Indian infantry (58th Rifles) in Fauquissart, France, August 1915. CREDIT: <a href=",_prepared_against_a_gas_attack_(Photo_24-300).jpg">H. D. Girdwood/British Library/Public Domain</a>
Indian infantry (58th Rifles) in Fauquissart, France, August 1915. CREDIT: H. D. Girdwood/British Library/Public Domain

The Living Legacy of WWI: Chemical Weapons from the Great War to Syria, with Zach Dorfman

May 1, 2018

"What you stopped seeing after World War I was great power conflict involving chemical weapons, and what you started seeing was asymmetric conflicts or regional conflicts that involved chemical weapons. That actually disturbed me even more because what I started realizing was that as time went on the weaker you were, the more likely that another state would use chemical weapons against you or your people."

REED BONADONNA: This is Reed Bonadonna. I'm a senior fellow with the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. We are here today talking with Zach Dorfman, who is also a senior fellow for the Carnegie Council. He is writing a fellowship project under the Living Legacy of the First World War project on the use and conventions of chemical weapons during the First World War and since.

Today is the 24th of April, 2018. We're at the headquarters of the Carnegie Council at 64th Street and Lexington.

I'll start off by allowing Zach to introduce himself any way he would like to set the table for who he is and what he's working on right now.

ZACH DORFMAN: First of all, thank you for having me, Reed. It's a pleasure to be here. As you said, I'm a senior fellow at the Council, and I am a freelance investigative journalist, working mostly on espionage, U.S. foreign policy, terrorism, sanctions, that whole broad constellation of national security issues.

My project has to do with the use and abuse of chemical weapons from World War I to the present day, and the normative regimes surrounding their use, why we think about them the way we do, why they're different than other types of weapons and potentially not so different, and how our ideas about them have changed over time. I think it is a really rich question.

Obviously, as we were talking about it a little bit before, the Syrian War has brought these issues front and center in a way that I think we have not grappled on the world stage with chemical weapons in quite some time. I think this is a really important time to look back not only at the use of chemical weapons in World War I but throughout the 20th century, as there were more chemical weapons attacks than I think is commonly known. I think it is important for us to grapple with that and think about a way forward potentially to prohibit their use. Technically they're illegal under international law. They have been used nonetheless for various reasons and in various places. This is a very good moment to have a conversation about a weapon of mass destruction.

REED BONADONNA: Very timely, unfortunately.

I know, Zach, that you have a family connection actually with the use and the effects of chemical weapons, and I wanted to give you a chance to talk about that because I think it's quite interesting. Was there anything else other than that which led you to this particular project, to wanting to take on chemical weapons as your Carnegie Council project and maybe for further work, too?

ZACH DORFMAN: As you mentioned, yes, the family connection was certainly a part of it. My great-grandfather as an adult worked and lived in a town on the southern edge of the Adirondacks called Gloversville, which as you might expect was a glove factory town.

REED BONADONNA: Tanning country up there.

ZACH DORFMAN: Exactly. A lot of tanneries in upstate New York. You can still the ruins of them today actually. There's a Tannersville in the Catskills, too.

He fought in World War I and came back. He had been exposed to mustard gas. For something like 98 percent of the people exposed to mustard gas, it was a nonfatal exposure. Mustard gas is interesting because the image of World War I is seen as closely related to mustard gas, chemical weapons, whereas mustard gas was actually one of the least fatal of the chemical weapons used at the time. But because it was so ghastly because of the boils and the external effects that could be seen it became synonymous in certain ways with chemical weapons.

That said, he went back home. He lived his life. At a certain point, when my grandfather was a young boy, he had to undertake some kind of surgery. During the course of that surgery I think he was exposed to some kind of anesthetic. His lung capacity had been somehow reduced, and he died on the operating table.

