The New Chemical Warfare
By Julius Stieglitz
[The Yale Review, April 1918]
A striking feature of the great war is the prominent part played by the natural sciences in its inception and its progress. The major nations on each side are bringing to bear upon the problems of offense and defense, of supplies of foods and other necessities, upon the preparation and preservation of their man power, all the vast resources of scientific knowledge and research which the last hundred years have given to our civilization. Nearly all the sciences have been called upon to render important service, but it is not surprising that the leading roles have fallen to the two fundamental natural sciences—physics, the science of the transformation of energy, and chemistry, the science of the transformation of matter.
The public was not unprepared for the great feats of the physicists: their mastery of gravity in the magnificent development of the aeroplane, their mastery of the buoyancy of the sea in the modern submarine, their masterful use of light in observation and range-finding methods of remarkable precision, and their impressive control of all forms of sound transmission in wireless telegraphy and wireless telephony and in submarine detectors. All these have been rapid developments of inventions with which men have been familiar in earlier cruder forms and which were easily understood. But there is little question that the leading part played by chemistry in the war in an almost infinite variety of ways came with a shock of surprise to the public, and for the first time in history roused men to a realization of the power and resourcefulness of this fundamental science. Chemistry is a difficult science; its greatest triumphs are based on the application to given problems of its theories and laws concerning those invisible, sub-microscopic worlds, the atoms and molecules, of which matter is composed. The high powers of scientific imagination controlled by rigorous logic, which makes the intangible, ultimate particles realities to the chemist, appeal to comparatively few men who do not devote their whole lives to the science. Consequently, the achievements of chemistry are commonly accepted as completed results, while the processes by which they are obtained still have for the public much of the air of that mystery which shrouded the efforts of the alchemists in the Middle Ages.
It is no exaggeration to say that chemistry made this war possible in its very beginning and is now primarily responsible for the prolongation of its terrible ravages. There is no question that without the recent development by her great chemists, especially by Professor Haber, by Professor Ostwald, and by Dr. Carp, of methods of converting the atmospheric nitrogen on a large scale into ammonia and nitric acid, Germany would not have dared to open the war in 1914. It was these discoveries that insured to her ample and constant supplies both of explosives for the battlefields and of fertilizers for her farms for an indefinite length of time. The Haber process alone has been estimated to have produced in 1917 no less than 500,000 tons of ammonium sulphate as against a yield of 60,000 tons in 1914, and the total yield of nitrogen products obtained from the air in Germany in 1917 has been estimated at 1,600,000 metric tons! Without this aid, in the face of the possibility of Great Britain's control of the seas and the cutting off of supplies of nitre and food, Germany would have been compelled to stake all on the chance of a speedy conquest, such as she failed to achieve in 1914 as a result of the Battle of the Marne.
With chemistry thus a vital factor in the very inception and planning of the war, it is not a matter of surprise to find in its progress that the power and resourcefulness of the science of the transformation of matter should have been drawn into the conflict to an ever increasing degree, until at last we have chemists at the very battle front waging war on a scale never witnessed before in history. Twenty per cent of the shells now fired on the western front, it is estimated, are charged with chemical poison or irritant rather than with shrapnel. Besides this direct participation in the actual fighting, chemists behind the lines are the "key men" in huge industries, in part supplying the warring armies with munitions, in part meeting the more peaceful but pressing needs of the civic population for articles which before the war were imported from foreign and, especially, enemy countries. In addition to contributing thus directly to the demands of the war, chemistry has been called in a number of imperative ways to the aid of her sister sciences in the solution of war problems. Within the limits of this article, it will be possible only to touch upon the most striking of these activities in which chemists have been engaged, especially in our country's own relations to the war.
Medicine is doing wonders in protecting the millions of men in arms against disease in camp and trench, which in previous wars was prone to count more victims than did the battlefield. The science is writing an even more wonderful record in saving life and limb from the carnage of the long battle fronts. To medicine chemistry is giving its antiseptics and disinfectants, iodine, phenol and bichloride of mercury, chloride of lime and formaldehyde, as well as the modern preparations of Dr. Dakin, derivatives of hypochlorous acid, made to have a maximum disinfecting and antiseptic effect with a minimum of injury to the tissues. To medicine, too, chemistry must contribute on a scale never before demanded, the anaesthetics for the operating tables of the base hospitals, a shortage of which in the early stages of the war caused so much needless suffering.
