 1995 sarin attack in Japan injured over 1,000 people. Chemical weapons may not be good for winning a battle, but they're perfect as a terror weapon meant to go after civilians.

In a sense, chemical weapons are a kind of 'poor man's nuke'. Russia and America are standing down their chemical weapons because they have actual nukes, and don't need to also have 2nd rate knock offs.

The article tries to point to WW2 as an example of nations being in existential peril, and still not using chemical weapons, and concluding this means they were ineffective even as terror weapons. But I think that doesn't hold water upon closer analysis - the moment a single German soldier's boot stepped foot on the British isles, which is to say the UK actually faced imminent threat of conquest, Churchill planned to quote "drench [Germany] in gas".

Later on in the war chemical weapons were avoided not for fear of retaliation in itself, but for fear of how one's own people would respond to said retaliation. If you are Great Britain, and public morale for the war is hanging on by a thread, do you want to roll the dice and gas attack Germany - thereby causing Germany to gas attack your civilians - and risk support for the war collapsing? In 1944 Churchill asked for a 'cold blooded analysis' about gassing Germany, and the response that came back was basically "We're already winning the war, and mass gas deployment would be needlessly taking chances. Do not do it!". Churchill famously disagreed with this analysis, but didn't push the matter any further.

> As the article notes, the 1995 sarin attack in Japan injured over 1,000 people.

Sure, but an equivalent conventional high explosive would have likely killed all those 1,000 people, wouldn't it have?

> In a sense, chemical weapons are a kind of 'poor man's nuke'. Russia and America are standing down their chemical weapons because they have actual nukes, and don't need to also have 2nd rate knock offs.

The article explicitly notes this as well, that chemical weapons are only really used by weaker, less-monied, static-system militaries. And even then, they're only effective against similar adversaries, not against more modern enemies.

But "poor man's nuke" isn't even really a great characterization from the perspective of the US or Russia: with a modern military, chemical weapons do less damage than a cheaper, lighter, easier-to-deploy explosive. They're not a "poor man's nuke", they're just a poor man's weapon, period.

>Sure, but an equivalent conventional high explosive would have likely killed all those 1,000 people, wouldn't it have?

Looking it up on wikipedia, most suicide bomber vests weigh roughly as much (5 kg) or up to 4 times as much (20 kg) as all the sarin used in this attack (5.45 kg). I've never heard of a single suicide bomber, using a vest, injuring 1,000 people. So I am inclined to think the chemical approach is more efficacious.

In fact that's another little nitpick I have with the article - it's high explosives that heavily benefit from tightly packed situations, as they're a one-and-done sort of deal. The sarin gas though was able to be spread all along a tube system, and cause problems for huge amounts of people.

“Equivalent” is also a matter of perspective. For a terrorist, procuring the necessary explosives to injure 1000 people may be harder than procuring the equivalent sarin gas. For a state, the calculus changes, as do goals. Storage, transportation, safety (states are much less likely to be willing to have their own soldiers die than terror cells), all those concerns can tip the balance, especially for a strong state with a modern army.

> procuring the necessary explosives to injure 1000 people may be harder than procuring the equivalent sarin gas


Procuring sarin is nontrivial organic synthesis. Procuring ANFO is just a question of ordering some diesel and fertilizer.

> Sure, but an equivalent conventional high explosive would have likely killed all those 1,000 people, wouldn't it have?

5 kg of explosives? Definitely not.

> 5 kg of explosives? Definitely not.

For the costs they went with for the gas they could have toppled half a dozen skyscrapers in Tokyo.

They were insane.

Per the linked article, the London civilian populace was widely equipped with gas masks. A chemical weapon would thus cause fewer fatalities than you might expect.

A 1,000 lb bomb falling on an apartment building, however, would definitely have a significant death toll.

Keep in mind that the total civilian casualty count on the British side during the Battle of Britain was 43k dead and 139k wounded, all from conventional explosives. Those are substantial figures. It's not clear how chemical weapons could have ever remotely killed as many, because after the first few successful attacks the gas masks would be emphasized even more, and everyone would be carrying theirs with them everywhere they went, ready to don at a moment's notice. As the article points out, you can armor even a civilian populace against chemical weapons relatively easily, but you can't armor a city against high explosives.

> will still have its payload disperse over a wide area and is utterly horrific to deal with. As the article notes, the 1995 sarin attack in Japan injured over 1,000 people.

In closed spaces. In closed spaces, chemical weapons are pretty effective, cf. "gas chamber", but in open spaces they are much less deadly.

Yeah, and this exactly where TFA misses the scary implications of modern transformations: we're in an age where it's cheap and easy to both deliver weapons by drones (so regular army divisions ca "wash their hands" of what the "special weapons" guys do, while still enjoying the befits of their deployment weakening the enemy), and to blame them on third party real or imaginary terrorist orgs.

Remote and automated warfare, coupled with more and more controlled/closed borders (we'll have these after COVID + economic crises) lowers the perceived cost and increases the benefits of using chem and bio weapons. Paradoxically, the better you'll be "prepared for a pandemic virus", the more in-control and confident you'll feel about indirectly using such weapons.