The war didn't kill him, but the war killed him, as I think has been the case for many veterans and especially victims of chemical weapons attacks because chemical weapons are known to create long-term effects. They maim, there are higher incidences of cancer for certain kinds of exposure, throat cancer, people's lung capacity goes down. There used to be special seating on the Paris Métro—I remember reading this somewhere—for victims of chemical weapons attacks after World War I because people were permanently crippled by it. Of course, that is not even getting into the psychological effects.

REED BONADONNA: Les mutilés.

ZACH DORFMAN: Yes, exactly.

That was one part of it, the family connection.

The second part was because of the Syrian War and especially because of the 2013 attack in Ghouta in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, which was a horrific chemical attack. I think it was the deadliest since Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurdish town of Halabja in 1988. Casualty and fatality counts are difficult to suss out because of the fog of war. It's not like the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) or UN teams can just go into these war zones sometimes, but it has generally been estimated that the Ghouta attack killed over a thousand people, a majority of whom were women and children.

The indiscriminate nature of chemical weapons was another thing that made me think that this was an important topic and one that was very much at the forefront of the conscience of the world because there was such a reflexive revulsion to what had occurred in 2013. Those two things together really made me feel like it was time to revisit and reexamine chemical weapons.

REED BONADONNA: I had a great-uncle who was in the Marine Brigade in the First World War, and he died when I was very young of Hodgkin's lymphoma. I wonder if he had been exposed to chemical agents—very likely he had, he had been in France—and if that may have hastened his demise, been part of the health picture that no one was aware of.

I wanted to ask you about your research so far. Sometimes this can be interesting personal stories, but in your research have there been any particular challenges or discoveries, impediments, sources of aid, or just stories about how you have been doing your research and how that is going?

ZACH DORFMAN: It has been fascinating to look into this. Most of the research so far has been technical, looking at reports published on the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons site or looking at articles in The Nonproliferation Review or the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, specialized journals that look at weapons of mass destruction.

What I have found the most interesting and probably the most unsettling is my sense through this research that the norm against the use of chemical weapons is less established than I supposed it was before the Syrian War. There has been more consistent use of chemical weapons, especially in the Middle East, where it does not seem that that norm was ever instituted or respected in any real substantial way through the decades. I think there are a variety of reasons for this, and I think some of this is the failure of Western powers for their own reasons to deal with the use of chemical weapons over the ages.

There is a common narrative that the horrors of chemical weapons exposure made the world turn away from their use and institutionalized a norm and then eventually institutionalized an international legal structure against their use. Of course, the pinnacle of that was the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1997 and then the institution of the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is at The Hague, which is the international body that oversees the treaty and its states parties.

What I came to discover was that every decade or so or every two decades there was a war where there was widespread use of chemical weapons, often against innocent civilians and weaker parties. What you stopped seeing after World War I was great power conflict involving chemical weapons, and what you started seeing was asymmetric conflicts or regional conflicts that involved chemical weapons.That actually disturbed me even more because what I started realizing was that as time went on the weaker you were, the more likely that another state would use chemical weapons against you or your people.

The British, the French, and the Germans during World War II did not use chemical weapons against one another on the battlefield because they knew that there was a sense of mutually assured destruction, and maybe there was enough psychological horror against using it after World War I. But the Italians used it against the Ethiopians, the Japanese used it against the Chinese in World War II. It was always the stronger party versus a much weaker one. That was a disturbing trend I started seeing, and you see it today in Syria.

REED BONADONNA: Geoffrey Parker, who writes a lot about warfare, is a particular expert in early modern period warfare and has a book called Success is Never Final. He writes about reciprocity being one of the elements of military ethics that seems to be pragmatically successful in keeping people in check, that you don't kill me if I fall into your hands as a prisoner of war, and I won't kill you if the same fate befalls soldiers from your side. Things like that work. If a state has no recourse, doesn't have the industry, know-how, or delivery system to engage in chemical warfare, the other side can do so in that way with impunity, and there is less reason for them to avoid the use of chemical weapons.

