War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda

Jonathan B. Tucker, Author . Pantheon $30 (479p) ISBN 978-0-375-42229-4

According to arms control expert Tucker, chemical weapons—and efforts to ban them—are almost as old as war itself. The ancient Greeks and Romans tried to outlaw poison, and in 1675 the French and German empires signed a treaty that outlawed poisoned bullets. By WWI, the "futile slaughter of trench warfare" made toxic gases more attractive to the German High Command—and then everybody else. Fear of reprisal precluded the use of nerve agents in WWII battlefields, but the Nazis found Zyklon B, an insecticide, to be an effective instrument of death in their gas chambers. In the 1950s and '60s, virtually every major power was developing and testing chemical weapons, and this deadly technology was often granted to client states: Egypt used nerve agents in its 1962 war against Yemen, and Iraq frequently used nerve agents against its Kurds. Despite current debates about weapons of mass destruction, Tucker's main points are not about warfare: his description of the 1995 Tokyo subway attack proves that with enough money, any madman can develop nerve gas. In his final pages, Tucker does point out that we have "grounds for hope as well as concern," but many readers will only find cause for pessimism. Regardless, this is a sobering, detailed and necessary book. (Feb. 7)

Reviewed on: 12/19/2005
Release date: 02/01/2006
Genre: Nonfiction
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