That's why we have to keep the world open and connected! And don't do the stupid thing of over-investing in surveillance and control that will only create dangerous illusions of being able to "safely" play with such "toys"!

drones cannot deliver the quantities of chemical required. Also, how do drones absolve command chain of responsibility? There's an awful lot of infrastructure required for their deployment.

> if they delegitimize your war effort, what have you really gained?

In a war characterised by:

* Bombing of civilian populations, by both sides

* Penal battalions charging across minefields without guns and getting shot by their own side if they retreat.

* First and second uses of nuclear weapons

* Literally the holocaust

The idea that chemical weapons weren't used because they were "morally repugnant" isn't the most obvious conclusion IMHO.

Applying morals to any decision made in war is historically unreliable. Justifying actions after the act is usually where the moral relativism hits the history books.

War is, almost by definition and nature, not a moral-friendly activity.

In the specific case of WW2, it's likely that fear of MAD (before the concept had fully formed) was the main reason they weren't used.

Another reason: maintaining a supply of chemical weapons is dangerous. Turns out no city/state wants that stockpile, either.

Years ago a co-worker of mine at the phone company had to go to military base in Terre Haute to work on some high speed circuits that weren't working properly. The network room was in the basement of a warehouse that stored VX nerve agents - rows and rows of it. When he got to the base he had to watch some training video on nerve agents, get issued a gas mask and the atropine shot then escorted to the facility. He said during the whole time he was incredibly nervous as the evacuation route involved running back up into the warehouse then through an exit.

This is, in fact, explicitly stated in the article. So, no, not "another" reason.

> maintaining a supply of chemical weapons is dangerous

I don't really buy this one. I mean, I agree it's dangerous, but the major powers maintained large stocks throughout the Cold War without apparently worrying about it too much. More recently it's become a somewhat expensive disposal problem, but in terms of cost it's not really significant next to the cost of maintaining, say, aircraft carriers, or nuclear warheads.

It's expensive to properly maintain those stockpiles, and even a well-funded military did a particularly bad job at it. There's no glory in keeping pallets of drums in good condition.

Leaks happen and have happened, etc.

Interesting - I grew up in Terre Haute. I think you're talking about the old VX bunker up in Newport, maybe?

Dzerzhinsk in Russian is a great example of this.

> Dzerzhinsk is one of the worst-polluted cities of the world and has a life expectancy of 42 years for men and 47 for women, with the 2003 death rate exceeding its birth rate by 260%.

Holy Cow!


This is an excellent and well written essay that answers its own question.

But I will offer my own answer. Grooups generally don't use chemical weapons because such use is too obvious too unsettling to viewers/supporters. They want the outcome, whatever it may be, but they don't want to look like they are greedy or insensitive or anti(or counter)-religious [generally speaking, they don't want to appear overtly confrontational].

Things must be done just slightly less aggressively than will upset the general population/supporters who fund the endeavors.

In Earth-time, this discussion is mostly academic. The horrors which we inflict upon each other is far less than the likely destruction we invite upon ourselves as a species through our collective behaviors (environmentally speaking). The human existence on this planet is probably (in the mathematical sense) very short.

I suspect the real concern is that we or someone we know may suffer some extended period of pain because of chemical or other non-instant-death conflict. People think they are afraid of dying, but usually it is more that they are afraid of a slow death which includes pain and anguish.

It probably has more to do with something like gas being easier to produce so western countries can paint poorer countries as villains more easily by showing how they violate human rights. U.S. weapons such as napalm, white phosphorous, cluster munitions, and land mines disfigure entire countries, people, and children but the media and military have such a lock on the public discourse that these images and stories are very sparsely shared.

Images of the bombing and napalm in Vietnam generated an incredible backlash so the pentagon and their friends in the media conglomerates have been very circumspect.

This is not in any way to condone the use of gas, far from it. It is to condemn the actions of the US military and the strategic planners for using human rights as a cudgel when our own crimes are so stark.

Note that the US provided Saddam with chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq trench warfare of the 1980s. We later invaded Iraq to retrieve weapons we gave him.

That's still the tail waggimg the dog. Once you decide that a weapon or tactic is ineffective for you, but might be useful for your enemies, then you portray it as inhumane and sign treaties about it. There will always be some weapon or tactic you can treat in this way.

This is, in fact, explicitly stated in the article.

"This isn’t a value question, but a value-against-replacement question – why maintain, issue, store, and shoot expensive chemical munitions if cheap, easier to store, easier to manufacture high explosive munitions are both more obtainable and also better? When you add the geopolitical and morale impact on top of that – you sacrifice diplomatic capital using such weapons and potentially demoralize your own soldiers, who don’t want to see themselves as delivering inhumane weapons – it’s pretty clear why would wouldn’t bother."

Humans are amazingly resilient. Like mice, but to the n'th degree.

Human existence on this planet isn't going to end any time soon. Even if the planet heats up. Even if there is trash in the oceans. But there might be a whole lot less of us and life might be a lot less pleasant.

This is true. But our bodies require very specific conditions to survive. We can offset them with tech, but only to a degree. Most of it requires some semblance of civilization to maintain. Disrupt that, and we are in for a very bad time.