Of course, if you're attacking an unprotected population, they are 10 times probably more effective because these people don't have masks, don't have detection devices, can't wear suits, don't know the symptoms, aren't carrying a syringe in their leg pocket to jab themselves with if they start experiencing the symptoms of a chemical agent, which is one of the pieces of equipment I was carrying with me in Iraq. It is no mystery why that weaker-stronger relationship would be important in the use of chemical weapons I would say, unless there is something else to it as well.

ZACH DORFMAN: I think you're absolutely right, but I think this also points to the particular cruelty of chemical weapons. I was reading about the Italian campaign against Ethiopia. There were over a dozen major chemical attacks against the Ethiopians. One of the particular aspects of that conflict was that the Ethiopians in 1935 were still fighting barefoot and with much uncovered skin, and the Italians knew that, and they used mustard gas and blister agents on them on purpose, knowing what it would do to that army, which was already so—the Italian military was so much more advanced in any case. There was no need for using chemical weapons against the Ethiopians. They would have beaten them in a conventional conflict easily.

That gets to a part of the issue. By the way, that is the same thing that you see with the Egyptian Army in its invasion of Yemen in the mid-1960s. The Egyptians used mustard gas and phosgene—which is far more fatal than mustard gas—multiple times against the Yemeni people during its war against the royalists, when Nasser was trying to install a radical regime in Yemen in the mid-1960s. It was the same thing. They would attack from the sky small communities in the mountains and try to basically terrorize—and this is part of the problem with chemicals because they are an instrument of terror—the population into submission.

That's what you've seen as time has gone on, this movement toward this more asymmetric—and it's probably right, because Egypt fought this war against Yemen from 1963 to 1967, and then it fought Israel in 1967 and did not use chemical weapons once because it knew that there would be an overwhelming response by the Israelis. The negative proves the rule, right? They immediately engaged in a conventional conflict, and then again in 1973 against Israel and again did not use chemical weapons against a far more formidable military foe. That is the trend that I've seen over time.

REED BONADONNA: Not only being on the winning side, but there seems to be a trend of a use by repressive regimes, that this is how they operate. They use power if possible in a very one-sided way, they do it against their own people, they'll do it against an adversary. It is an extension of a repressive authoritarian regime to lay on the gas.

When I was in Iraq one of the best days of my life was when during the invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF 1) the word came down that the chemical threat was very low at this point and we could remove our suits, although we should keep our masks handy. One of the other best days of my life was the word that the chemical threat was pretty much zero. I certainly hoped they were right about that, but they said go ahead and dig a pit somewhere and just burn your chemical suits. We're not going to bother to take them back to the barracks with us.

I had talked with the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) officer with the unit I was with about the possibility of their use, and we all feared it, maybe partly because it was so unfamiliar. But anyone who is acquainted with the military knows that high explosive can blow you to bits, and they have other kinds of weaponry that will shred you and turn you inside out.

What is about chemical weapons—you've alluded to some of them already, the way they are used often in an oppressive way—that, you used the term malum in se, that seems to be special? We would rather be blown to pieces by high explosive or, say, do that to the enemy than we would countenance the idea of succumbing to or employing especially lethal chemical agents. If you talk about nonlethal, that puts it I think in a whole different category, and those can be relatively humane.

ZACH DORFMAN: Such as tear gas.


ZACH DORFMAN: By the way the Chemical Weapons Convention does not forbid the use of dispersal agents, although it is interesting because it does forbid the use of mustard gas, which is generally nonlethal but has such long-term scarring and maiming effects. If you get exposed to tear gas, you're fine the next day.

REED BONADONNA: Take a shower.

ZACH DORFMAN: You take a shower. You know better than I, as you said about your yearly exposure to it.

I think that there is a simple answer and a more complicated answer. I think the simple answer is that they are indiscriminate weapons of terror. Obviously, a bomb dropped on a civilian area is an indiscriminate weapon of terror, too, but there are sophisticated legal and normative regimes that prevent professional armies from doing that.

Obviously, there is a whole host of considerations the professional armies make when they engage in operations in areas where civilians are going to be present. But chemical weapons are almost always used, especially in the last 30 to 40 years, explicitly on civilian populations. They kill women, they kill children, they kill boys and girls. They are horrific.

