(This article was first published in 2013 and has been updated in light of recent events.)
There has been no evidence presented that the Syrian government is responsible for the reported chemical attacks. But the U.S., French and British governments (the former colonizers of the Middle East) claim that their allegations alone give them the moral authority to launch military action, in direct violation of international law. What they leave out is the long history of the U.S. government and its partners using chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction—and getting away with it. Here are nine examples:
#1: World War I, 1914-1918
Modern chemical weapons were first used on a mass scale during World War I, when the imperialist powers of the world sent their soldiers to kill and die in clouds of mustard gas and phosgene to re-divide the world amongst themselves. Germany was the first to use this deadly new weapon, but all sides of the inter-imperialist war joined in. Gas attacks killed 90,000 soldiers and civilians, while being linked to another 1.2 million casualties. Over 10 percent of all chemists in the United States were involved in the production of chemical weapons during the war, and the government ordered 3,000 tons of its own homegrown type of gas.
#2: Britain in Mesopotamia in 1920
Facing a heroic uprising staged by the people of Iraq, British colonial authorities authorized the use of chemical weapons against civilian populations, arguing in their “Manual of Military Law” that “the rules of International Law… do not apply in wars with uncivilized States and tribes”. Winston Churchill, then the civilian head of the British air force, stated that he was “strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes,” which he argued, “would spread a lively terror.”
#3: The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945
In one of the most infamous crimes against humanity, the U.S. government dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 even though top military and political leaders knew that the war was effectively over. Approximately 180,000 people were killed immediately by the bombings, and hundreds of thousands died later of radiation poisoning in the first and only use of nuclear weapons in human history.
#4: Agent Orange in Vietnam, 1961-1971
Over the course of the Vietnam War the U.S. military dropped over 20 million gallons of a deadly chemical weapon called Agent Orange. This campaign killed or maimed 400,000 Vietnamese and led to 500,000 babies being born with debilitating birth defects, in addition to devastating the economic life of the Vietnamese countryside by destroying all plant life that the chemical contacted.
#5: Iran-Iraq War
During the 1980-1988 war between Iraq and Iran, the United States supported the Iraqi government led by Saddam Hussein against the post-Shah Iranian government. Secret documents that have recently been declassified show that the CIA was fully aware of Iraq’s brutal and illegal use of chemical weapons but still continued to provide intelligence and other forms of political and military support. Pictured is Hussein with Donald Rumsfeld, who personally managed the chemical weapons sales.
#6: Depleted uranium in Gulf War
In the 1991 and 2003 invasions of Iraq, the U.S. military used depleted uranium—a chemically toxic and radioactive waste product of nuclear energy—in armor-piercing munitions. The use of DU has been linked to higher radioactivity, cancer rates, and congenital malformations among Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimated that the U.S. fired 1,000 to 2,000 metric tons of depleted uranium in 2003.
#7: White phosphorus in Fallujah, 2005
During the murderous assault on Fallujah in 2004, the U.S. military used white phosphorous chemical weapons as part of its campaign to level the Iraqi city, ultimately forcing 300,000 people to flee their homes. Although the Pentagon still officially denies that it used this brutal weapon, they are contradicted by countless eyewitnesses. One Marine who fought in the battle remembered, “I heard the order to pay attention because they were going to use white phosphorus on Fallujah… Phosphorus burns bodies, in fact it melts the flesh all the way down to the bone… I saw the burned bodies of women and children.”
#8: Israeli use of white phosphorous against people of Gaza, 2008-09
In its 2008-2009 massacre of hundreds of civilians in Gaza, Israel extensively used U.S.-made white phosphorous shells to terrorize densely populated areas – a form of collective punishment for daring to defy colonial aggression. Sabah Abu Halima, a Palestinian victim of an Israeli white phosphorous attack, recalled, “The fire was like lava, my family was burnt and their bodies turned to crisps.” Israel also has repeatedly used thousands of cluster bombs, which wreak enormous civilian damage.
#9 Military testing of radioactive chemicals in St. Louis communities, 1953-1954 and 1963-1965
The United States Military conducted top-secret experiments on the citizens of St. Louis, Missouri, for years, exposing them to radioactive compounds without their knowledge or consent. Approximately 10,000 residents of the Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex, primarily poor and Black, were exposed to the most chemicals. The Army told them they were testing harmless smoke screens, but in fact they were testing the chemical for potential use against the Soviet Union.