I think the main point was missed in the article. Chemical weapons cause more suffering and less death and cause multi generation effects, while other weapons are primarily hit/miss but geared towards death.

It might seem weird, but death is considered better than suffering by lots of people. I give an example. In the series Chernobyl - soldiers are employed to kill dogs because they might spread radiation. The senior soldier instructs that when you see a dog - keep shooting, till it dies.

In old times, slow killing was considered to be much worse as compared to sudden death. So maybe this is why we don't use chemical weapons.

Apologies if I misunderstood, but I don't think that particular point was missed; it seems to be the article's first stated viewpoint actually:

> the narrative I got was fairly clear: we didn’t use chemical weapons because after World War I the nations of the world got together and decided that chemical weapons were just too horrible and banned them, and that this was a sign of something called ‘progress.’

That point is even further iterated on in the conclusion when comparing them to cluster munitions which as you put, "cause multi generation effects" due to remaining active years after the conflict.

What could possibly be considered weird about that? How could anyone consider slow killing to not be worse than sudden death? They're both death, but one is much worse. It's much more weird to be talking about suffering and slow death as though they aren't worse, and that only weird people think they are.

I'm not fully agreeing with the argument.

Chemical, biological and radiological weapons (not nukes) are effective as defensive weapons. They dramatically slow down down area access and advance of the enemy. Troops fighting in full NBC suit move very slowly. They have to periodically retreat, decontaminate and rest.

Just like land- and sea mines they are defensive weapons that attacking armies dislike. The rationalization is the long term damage for the civilians or society (can be true), but mines and chemical weapons allow for smaller armies slow down the advance of the enemy.

They also completely skip by VX "gas" and seem to assume that aerosol is the only dispersal mechanism.

VX is more a surface coating than a gas. "minefields" of VX could be laid very rapidly and randomly which would be a bane to mobile troops. If saddam actually had a VX supply and laid it down in key areas, the US soldiers would have suffered many times more KIA (and there's no effective treatment -- gallons of atropine per patient simply isn't viable).

Another point of evidence that the author probably omitted out of politeness are the nations that freely violated rules of war yet did not make (much) use of chemical weapons: the nazis on the eastern front and wwii japan.

Also another technology banned because it don't work is the hollow point bullet.

Apparently killing a solider outright is not as destructive as driving him long term onto the medical system. This is also one of the reasons caliber has generally been dropped over time. The 1950s move to the 223 round is pretty explicit on this.

> Also another technology banned because it don't work is the hollow point bullet.

1. Hollow point bullets aren't banned. The US Army just adopted them recently - M1153.

2. Hollow point bullets are very effective compared to ball ammo. There is plenty of research that's been done on this (see Martin Fackler). However, pistols are much less effective than rifles.

> Apparently killing a solider outright is not as destructive as driving him long term onto the medical system. This is also one of the reasons caliber has generally been dropped over time. The 1950s move to the 223 round is pretty explicit on this.

1. This is a pervasive myth. There is absolutely no evidence of this from primary sources. The goal of shooting people is and has always been to kill them.

2. The reason calibers have dropped over time has nothing to do with making them less lethal. It's because they're lighter and smaller (easier to carry more of them), and they shoot flatter and faster (easier to hit targets).

Hollow points are against the Geneva convention. The round you linked is only for use in special circumstances to prevent over penetration, Things like terrorist hostage rescue. They won’t and can’t be legally used in general warfare.

There was actually a big argument in the past over match grade rounds that have a dimpled front and a hollowed core, which keeps the weight toward the back of the round. They aren’t effective in hunting for the same reason they aren’t considered a hollow point by the military.

> Hollow points are against the Geneva convention. The round you linked is only for use in special circumstances to prevent over penetration, Things like terrorist hostage rescue. They won’t and can’t be legally used in general warfare.

You're wrong.


Read the second paragraph of that section. And sorry, Hague convention not Geneva. Either way, only special circumstances aka special operations from my understanding, which is more like international policing than warfare.

The USA is not a signatory to that Hague convention.

I don't know what the effect would be of USA participation in a NATO action using expanding small arms ammunition.

yeah I am certainly not an expert and I don’t know why the us military hasn’t used them, but they haven’t, and still aren’t going to from what I can read. I found that rabbit hole while researching hunting ammo, not because I am a military scholar or anything.

Seems kinda odd to me anyway, though I suppose limiting the damage a combatant receives while fighting isn’t a bad thing. Coming up with a stance makes you have to mentally address the concept of good vs bad guys, and I suppose I don’t see enemy fighters as bad people, just people fighting for differing ideals. That makes me tend to agree with rules that limit fatalities and excessive injury.

The US military has authorized the use of hollow point rounds as needed. They just don't believe that it's necessary most of the time in combat. Which is entirely correct - modern FMJ rifle ammo achieves similar and better terminal ballistics via fragmentation, without sacrificing armor penetration or flight ballistics like hollowpoints. But for 9mm, the equation is different - hence why M1153 is a thing, and is issued broadly to military units.

> 1. This is a pervasive myth. There is absolutely no evidence of this from primary sources. The goal of shooting people is and has always been to kill them.