They also scar people, as we mentioned before, physically, but psychologically as well. When you read accounts of people who have lived through chemical weapons attacks—fatal, nonfatal, maybe they saw people die, maybe nobody died, maybe it was a mustard gas attack and everybody recovered over time—it is a harrowing thing to read. You can understand why in a war where tens of millions of people died in World War I, chemical weapons killed "only" 100,000 people. It injured a million, but it only killed 100,000 in a war where 17-20 million people died. Most people died—

REED BONADONNA: Most of them, machine gun fire, high explosive, things like that.

ZACH DORFMAN: Artillery, that kind of stuff. But there is something particular about chemical weapons that instilled terror and fear into people's hearts. I think that is an intuitive way of understanding why we think of them as somehow different.

I think the other part of it is you can engage an adversary on the battlefield and walk away unscarred physically, but I think the mere fact of potential exposure to chemical weapons that will then manifest themselves 10, 20, 30 years down the road, like your relative, is another differentiating factor. That's my broad sense about why they're different than other kinds of weapons.

REED BONADONNA: The idea of poisoning the very air that we breathe and hurting us in ways that maybe we can't understand or anticipate or won't even feel maybe for a long time. There is a great variety of chemical agents. I was schooled in them, and some will make your skin blister, some will incapacitate the ability of your lungs to assimilate oxygen and destroy your respiratory system.

ZACH DORFMAN: Phosgene fills your lungs, and you choke.

REED BONADONNA: I was an English major as a grad student, and in fact I wrote about the First World War in my Master's thesis, so it is inevitable when I come upon a project like this that I think of some of the writing about the use of chemical weapons in World War I by some of the people who inspired Paul Fussell to call World War I a "literary war."

Robert Graves writes about the employment of chemical weapons on the British side. The code name for it was "the accessory." It was a disaster. I think the gas they employed wound up blowing back to the British trenches.

ZACH DORFMAN: Yes, it did.

REED BONADONNA: But the most famous has to be Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce et Decorum Est," about the gas casualty that occurs in his company and the British soldier who "like a devil's sick of sin," and the image, "Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues." I wonder how much of that kind of literature you've read, and is there anything in that canon of literature of chemical warfare which is particularly outstanding or memorable in your experience, in your reading?

ZACH DORFMAN: To be quite honest with you, it has been years since I read some of that stuff. The world of nonfiction that I live in is rather emotionally weighty, so when I escape to the world of fiction these days it's a little bit lighter.

But I do think that it is worth focusing for a second on the role of the arts in bringing chemical weapons to the forefront of the public, especially in Great Britain. That I think is an alternative explanation for why chemical weapons became the focus of so much conversation about chemical weapons being malum in se or evil in themselves, and also explains as you mentioned before in your reference to blistering agents, why mustard gas, which had more obvious aesthetic effects, became associated with World War I instead of phosgene. Eighty-five percent of fatalities in World War I that were chemical weapons-related were from phosgene, which is a lung irritant that fills your lungs with water, I think, or basically chokes your throat.

It just shows you how public understanding of something can be led by artists and writers. I think that is somewhat hopeful actually. They helped create the public perception of something that was so horrific that in a way politicians were trailing behind them. I don't know how that would work today in terms of Syria, but I wish we had that same cohort.

REED BONADONNA: No one out there. Right.

I did want to ask at some point, maybe I'll just do it now, about the Syrian strikes that recently occurred. This was a multinational attack conducted with U.S. forces in cooperation with the French and British carrier-based air. Here is an international sanction expressed against the use of chemical weapons on the part of Syria. This is another way, apart from norms and a standing organization that tries to seek out and suppress the use of chemical weapons, that the international community can get together and say "no chemical weapons."

Do you have any sense at this point what the effects of that raid were in degrading the real ability of Syria to launch chemical attacks? Or maybe it was more a punitive thing where, even though after the raid they may have the capacity to use the weapons, now they understand that this is going to be a trigger point for some of the larger powers.

