Article

Chemical and Biological War

Marion Girard

in Military History

ISBN: 9780199791279
Published online June 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0077
Chemical and Biological War

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Chemical weapons include arms that deploy gas, liquid, or solid substances with the intent of harming, harassing, or killing. They are commonly called poison gases, because those have been the most common kinds of chemical weapons used, although not all chemical weapons are poison gases. Biological weapons are those made from natural or synthetic diseases or substances intended to attack humans or animals and produce illness, thus injuring or killing their targets. Although, broadly defined, chemical and biological weapons have been a part of international warfare since ancient times, most histories focus on the modern, industrialized era, specifically 1915 onward. Chemical warfare was introduced and widely used in the form of poison gas during World War I. It was banned legally and morally during most of the interwar period, and, in general, belligerents were deterred from using chemical weapons during World War II and beyond. Chemical weaponry remains a threat from both state actors and now terrorists, although historians rarely focus on the contemporary period in depth. Biological warfare had been considered, but it was banned during the interwar period and has rarely been tried, and thus it has been the focus of fewer works than chemical warfare. The controversial nature of chemical and biological weapons (particularly the question of whether it is a humane or even acceptable weapon); the classification of both chemical and biological arms as weapons of mass destruction; and their limited use have inspired numerous historical works, especially ones focused on World War I, as well as works of interest to historians that are found in the scientific and policy literature.

Article.  14528 words. 

Subjects: Military History ; Pre-20th Century Warfare ; First World War ; Second World War ; Post-WW2 Military History

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