In a military context that is actually required by law, which I think is the fourth Geneva Convention. Combat forces are required to eliminate the enemy with minimal unnecessary suffering, which means the intention is always to kill and not injure.

Between hollow points and ball ammo; the hollow points kill more than they wound. That part of the convention was written with feelings and not facts.

Also, does not apply; the US is not a signatory.

regarding 2), it's my understanding that hollow point is not very effective against targets wearing armor, and also that they are indeed prohibited outside of situations where overpenetration of structures is a concern. seems to fit the pattern.

> it's my understanding that hollow point is not very effective against targets wearing armor

While that's true, the hollow point doesn't make a difference. Essentially all pistol ammo is bad at penetrating armor. What does make a (small) difference is velocity; you can see this by looking at ratings for NIJ level IIa and IIIa armor.

This is why pistol ammo that's designed to penetrate soft armor like 5.7mm is so small and light weight - it needs to be really fast. I'm sure the pointed shape helps a bit, but it's the speed that really does the job. That's also why it's garbage compared to normal ammo against unarmored targets.

Lehigh makes lightweight and faster-than-usual 9mm ammo that can punch through IIIa, as well, without sacrificing terminal ballistics. The only problem is that it's expensive ( comparable to match rifle ammo), because the bullets have to be individually precision-machined to produce the necessary shape.

interesting, I always thought it was less effective than other pistol ammo because it would begin expanding against the vest. TIL.

> Also another technology banned because it don't work is the hollow point bullet.

They work just fine in inducing fragmentation and thus producing greater terminal effects. It's just that armies found out that they can induce fragmentation just fine using a different mechanism that does not have a Hague convention rule against it, and so are using that instead.

Almost all modern military rounds make use of yaw-induced fragmentation, where they are designed to fly stable in air but not in flesh, and so very rapidly yaw in tissue until they are going sideways, in which direction the bullet does not have sufficient structural strength to stay intact, and so fragments. This has essentially the same effect on the target as using hollow points.

> The 1950s move to the 223 round is pretty explicit on this.

This is false. Because of better yaw characteristics, the 5.56 as adopted had similar lethality as the rounds it replaced, at the expected combat ranges. The problems with 5.56 lethality that have been reported were that the M4 carbines adopted later had too short barrels for the rounds the military was using, and the lower muzzle velocity achieved resulted in impacts where the bullets failed to fragment properly.


>Are you really pretending the US, Britain, Soviet Union, etc didn't freely violate the "rules of war" also

No but The US and UK are far less notorious and so are not as good examples.

> Also, the nazis aren't a nation

Given the foulness of the topic but limited space, I wanted to emphasize the enormous difference between the Germans and Japanese of today vs 80 years ago. In retrospect, I should have written Tojo instead of Japan even though he is not a country either.


Please don't post in the flamewar style to HN. We ban accounts that do that, and you've unfortunately been breaking the site guidelines in other places too. If you wouldn't mind reviewing them and using HN in the intended spirit only, we'd be grateful.


It isn't singling out, dude. It's just an example. Obviously from the guys avoiding signing anti-cluster-munitions and anti-landmines you can tell that they're all concerned about their military effectiveness.

Fine, go ahead and say that Admiral Donitz only got away because we used Unrestricted Submarine Warfare just as much as he did. Okay. There we go. Now we're all even.

Give the man his due. That's Führer Donitz to you. Even if it was for a shorter period of time than William Henry Harrison fighting a cold after a a chilly wind.

"Nazis" in the context of WWII is commonly understood to mean the nation of Germany under control of the Nazi party.

I think people just generally have a lot less sympathy for literal Nazis, who the Germans voted into power, and any aggressors in a military campaign. America didn't just nuke Japan out of nowhere, the Japanese opened the door to that when they bombed pearl harbor and attempted to conquer the Pacific.

When the bad guys get what's coming to them, people don't feel so bad about it. And don't pretend civilians are completely innocent in these cases. You blame Americans for voting Trump into power, right? Then you also have to blame Germans for putting Hitler into power, and the Japanese for supporting their leaders' violent colonialism. The conflict was hugely popular on the home front in Japan. Until they started losing, of course.

Japan and Germany were not the victims of WWII.

Who ever identifies themselves as the bad guys? Even an aggressor has an excuse for why he believes he's morally right. The US invading Afghanistan for instance was obviously the aggressor but blamed the victim for deserving it. The Nazis blamed their victims too and their victims did do things to deserve it, in some sense. Your simple goodies vs baddies view is wrong.

I agree with your point about blaming voters though. In a democracy, politicians are only a reflection of what voters demand. They don't have much independent power themselves. Even in a non-democratic country, the populace is tacitly supporting their leaders and placing their immediate personal safety ahead of the enemies of their leaders.

Omitted by the article (I'm sure it was an oversight): The US had a chemical weapons program into the 1990's (link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_chemical_weapons... ) -- this program was decommissioned by President George Bush in 1993, but the last of the munitions WON'T BE REMOVED UNTIL 2023.

If people think all those munitions are simply going away,they must not know the US military. You can bet everything that only old, outdated munitions get destroyed. The US has flagrantly violated every other treaty and there's no reason to believe this one is different.