Also, are we following it up? Military action like that has a limited utility if we don't talk about it later, if there is not a diplomatic effort or negotiations to follow up that kind of discrete, quickly concluded military activity. Any thoughts at all about that?

ZACH DORFMAN: Oh, boy. Do you have another three or four hours to talk about Syria? No, that's a great question.

REED BONADONNA: Our next interview.

ZACH DORFMAN: That's a great question. Let's just step back a second.

I don't even think it was punitive, let alone a deterrent. I think it was a symbolic strike, and I think that it was tied more closely to President Trump's preference for symbolic action over real concrete steps to try to if not solve, then attenuate the Syrian crisis. I think that this is tied up in many ways with the personal foibles and incoherence of Donald Trump himself and the Trump administration and their approach to U.S. foreign policy.

But I will say this: I think that it is good abstractly in the world to punish regimes that use chemical weapons, and especially those that do so against civilian populations. I think the recent round of attacks, because Trump equivocated so much after the attack about when he was going to strike, if he was going to strike, basically publicly broadcasting on social media that he was planning on striking, therefore giving Syrian troops and their Russian and Iranian allies plenty of time to clear out any important materiel out of the areas that I am sure they believed the Trump administration would be striking. Because of that I think it was really a highly symbolic act. I wish that instead of broadcasting his intent to strike ahead of time that they would simply have done so in a way that truly would have prevented the Assad regime from engaging in these attacks in the future.

But I understand the difficulty in doing so because of the presence of Russian troops on the ground. The presence of Russian troops on the ground I can't blame on the Trump administration, because the Obama administration through its own equivocation allowed that space to open up where now the Russian presence in Syria is pretty much irrevocable. They want their naval base in Tartus, fine. But as soon as regular Russian troops showed up, it changed the calculus on the ground and made it immensely more dangerous for America or its allies to engage in those kinds of bombing campaigns.

The other problem is that even though Syria was supposed to have given up its chemical weapons stocks under a deal brokered by John Kerry, there are chemical weapons that are dual-use. Chlorine is the one that comes to mind most of all. Chlorine has a variety of industrial uses, and it is easy to procure. Any state would have very little problem doing so. It is also an exceedingly cruel weapon of war. Dropped from helicopters—the Assad regimen seems to favor barrels dropped out of helicopters on urban areas—it can be deadly if the concentration is high enough. In the very least, it can maim and it can injure, and it is a weapon of war and a weapon of terror.

Whatever the Trump administration did or didn't do, it is unlikely that it will be able to prevent the Assad regime from procuring enough chlorine to continue using it against civilian populations for the rest of the conflict.

Let me ask you a question, if you don't mind me turning it around.

REED BONADONNA: What do you mean?

ZACH DORFMAN: Were you there in the Gulf War or the 2003 intervention?

REED BONADONNA: 2003. Actually, my unit got activated for the Gulf War. I was a reservist at that time. We were sent to Norway, so I like to say we were guarding the extreme north flank of Saudi Arabia—I'm kidding—and by the time the exercise we were doing with the Norwegian Army was over the war was effectively over, too. It lasted four or five days, so it was over fast.

ZACH DORFMAN: The Gulf War was only a few years after the gassing of the Kurds in Halabja. That has gone down as the single deadliest chemical weapons attack in history. More than 5,000 people were killed within minutes. It was a vicious and brutal attack on a civilian population. Of course, that followed the Iran-Iraq War, where Iraq used chemical weapons constantly over the course of the conflict.

I can only imagine the—you're a Marine—I personally would be filled with fear knowing that there was a regime that had a seemingly casual attitude in the past on using chemical weapons and did so many times. I imagine that must have been difficult to an extent even in 2003, all those years later, because you don't know what they're going to do. You never know what an adversary is going to do.

