Document 7: Amos A. Fries and Clarence J. West, "The Future of Chemical Warfare," Chapter 26 in Chemical Warfare (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1921), pp. 435-39.

Document 7: Amos A. Fries and Clarence J. West, "The Future of Chemical Warfare," Chapter 26 in Chemical Warfare (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1921), pp. 435-39.


       Although the Chemical Warfare Service had been made a permanent part of the U.S. military through the National Defense Act of 1920, Amos Fries continued his efforts to convince the government and the American public of the necessity of supporting chemical weapons research in peacetime. In part Fries was responding to a growing public sentiment in favor of preventing future wars which culminated in an international conference in Washington, D.C. discussing limitations on armaments in 1921.[15] While early in the war the press and the military had emphasized the barbaric nature of poison gases, after the United States began to use chemical warfare the opinion of many military men changed. Fries and West argued against the idea that chemical warfare was barbaric and inhumane. In addition, Fries and West emphasized that the willingness of the United States to use every weapon available, including poison gases, would deter future conflicts.


       The pioneer, no matter what the line of endeavor, encounters difficulties caused by his fellow-men just in proportion as the thing pioneered promises results. If the promise be small, the difficulties usually encountered are only those necessary to make the venture a success. If, however, the results promise to be great, and especially if the rewards to the inventor and those working with him promise to be considerable, the difficulties thrown in the way of the venture become greater and greater. Indeed whenever great results are promised, envy is engendered in those in other lines whose importance may be diminished, or who are so short-sighted as to be always opposed to progress.

       Chemical warfare has had, and is still having, its full share of these difficulties. From the very day when chlorine, known to the world as a benign substance highly useful in sanitation, water purification, gold mining and bleaching was put into use as a poisonous gas, chemical warfare has loomed larger and larger as a factor to be considered in all future wars. Chlorine was first used in the cylinders designed for shipping it. These cylinders were poorly adapted for warfare, and made methods of perparing gas attacks extremely laborious, cumbersome and time-consuming.

       It was not many months, however, until different gases began to appear in large quantities in shells and bombs, while the close of the war, 3 1/2 years later, saw the development of gas in solid form whereby it could be carried with the utmost safety under all conditions -- a solid which could become dangerous only when the heating mixture, that freed the gas, was properly ignited.

       While some of the chemicals developed for use in war prior to the Armistice have been made known to the world, a number of others have not. More than this, every nation of first class importance has continued to pursue more or less energetically studies into chemical warfare. These studies will continue, and we must expect that new gases, new methods of turning them loose, and new tactical uses will be developed.

       Already it is clearly foreseen that these gases will be used by every branch of the Army and the Navy. While chemicals were not used by the Air Service in the last war, it was even then realized that there was no material reason why they should not have been so used. That they will be used in the future by the Air Service, and probably on a large scale, is certain. The Navy, too, will use gases, and probably on a considerable scale. Thus chemical materials as such become the most universal of all weapons of war.

       Some of the poisonous gases are so powerful in minute quantities and evaporate so slowly that their liberation does not produce sufficient condensation to cause a cloud. Consequently, we have gases that cannot be seen. Others form clouds by themselves, such, for instance, as the toxic smoke candle, where the solid is driven off by heating, while still others cause clouds of condensed vapor. This brings the discussion into the realm of ordinary smokes that have no irritating and no poisonous effects.

       These smokes are extremely valuable where the purpose is to form a screen, whether it be to hide the advance of troops or to cut off the view of observers. These smokes are equally useful on land and on sea. So great is the decrease in efficiency of the rifle or machine gun, and of artillery even when firing at troops that cannot be seen, that smoke for screening purposes will be used on every future field of battle. When firing through a screen of smoke, a man has certainly less than one-quarter the chance to hit his target than he would have were the target in plain view. Since smoke clouds may or may not be poisonous and since smoke will be used in every battle, there is opened up an unlimited field for the exercise of ingenuity in making these smoke clouds poisonous or non-poisonous at will. It also opens up an unlimited field for the well-trained chemical warfare officer who can tell in any smoke cloud whether gas be present and whether, if present, it is in sufficient concentration to be dangerous.

       At the risk of repetition, it is again stated that there is no gas that will kill or even permanently injure in any quanitity that cannot be detected. For every gas, there is a certain minimum amount in each cubic foot of air that is necessary to cause any injury. In nearly all gases, this minimum amount is sufficient to be readily noticeable by a trained chemical warfare officer through the sense of smell.

       It would be idle to attempt to enumerate the ways and means by which chemicals will be used in the future. In fact, one can hardly conceive of a situation where gas or smoke will not be employed, for these materials may be liquids or solids that either automatically, upon exposure to the air, turn into gas, or which are pulverized by high explosive, or driven off by heat. This varied character of the materials enable them to be used in every sort of artillery shell, bomb or other container carried to the field of battle.

       Some of the gases are extremely powerful as irritants to the nose and throat in very minute quantities, while at the same time being highly poisonous in high concentrations. Diphenychloroarsine, used extensively by the Germans in high explosive shell, is more poisonous than phosgene, the most deadly gas in general use in the past war. In addition, it has the quality of causing an intolerable burning sensation in the nose, throat, and lungs, in extremely minute quantities. This material can be kept out of masks only by filters, whereas true gases are taken out by charcoal and chemical granules.

       There is still another quality which helps make chemical warfare the most powerful weapon of war. Gas is the only substance used in war which can be counted on to do its work as efficiently at night as in the daytime. Indeed, it is often more effective at night than in the daytime, because the man who goes to sleep without his mask on, who is careless, who loses his mask, or who becomes excited in the darkness of night, becomes a casualty, and the past war showed that these casualties were decidedly numerous even when the troops knew almost to the minute the time the gas would arrive.

       Accordingly, chemical warfare is an agency that must not only be reckoned with by every civilized nation in the future, but is one which civilized nations should not hesitate to use. When properly safe-guarded with masks and other safety devices, it gives to the most scientific and most ingenious people a great advantage over the less scientific and less ingenious. Then why should the United States or any other highly civilized country consider giving up chemical warfare? To say that its use against savages is not a fair method of fighting, because the savages are not equipped with it, is arrant nonsense. No nation considers such things today. If they had, our American troops, when fighting the Moros in the Philippine Islands, would have had to wear the breechclout and use only swords and spears.

       Notwithstanding the opposition of certain people who, through ignorance or for other reasons, have fought it, chemical warfare has come to stay, and just in proportion as the United States gives chemical warfare its proper place in its military establishment, just in that proportion will the United States be ready to meet any or all comers in the future, for the United States has incomparable resources in the shape of the crude materials -- power, salt, sulfur and the like -- that are necessary in the manufacture of gases.

       If, then, there be developed industries for manufacturing these gases in time of war, and if the training of the army in chemical warfare be thorough and extensive, the United States will have more than an equal chance with any other nation or combination of nations in any future war.

       It is just as sportsman-like to fight with chemical warfare materials as it is to fight with machine guns. The enemy will know more or less accurately our chemical warfare materials and our methods, and we will have the same information about the enemy. It is thus a matching of wits just as much as in the days when the Knights of the Round Table fought with swords or with spears on horseback. The American is a pure sportsman and asks odds of no man. He does ask, though, that he be given a square deal. He is unwilling to agree not to use a powerful weapon of war when he knows that an outlaw nation would use it against him if that outlaw nation could achieve success by so doing. How much better it is to say to the world that we are going to use chemical warfare to the greatest extent possible in any future struggle. In announcing that we would repeat as always that we are making these preparations only for defense, and who is there who dares question our right to do so?

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