It's indiscriminate and insufficiently useful because occupying the field demands decontamination and collateral damages are ruinous. It's also illegal which may seem odd but 'just war' imposes constraints. Troops are less effective in CBW uniforms and atropine (and other) drugs deeply unpleasant. Neither side wants it, Syria aside.

Unneeded force wastes effort. We don't use napalm either. White phosphorus is used. Sadly. As is depleted uranium which wreaks havoc with dust. Weapons with chemical consequence abound.

Teargas was used for bunker clearing. The Russians have used sleeping gases in Chechen hostage rescues and people died from side effects. Nothing is simple with gases.

Old mustard gas is heavy liquid, bad juju. These old school simple chemical weapons were a giant toxic chemical love canal disaster. Belgium and France still heavily contaminated around the trenches.

Binary weapons safer but still pretty bad. "Safe" to handle is very qualified when field treatment is "hit it with a hammer" maintenance.

Ask yourself if the neutron bomb is still a part of rational war planning. Three days later, it's all usable as is. No electromagnetic spike damage, just smelly dead bodies to bury. Hmm. Bit niffy. Menthol up the nostrils is said to work by forensics staff.

Some would possibly count tear gas, white phosphorous or depleted uranium.

Might as well count gasoline bombs and napalm while at it.

Bullets have Pb, and Cu, both known to be very bad when introduced to the bloodstream, in this case quickly.

None of that are chemical weapons any more than water in waterboarding. They are all chemicals including water.

Whether something is a chemical weapon depends also on use, not only on content.


So yes, any of the above chemicals if they were to be used to cause harm via their toxic properties, would be chemical weapons according to OPCW.

White phosphorous is borderline; if it wasn't already restricted by incendiary weapons rules (Geneva convention covers use against civilians, Convention on Certain Chemical Weapons covers other use) it would probably be restricted by chemical weapons rules.

Tear gas is _clearly_ a chemical weapon (or a class of chemical weapons, really), and its use is banned in warfare by international treaty. Many countries do allow its use on civilians outside the context of warfare.

WP white phosphorous is actually a chemical weapon when used against people. It is an anti material weapon and used for smoke screens. But read up on the use of WP in fallujah.

Well that depends who you ask. US claimed it is not a chemical weapon because it ""merely"" burns its subjects but doesn't poison them.

Though probably any other country using it like they used it in Fallujah would have suffered consequences (note we're not talking about WP as used for lighthing and gun laying. Allegedly (I'm not sure what the evidence status), US used it for shake & bake on civilian population)

From the Wikipedia page on White phosphorus munitions:

> on 15 November 2005, US Department of Defence spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Barry Venable confirmed to the BBC that US forces had used white phosphorus as an incendiary weapon there

US shaked and baked children in Fallujah, but they were conveniently redefined from children to enemy combatants at the time.

The "Chemical Weapons Convention" bans tear gas for use in warfare, so that could easily be considered a chemical weapon.

If DU is a chemical weapon, then TNT is too because it's a chemical.

I stumbled onto this news documentary on the nerve gas stored in the US from 1973 very randomly maybe a year ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjA0EQPeUGM . If you're interested in this type of stuff this documentary is incredible and apparently won an Emmy. The number of problems with long term are mind boggling technologically, even if people don't know its near them. The whole idea if this place got bombed it would wipe out huge amount of people in the surrounding area based on wind patterns is nuts, frankly. The whole process to dismantle and then "store" the old gas is insane.

We don't use chemical weapons because they didn't even work that well in WWI.

The first chemical weapon attacks in WWI were quite deadly. However, chlorine, phosgene, mustard gas, etc. didn't remain effective after troops on both sides came to expect them. Once everyone had gas masks and the training to put them on quickly, chemical weapons became a mainly psychological threat. There are plentiful horror stories about gas attacks precisely because so many people survived them.

Chemical weapons and surprise are, together, a deadly combination. What might be combined with surprise in the future?

> What might be combined with surprise in the future?

From what you say, a chemical weapon would be pretty surprising today.

Except that top-flight militaries are ready for them. All of our armored vehicles are already air-tight, and hazmat suits are widely available throughout the military. It doesn't help the chemical weapon's case that the countermeasures to it fall into the broad category of Nuclear/Biological/Chemical, all of which need roughly the same countermeasures (airtight vehicles, gas masks, hazmat suits). Militaries are still equipped and ready for these kinds of attacks.

WWI happened.

Historian see WWI as the war of chemists.

And WWII as the war of physicists.

Very interesting. I wrote a paper in college that argued a very similar line of reasoning. I based this largely around the conversation that was had about aerial bombing during the inter-war period.

During WWI a biplane or two was able to fly over Paris and drop a grenade. It caused quite a scandal with some Navy high ups condemning the concept of aerial bombardment altogether. By the end of the inter-war period there was a strong stigma against it. The concept of using bombs on civilian centers was pretty much unthinkable. Until of course the war began and it wasn't. Throughout the war taboos were approach and broken one after another.