REED BONADONNA: Right. I did write in my journal in 2003 when we were getting ready to cross the Line of Departure that I expected Saddam to use chemical weapons. I really thought: This will be him all over. He's not a soldier. He doesn't understand war. He's not a master of the operational art, but he knows how to hurt people, so I think he'll probably use an indiscriminate weapon. I was mightily pleased that he did not.

ZACH DORFMAN: It goes back to our point about the asymmetric nature of it, because I think he thought, Maybe I'll get out of this alive or it will mitigate and improve the situation for me in some way if I don't use chemical weapons, because if I do, the response by the U.S. military will be overwhelming. I can only imagine what—was it Tommy Franks? Who was the—

REED BONADONNA: Franks was the theater commander. He was the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).

ZACH DORFMAN: I can only imagine—

REED BONADONNA: I think at that time even President Bush had issued a fairly stern warning about the use of any kind of weapons of mass destruction including, I believe, in that definition chemical weapons.

It also reminded me of something I remember from a long time ago, the British Marine officer who was seconded to my unit when we were there just before the invasion described it as "getting ready to dive into a deep pool and not sure how much the water would hurt." The use of chemical weapons would have been one of those things. It would have made it hurt a little bit more. As I say, for all of us, no matter how blithe we pretended to be about it, we were very relieved that that was not an aspect of the campaign and that we didn't have to deal with chemical weapons on top of the other problems involved.

Let me get back to the proper order of things and asking you questions. One of the questions I ask was inspired by something I heard Joel Rosenthal mention that a historian of the American Revolution, asked to described what the experience was like, said, "Imagine the smell of whiskey and onions, because that's probably what an American military camp or an American military formation smelled like if you got too close."

In the case of a talk on chemical weapons, the idea of sensory impressions of your research is particularly fraught, toxic we could say. But I was wondering if there were any sensory impressions—look, taste, feel, touch—that you're taking away from your research of this type of weapon and the rules that have developed around it and the hidden history of the extent of the use of chemical weapons, especially in certain parts of the world?

ZACH DORFMAN: That's a great question. The first thing is I think that obviously chemical weapons are highly visceral, I guess in both senses of the word. You hear accounts about exposure. I think phosgene is described sometimes as having a smell like fresh hay, and other gases are described as smelling slightly sweet. Other ones are odorless, other ones are colorless. Mustard gas has a slightly yellowish tinge or at least some types of it. That is part of the experience, too, for people. I can only imagine that as being quite triggering in some ways.

The thing that has stuck with me the most is the lack of the developed norm against the use of chemical weapons, especially in the Middle East, and as a corollary to that, Egypt as a kind of chemical weapons superpower. With Syria's disingenuous accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention a few years ago, there are only [four] countries in the entire world that are not States Parties. One is North Korea, unsurprisingly, the other is Egypt, which I found somewhat surprising, actually.

Egypt started developing a chemical weapons program in the 1960s as a deterrent against Israel, and especially an Israeli nuclear capacity. Over the 1960s and 1970s it was the great proliferator across the Middle East of chemical weapons. It supplied Libya, it supplied Syria starting right before the 1973 Yom Kippur War, actually, where it was obvious that what the Egyptians were trying to do was provide another hostile state with those weapons in case of a two-front war, which of course broke out. In fact, it was a three-front war for Israel.

Then, in the 1980s there was close technological development and tech transfer between Egypt and Iraq, where they were developing weapons systems that would deliver missiles tipped with chemical weapons as well as artillery and stuff that could be dropped from airplanes.

What is interesting about this and about the Egyptian role in this is that they proliferated chemical weapons to Iraq after they signed the peace treaty in 1979 with Israel. They used it as a hedge.

We are still living with the repercussions of that decision from the 1960s, and Egypt has really gotten away I want to say morally scot-free in terms of how it has created an environment where chemical weapons are ubiquitous in its region. I think telling the story of Syria or Iraq without understanding that decision by the Egyptian generals, Nasser, or Sadat, is a difficult one. That has been a disturbing realization just about how norms can be universal, but they are not necessarily universal. There are regional norms. There is no regional norm against, or there is a weak if not nonexistent regional norm against the uses of chemical weapons in the Middle East.