Here we have an excellent instance of the great possibilities of the science. Cocaine, found in the leaves of erythroxylon coca, which was first used as a local anaesthetic, has the great disadvantage that it is dangerously poisonous, and its use led occasionally to fatal consequences. Moreover, the supply was limited and its cost often prohibitive for all but the wealthy. A profound study by chemists of the arrangement of the atoms in the molecule of cocaine gave the world the plan key for the preparation of similar, but simpler drugs, which can be made in any quantity from coal-tar products and which, above all, show far lower degrees of toxicity than cocaine. Thus, one of the best of these products, procaine (the new official name of the drug introduced as novocaine) is only one-sixth as toxic as cocaine and its use is practically devoid of danger. Again, chemistry must supply medicine with its anodynes and hypnotics, such as chloral, sulphonal, trional, and barbital—the official name of the drug introduced as veronal. These are air products of the ingenuity of chemists in devising means to an end; and in barbital, which is closely related to substances like uric acid to which our bodies are accustomed, we have perhaps the least harmful of the agencies for bringing sleep to the sufferer while nature exerts her healing powers.
In the face of the fast disappearing margin of safety in the food supplies of the world, final success or failure of the warring nations may rest with the botanist, under whose guidance should be placed the effort to produce a maximum yield of food despite a shortage of men. To this vital campaign chemistry is giving the lore of the composition of the soil, the recipes for fertilizing it properly with potash, or phosphate, with nitrate, ammonia, or lime, in order to make possible intensive cultivation. There is no exaggeration in the statement that German chemists have saved their country from the alternative of starvation or surrender by the aid they have rendered agriculture in supplying it with the thousands of tons of ammonium sulphate and nitrate prepared from the atmosphere by the processes of their great chemists. When parasites threaten the growing crops or a blight attacks the garnered grain, fruit, or vegetable, it is again to the chemist that the botanist is wont to turn for his cyanides and arsenicals, copper salts and sulphur mixtures. Finally, the efforts of the botanist in control of agriculture must be supplemented by the chemist in perfecting methods of preservation, and especially of desiccation of foods, which in one operation could relieve difficulties of transportation, of storage, and of preservation.
To the physicists chemistry has supplied as needed, indispensable materials, without which their brilliant achievements would probably have been in large part impossible. The keenness and accuracy of vision of the modern range-finders, of telescopes, field-glasses, and cameras—the eyes with which physics has equipped modern armies and fleets on the sea and in the air—depend on the preparation by the chemist of optical glasses of purest quality and fine adjustment in composition to a great variety of needs. It is well-known that this problem of optical glass was one of the most serious of the many confronting us when we entered the war, and a very brilliant and rapid solution was worked out by a staff of chemists under the able direction of Dr. Arthur L. Day, whose success is destined to be remembered as one of the great achievements of American scientists in this war.
Again, the modern aeroplane would collapse under its load of pilot and observer, of armor and ammunition, did not chemists supply those cunningly devised alloys which combine greatest strength and toughness with a minimum of weight. In fact, every single component of the aeroplane and its equipment has been made the subject of intensive chemical study, designed to meet the new conditions of strength and lightness, power and compactness, resistance to vibration and to the moisture of the clouds and the frigidity of the skies. The fuel of the engine, the lubricant of its parts, the metal of the engine and of the framework, the material of the wings and of their coating, all these are chemical problems, still engaging the attention of investigators who would improve this vital weapon of the air. No doubt, we all regret that the chemists by stored oxygen, by reagents absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, by the storage of energy in electric batteries, have kept the submarines, an invention of the physicists, from, suffocating in their own foul gases in the depths; but there is comfort for us in the thought that our own submarines may profit by these discoveries.
If we turn now from the services, of chemistry in support of the important war work of other sciences, to achievements wholly her own, we have, first, the more peaceful and beneficent duty of chemists to supply the people of this country with chemicals hitherto imported from abroad. Three typical and important illustrations of these tasks must suffice: the providing of drugs for the health of our people, the manufacture of coal-tar dyes for our textile, leather, and related industries, and finally the production of potash for farm and factory, the supplies of which were to a great extent cut off from us when commerce with Germany ceased. These three great tasks of chemistry have been selected because it is important for us to realize that it is our duty to free our country for all time, if possible, from dependence on foreign countries. We must have chemical independence in peace if we wish to have it in war, and if we wish to avoid any repetition of the grave perils to which the health of our people, the stability of our industries, and the productiveness of our farms were exposed by our situation at the outbreak of the war.