When the U.S. joined the war, there was a major row between U.S. and British airforce commanders about using bombers at night. The U.S. thought it unethical, especially since they had invested in a supposedly superior bomb sight which was rendered essentially useless at night. The British, facing an existential threat were not so scrupulous. Of course the night raids soon began.

So by war's end there was virtually no size of bomb nor target that was much unacceptable even though the idea of aerial bombing of even soldiers had been distasteful at its start.

Give this, the only reason I could think that chemical weapons had not followed the same slippery slope was that they were far less useful.

I got an A- on the paper, my teacher said it was good but too fringey. I couldn't dig up the paper but I found the bibliography. If you're interested in the subject give some of these sources a try. I especially enjoyed the biography of Doolittle, "I Could Never Be So Lucky Again".

"The Bombing of Berlin in World War II." Wikipedia.org. Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia, 7 April 2012. Web. 10 April. 2012.

"The Bombing of Germany." American Experience. Writ. Zvi Dor-ner. Dir. Zvi Dor-ner. PBS, 2010. Streaming.

"Bombing of Tokyo." Wikipedia.org. Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia, 3 April 2012. Web. 6 April. 2012.

Carlin, Dan. ”Logical Insanity.” Harcore History. dancarlin.com, 31 March 2012. Podcast. 6 April 2012.

Cheek, Dennis W. "Hiroshima and Nagasaki." Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics. Ed. Carl Mitcham. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 921-924. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 16 Apr. 2012.

Doolittle. Gen. James H. and Carroll V. Glines. I Could Never Be So Lucky Again. 1991. New York: Bantam Books, 2009. e-book.

"Firestorm." Wikipedia.org. Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia, 13 April 2012. Web. 14 April. 2012.

Hansen, Randall. Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany 1942-1945. New York: New American Library, 2009. e-book.

Truman, Harry S. "Harry S. Truman, Diary, July 25, 1945." Atomic Bomb: Decision. n.d. Web. 10 Apr. 2012.

> During WWI a biplane or two was able to fly over Paris and drop a grenade. It caused quite a scandal with some Navy high ups condemning the concept of aerial bombardment altogether.

It wasn't really new. Bombs have been dropped from balloons before then, and that caused enough of a scandal that the Hague Conventions of 1899 included "Declaration on the Launching of Projectiles and Explosives from Balloons". It was only in effect for 5 years, though.

Poisonous gases were also banned in Hague, and that prohibition didn't have an expiration date, so it was already a war crime in WW1.

They get used an awful lot against civilian populations who are protesting the political status quo, globally.

Not mustard gas, no, but mace, pepper spray, tear gas, all of which can kill or injure vulnerable people.

I would argue we do use chemical weapons, but only in specific circumstances in order to generate outrage about whoever we are claiming used them to justify our own military action. The biggest value they have now is how offensive they are. And I dont mean "we" as in the United States or anything like that, I mean humanity in general. No rational actor would ever decide to use a chemical weapon unless they intended primarily to blame someone else for it.

What an ignorant article. The Soviet union was a peer to the "Western" and "Modern System" and they would totally use chemical weapon during a conflict, asymmetrical tactics and in general any underhand methods that they could think of. Typical Nato way = The only way article. And the Soviet union was more mechanized and earlier then the US. If anything Nato was the static tactic user during the cold war.

Source: https://fas.org/irp/doddir/army/fm100-2-1.pdf Page 186, section 16-3

The refusal of NATO to repudiate first strike and the decision to place troops forward into the comecon borders did nothing to assuage paranoia inside the sovuet union. Do not equate missiles in Cuba with the permanent stationing of troops with tactical nukes on the landmass facing Russian satellite economies.

Many senior non US NATO staffers are believed to have agreed they'd disarm Americans who even looked like latching up the missiles btw..

Seriously: if you wanted one thing to help defuse a world looking to CBW then a president confident enough to repudiate first strike would have done it in the 1950s and 1960s (my school navy cadet handbook in the seventies explained CBW cleandown for ships in graphic detail at the back)

tl;dr: Because they're tactically and strategically ineffective. They can make serviceable assassination weapons, as can almost anything given the right arrangement of circumstances, but as a tool of warfare, they suck.

What I'd really like to see is an analysis from a military historian's perspective of why biological weapons are even more useless, with specific reference to current events. The tl;dr there is that they're tactically nonexistent, and strategically worse than merely ineffective because you can't control either their spread or your borders well enough to avoid them blowing back on you.

Of course, I'm not so naïve as to imagine such a thing would convince anyone who needs convincing. It'd be a fun read if Mr. Devereaux did it, but I suspect it would serve neither tactical nor strategic goals in the battle against misinformation.

> why biological weapons are even more useless ... they're tactically nonexistent, and strategically worse than merely ineffective because you can't control either their spread or your borders well enough to avoid them blowing back on you.

That's only true if all nations are identical. Which is another way of saying that it's never true. Unless it's a global extinction biological weapon, there would be winners and losers when it's over.

It could be acceptable to use (risk vs reward) if you believed your nation would endure far better than your rivals. If you believed you could get back up faster; that it weakens your rivals long enough, and substantially enough, to give you a path to hegemony. If you believed you could lock your society down better to protect it while the rivals were ravaged.