People in Iraq, Iran—no modern country, at least before Syria, had suffered more than Iran because of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. Iranians have been exposed en masse, Yemenis have been exposed en masse, Iraqis have been exposed en masse, Syrians have been exposed en masse to chemical weapons. Yet the world, for various reasons, has not really defended those populations.

There used to be a lot of talk years ago about the Responsibility to Protect vulnerable populations.


ZACH DORFMAN: R2P. For years, R2P, R2P, R2P, and people talked about Libya as the crowning achievement of R2P in action, and then Syria happened, and you don't hear about R2P very much anymore because it was kind of exposed for what it is, which is absolutely facile in the face of great power conflict, which is really what Syria has become, a proxy great power conflict.

REED BONADONNA: Interesting.

ZACH DORFMAN: But it disturbs me immensely. There is a hidden history in plain sight of populations being exposed. Of course, as I mentioned before, Ethiopians and Chinese during World War II. People like to say, "Oh, there was no gas used in World War II." Well, there was. It just wasn't in the European Theater, and of course millions of civilians were gassed.

REED BONADONNA: It didn't affect American troops, so it is not in our history books nearly as much as it would be if it had.

ZACH DORFMAN: The Japanese suppressed it. There is also some evidence that the Nuremberg and Tokyo trial prosecutors suppressed evidence of Japanese usage of chemical weapons as well for various reasons that seem to still be kind of lost in the mists of history.

Because of that and because, for instance, during the Iran-Iraq War, Iran was post-revolutionary, and the United States had very good reasons to be quite hostile toward Iran because Iran was being quite hostile toward the United States. Because of that, the new Iranian regime was not given a fair hearing about the extent of the usage of chemical weapons by Iraq. It was understandable at the time why there was very little trust in the Iranians. It was an immediate post-revolutionary situation, and obviously you just had the embassy hostages and all that stuff going on.

But there is a history of ignorance or I would say people not seeing what's right in front of them.

REED BONADONNA: Willful ignorance.

ZACH DORFMAN: Willful ignorance, yes. The situation in Syria today is the result of the international community, if it exists, turning a blind eye over the years to chemical weapons usages because it was not in its interest to do so at the time. That is disturbing, and it shows you the norm is I think a lot more delicate and provisional than many people said before the conflict in Syria.

REED BONADONNA: The United States and the rest of the world have been very selective about how much they take umbrage at the use of chemical weapons. It depends on who is using it and against whom it is being used. Maybe it has to rise to a level of notoriety in the media before it attracts enough attention for any action to be taken, or even for language to be expended about its use.

We have been talking for a while. I think this is going to wind up being one of the longer interviews, but anything that you wanted to discuss at some point and we have not gotten to it yet?

ZACH DORFMAN: No, we've covered a lot of ground I think. This is one of those topics again that you could spin out a million ways, and maybe we'll do something later on just on Syria. I think that would be great because I think that is an important topic.

REED BONADONNA: All right. I'll pencil that in. Yes.

ZACH DORFMAN: But it's been a real pleasure. This has been a lot of fun, and I have enjoyed our conversation. I'm glad we got to do it in person.

REED BONADONNA: Me, too. This is the only interview of the nine that has been conducted in person. All the rest have been with the telephone and the headsets on.

Zach, great talking to you, too. I'm so glad you could come to New York in a timely fashion and that we could get this done. Have a great day.

ZACH DORFMAN: You, too. Thanks so much.

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SEP 5, 2013 Article

On Law, Policy, and (Not) Bombing Syria

The question of whether the U.S. should use its military against Assad is separate from the questions of legal interpretation. The legal question does ...

CREDIT: Life Preserver via <a href="">Shutterstock</a>

SEP 16, 2013 Article

A Lifeline for Peace in Syria--and for Obama

Why are we so reluctant to say the following? The overriding priority is to end the killing; defanging the Syrian chemical weapons complex will be ...

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