It is a pleasure to be able to summarize the situation in regard to drugs, and especially in regard to the so-called synthetic or artificially produced drugs, which as specifics are in many instances superior to any natural product, by saying that the worst is over. Almost all the essential drugs are now being manufactured in the United States, and in a very few weeks the shortage that has existed will be a matter of the past. Thus, Ehrlich's famous specific salvarsan, officially known as arsphenamine, is to-day being manufactured in Philadelphia, Brooklyn, and New York on a scale sufficient to supply the army, the navy, and the public with an article which is superior even to the original German brand. It is also cheaper to-day than before the war as the result of conditions imposed by the Federal Trade Commission in the issuance of licenses for its manufacture. The sufferer from gout may have his phenyl cinchoninic acid to clear his system of uric acid, the victim of insomnia his diethyl barbituric acid (barbital or veronal); and for the patient on the operating table or in the dentist's or oculist's chair, procaine (novocaine) is now being made and soon will be available in the quantities needed.
The situation has been acute, and "Bulgarian operations"—operations without an anaesthetic-—had become all too common according to reports from hospitals. Why should we ever again expose ourselves to such unnecessary infliction of suffering upon the patient? The Federal Trade Commission is charged with the duty of issuing licenses for the manufacture of drugs under enemy owned patents, and it has taken hold of the problem in a broad and constructive spirit, with the object not only of encouraging manufacturers to meet present needs but also of helping them to build up an American industry that may continue after the war. Accordingly, licenses are being issued not merely for the period of the war but for the entire life of patents, and new official names are being given to important products, so that after the war the market may be open to all and the public may benefit by the existence of several sources of supply in place of an exclusive one.
A most encouraging sign of our future independence in this field, which must include freedom from foreign patents if it is to be a permanent and worthy independence, lies in the research that is going on to discover new and, if possible, better remedies than those made under foreign patents. Even in this short time, encouraging results have, been obtained. One American house has invented a local anaesthetic, apothesin, which, according to the investigations of eminent surgeons, may be safely and effectively used in place of the toxic cocaine and as a substitute for procaine, and the Rockefeller Institute has reported most promising progress in the development of a less dangerous and much cheaper specific than arsphenamine.
In regard to the manufacture of coal-tar dyes to take the place of those formerly imported from Germany we find, according to the report of Secretary Lane, that at the outbreak of the war in 1914 we had five or six manufacturing houses producing dyes and that we now have over ninety such concerns, besides a hundred firms producing so-called "crudes" and "intermediates" from which the dyes are ultimately "built up." In a recent conversation, a former representative of one of the great German manufacturing establishments—an American of unusual ability and keenness of vision—told me that in his opinion Germany has lost forever the great bulk of her trade in dyes with us. We are now making the blues and the blacks and other plain colors in as good quality as they could be imported. It is especially in the field of the fancy dyes—for instance, the fluorescent dyes—that we have as yet done little more than make a beginning. Whether we can develop the production of these finer dyes, or indeed hold our own in the manufacture of the more common ones, involves a very important issue for the country.
The total value of the dyes is not so very great—a fact which has been too often over-emphasized by men who apparently would discourage dye manufacturing in this country—but the value of the fabrics on which dyes are used is enormous. There is little reason to doubt that after the war Germany will make a great effort, perhaps not to recover at once her commerce in dyes, but rather to gain a great initial advantage by selling fabrics colored with her best and finest dyes in the markets of the world. A wise and liberal policy on the part of Congress in encouraging capital investment in this field by protective duties until methods of manufacture on a large scale and outlets for the utilization of by-products have been properly developed, will be the decisive factor in making possible future American independence in dyes. Many of us remember the violent outcry against the duty on tin plate when this duty was first imposed—and yet this duty led to the development of the huge industry which, has supplied us during the war with the tin plate we needed. No sensible individual would care to contemplate what our situation would have been if we had been obliged to start an infant tin plate industry at the outbreak of war. Let us at least have time to develop in the same way a great and independent coal-tar dye industry to supply us in peace or war with dyes as well as the synthetic drugs we need more urgently even than dyes; for the same plant that converts the benzene and the toluene, the anilin and the toluidin of the coal-tar into flaming colors or into pain-soothing or disease-curing medicinals, can also convert in war time these crude products into the all-powerful T. N. T., picric acid, and similar "high explosives."