The US for example had that manner of booster path after WW2. It's not that the US didn't suffer in WW2, it suffered quite a bit, but far less than other major powers, particularly in terms of post war domestic conditions (vast manufacturing and export capabilities ready to go). It helped catapult the US to primary superpower status. Historically speaking, what major nations haven't wanted that position? Some even have cultural beliefs, like manifest destiny, that motivate the culture toward it.

I'm not sure that it's entirely accurate to claim that manifest destiny was a "cultural belief" (or at least, it doesn't tell the whole story), as that would imply a large form of consensus within the culture in regards to the belief. Many prominent Americans of the time, Whigs, and eventually the early Republicans believed that, rather than making their mission of expansion one of conquest, to expand by way of democratic example. Though "manifest destiny" was, for all intents and purposes, a "cultural belief", I think it's worth noting that there were many people in said culture who were vocally opposed to the idea and the actions the acceptance of such an idea would motivate.

Even if it worked out for the country in the end, it seems like those in power would hesitate to create such upheaval. Hard to hang on to the reins of power when the world turns upside down.

Why aren't chemical weapons (for example VX) effective area denial weapons? They seem damned good for the purpose.

He addressed that in the article really well. He argues modern, well trained, armies that constantly move with devolved command structures can't effectively use chemical weapons, and on top of that if fighting against a comparable opponent chemical weapon protection is cheap. Even when under existential threat those type of armies haven't used them.

Temporarily denying an area doesn't work with a mobile army, you might deny yourself an opening or you might not even know where your units are.

But poorly trained armies, with no independent command because of the coup potential can kind of use them as they get into 'static' fights, and have done, i.e. Iraq and Syria.

It really is an excellent article, though long, I would recommend reading it.

And it really drives the point home that the idea we got civilized and banned them is a fuzzy PR lie we tell ourselves.

Because they deny the area to you as well. Cleaning up a minefield is child's play compared to dealing with nerve agents.

No. Minefield can persist dangerous for decades. Nerve gas dissipates is days/weeks. Nerve agents might clear the ground tactically, but they don't hold it.

Ah, I should provide context.

From a tactical perspective, the minefield is easy to clear.

In terms of long-term effects, the mines are definitely worse. We are still finding mines from World War II all over Europe, and it’s a huge problem in Korea as well.

No. From a tactical perspective, minefields are very difficult to clear, especially in the short term to achieve tactical objectives. That's why they're effective. The fact they're dangerous decades later shows it's not easy.

Minefields are also very hard to deploy they take about as much to setup as to clear.

No. Completely untrue. Minefields can be deployed by air drop or artillery over wide areas in a moment. Google FASCAM, or cluster munitions, for example.

It hasn't been exclusively some guys burying them one by one by hand since WW1.

There are solid/liquid forms that persist for much much longer. Look at the efforts UK went through to clean up after the chemical attack in Salisbury (which was a liquid in a perfume bottle).

Interesting. I thought the extended cleanup was because the agent was derived from more stable precursors (binary agent), plus the normal overreaction to 'OMFG NERVE GAS'. But the (not conclusive) Wikipedia says the resultant agent is potent for 'years'. I doubt that kind of chemistry stays potent for that long in the wild, but it's by no means my area to judge. I don't think it changes the strategic or tactical view, but yeah...the thought of a year persistent toxic dead zone is unpleasant.

Even the most long-lasting ones will still evaporate in a few weeks. (Of course, if it's inside a bottle it will not evaporate, and if it's inside a city you probably want to decontaminate it rather than wait).

It's a bit hard to say for sure since it is all classified info for the most part. This article cites one of the creators for claiming it could last for years https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/novichok-nerve-ag...

This is an argument against area denial doctrine, not an argument against chemical weapons as agents of area denial.

Well, hypothetically speaking, a state might have secretly mass vaccinated it’s population against its engineered bioweapon(eg hidden in tdmr vaccine).

But I agree many things might go wrong with such a scheme. More of a plot device for bond movies...

We don't use chemical weapons because they have very poor military efficiency - modern armies taught themselves very well to protect against them, they will mostly harm civilians and make any postwar arrangements very complicated. Also they are very indiscriminate and depend on factors such as wind and elements way too much, so they are about as likely to harm own troops as the enemy. Plus, why bother if we have, to kill military targets, high precision weapons that do the job a lot better than chemicals ever could, and for wide area targets or infrastructure, nukes?

That, and it's kind of frowned upon internationally thus exposing people wielding these weapons to the possibility of ending up in a court room some day. Ali Chemicali was eventually executed. So was his boss, Saddam Hussein. In both cases, the use of chemical weapons against civilians was the main thing they were convicted off.

cause it sucks for both sides, like really suck. So they took them out and fight with the rest of arsenal


All manner of WMD would be used absent a credible deterrent. Just ask the residents of Aleppo or Halabja.

Who are "we"? Assad regime and Russian mercenaries perfectly use it.

Read the article.

US also has plenty in stock.

What's the summary of the article? I don't have the time to read it but am curious about the answer...

tl;dr: "Not because chemical weapons are immoral. Because they are ineffective" :'(

There's a saying, I forget where it originates but I want to say with either Bismarck or von Schlieffen, to the effect that the closest thing to a moral philosophy of warfare is that it should be pursued as brutally and ferociously as necessary to make wars as short as they possibly can be.

Granted, it's as much of its time as were the men I named. But it nonetheless does a good job, albeit implicitly, of pointing up that the best you can do in warfare is to minimize its essential immorality.

It was the central thesis of season three of Game of Thrones.

"Steal from the best."

Societies often find a moral conscious once something stops being economically (or in this case, militarily) viable.

Which strikes me as coming from the rather strange view that there must be a single reason for everything.

When in my view, it's hard for a single person to have a single reason for anything, so when many people are involved...

All's fair in love and war. There is no such thing as morality in war or nature. Just winners and losers.

There's no way to decide the relative weight of uselessness and perceived immorality of chemical weapons. Some people clearly do consider them horrible, and it would be quite a surprise if none of those people were in any position of power, from armed forces to civilian government to parliamentarians to voters.

The argument otherwise rests on the assumption of perfect efficiency in military procurement and decision-making. Does anyone believe the military never uses "useless" technology?

They came up with a rationalisation for building that marginal nuclear bomb to allow the 254th complete destruction of earth. I'm sure they could convince themselves of the necessity of chemical weapons if motivated.

It’s also quite a feat to write about chemical weapons and use the Tokyo Sarin attack as an example, and not Syria. Not only did the latter happen fairly recently. It’s also an actual military using these weapons, not a cult. And if Syria is to fresh and people here are among those doubting the reports, maybe the Iraqi chemical weapons program from the Iran-Iraq war and later the genocidal use against the Kurds is more trusted: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iraqi_chemical_weapons_program There, several thousand people were killed.

All the occasions you mention are covered in the blog. The sarin attack is used to demonstrate that even in the best conditions for the attacker they would not be effective in a military sense against modern first tier armies. As a terror weapon yes but the question is why don’t modern militaries plan to use them. It doesn’t rest on perfect efficiency. At this point the US, for example, doesn’t have the quantity needed for battlefield and no procedures for deploying them.

The nuclear weapon question isn't really covered, which is an interesting case because they're also strategically useless to a Modern army -- and the U.S. government knows it [1]. Yet disarmament basically froze 10 years ago.

In the language and framework of this article, I understand why countries with Static armies might feel the need to develop them, but I don't understand why Modern armies which are happy to dispose of chemical weapons aren't equally happy to dispose of nuclear weapons.

Do American and Russian generals think that nuclear weapons will become useful at some point in the future? Do countries like France believe this? The French president hinted that they kept submarines with nuclear weapons configured for terrorist attacks, but the deadliest terror attack in history was carried out with box cutters, so it's hard to imagine how nuclear weapons would help. Nuclear weapons could be useful (if horrific) against a Static opponent, but not a Guerrilla one.

[1]: https://thinkprogress.org/colin-powell-nuclear-weapons-are-u...

Nuclear weapons have long (since the late 50s at least) had a peculiar calculus that amounts to the prisoner's dilemma: whether or not your adversary has nuclear weapons, there is more value for you to have them, so you end up in a situation where everyone feels justified to have them, even if it's the worst situation overall.

This has created a few paradoxical situations. One of them is that their strategic value lies primarily not in their use (which will not achieve any result) but rather the threat of use, which may be sufficient to dissuade leaders from committing to a war (arguably, this happened during the Cuban Missile Crisis--both Kennedy and Khrushchev blanched at the prospect of starting a nuclear war). Another interesting side effect is that this means that the development of counter technologies produces staunch opposition: nuclear war has to be seen as unwinnable for its deterrent value to be effective.

Part of the motivation for nuclear weapons as a strategic (rather than deterrent) option comes from the lineage of people who see strategic bombing as an fast, cheap, easy way to win a war. For a century now, adherents have predicted that once you started bombing a few cities indiscriminately, you'd easily win a war. And people continue to argue this despite the rather thin evidence for this proposition, and mountains of evidence in opposition.

IMO because they make better strategic than tactical weapons.

I don't see much value in that article - it's basically just Colin Powell quoted as saying that he doesn't think nuclear weapons are useful and that they should be eliminated. But he's just one person, at one time, and he doesn't say anything about how. That's far, far away from a broad agreement among the entire US military and government. It's more like political propaganda than a reasoned analysis.

An actual modern military force in the field should be significantly less vulnerable. You'd have to be quite close to the detonation to damage armored vehicles and troops in good cover. Actually targeting it well is likely to be hard too. It would be nasty to soft vehicles and buildings and anybody outside of cover, but 5 minutes warning could cut that down pretty well.

But they would be quite effective indeed against more strategic targets, from military bases and logistic areas all the way back to factories and cities.

Nuclear weapons provide a deterrent. They can be useful if they are actually used (ex., Hiroshima) but since 1945 the primary benefit has been deterrence.

Yes, I believe the deployment of Sarin by the cultists was botched. While they had 5L they used it incorrectly. I can't remember where but I think I read something like 100x the deaths if properly distributed.

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