The potash problem is perhaps the most important industrial problem which chemists must solve for our country. Germany has in the Stassfurt deposits the greatest easily mined potash supplies in the world. Some of her ardent patriots are already boasting that after the war Germany will be in a position to dictate to the rest of the world exactly how much of this invaluable fertilizer each country may have, or, in other words, exactly how productive the wheat, corn, and cotton fields of a country will be permitted to be. This is not altogether a vain boast. At the lowest estimate Germany would have in her hand a trump card by which all agreements on the part of her enemies as to after-the-war trade embargoes and all resolutions by our own chambers of commerce not to import goods from an imperialistic Germany might be set at nought. We must recall that even before the war, the German government regulated and limited the quantities of potash which could be exported. How much more readily will she now avail herself of her potash supplies to insist on liberal terms for trade after the war and for the materials she herself stands in sad need of! The value of such a controlling position in regard to this necessary fertilizer can only be destroyed if we and other nations succeed in making available other great potash supplies at before-the-war prices.
The United States has ample quantities of potash in its mineral resources, but most of it is locked up in silicates like feldspar, from which it cannot be leached by water—as can the potash in the Stassfurt deposits—and which is so resistant even to acid that at present the recovery of potash from feldspar is expensive and possible only as a war enterprise. We have potash in salt lakes like Searles Lake in southern California and the Nebraska Lakes in northwestern Nebraska, in the sea-weeds of the Pacific Coast, in the alundite deposits of Utah and the flue dust of cement mills; and we are now supplying from sixty to seventy per cent of the country's normal needs—but at war prices, prices which the farmer and manufacturer would refuse to pay if a trade agreement with Germany should bring in a cheaper product, for which she would try.
In the development of our own resources surely lies the greatest problem for the ingenuity and the scientific ability of the American chemist. Increased exploitation of our salt lakes, more scientific methods for the purification of their product—which in important instances is contaminated with borax, a poison for the soil—a careful survey, with the proper chemical analysis, of the potash content of waters of the United States and of Mexico, and attempts, with the aid of geologists, to locate the mother beds from which the potash is derived in these lakes, and, finally, continuous effort on that hardest of aft the problems, the economic extraction of potash from our abundant feldspars, represent the most promising lines of work in this field. Chemists have a great classic precedent for bending their best energies to such problems, for van't Hoff, the great Dutch chemist, perhaps the greatest chemist of the generation that is now passing, devoted some of his last years and his fine command of the science to one of the most difficult of the Stassfurt problems. By his solution the potash in the mineral carnallite, a double salt of potassium and magnesium chlorides, became available as pure potash salt.
In chemistry "behind the lines," we find, in the first place, our great steel industries meeting a demand for steel for guns and shells, for ships and for armor, for the innumerable accessories in buildings, railway equipment, and machines, a demand greater than at any time in the history of the world; for the steel industry is simply our greatest chemical industry, consisting of a series of chemical operations carried out on a huge scale. From the assaying of the ore at the mouth of the mine and in the yards of the mills, from the regulation of the coking oven and the closest inquiry into the composition of every ingredient mixed with the ore in the furnaces or with the crude iron, through the supervision of manufacture by specimens drawn off and sent to the chemical laboratory for rapid tests, to the final stages of its purification, steel is the product of chemical control and investigation. The chemist's knowledge of how the properties of steel can be modified as to toughness or hardness, elasticity, temper, and resistance to heat and to cold through the cunning admixture of other components, has been used as never before to give a longer life to great. guns, to add to the resistance of armor, to preserve the cutting edge of high-speed tools working without loss of efficiency at temperatures at which ordinary steel would melt like butter on a July day.
Side by side with steel stand the explosives for the millions of shells we are making. Thus the best of modern explosives, trinitrotoluene or T. N. T., is being manufactured from toluene with the aid of nitric and sulphuric acids at the rate of many tons per day. The power of this explosive was never shown in a more tragic and overwhelming manner than in the recent destruction of Halifax, which was brought about by the explosion of a cargo of T. N. T. in the harbor. Other high power explosives, picric acid or trinitrophenol, gun cotton or nitrocellulose, nitroglycerin, the explosive ingredient of dynamite, and nitrogelatin, are being manufactured on a colossal scale under the direction of expert chemists. Let the compounding go a bit too fast and temperature control be lost, then the giant powers inevitably pass from the control of man, whose only safety lies in flight from the approaching volcanic upheaval.
For the scientist all of these high explosives are substances whose ultimate molecules are extraordinarily unstable, because they contain in closest proximity within each molecule the combustible component represented in ordinary gunpowder by charcoal and sulphur, and the oxidizing component represented in black powder by the nitre. Or, in more modern terms, these explosives contain huge quantities of electricity, in the form of electrons ready to leap within each tiny world like a flash from atom to atom and, when they do let go, producing gases that can raze cities and remove hills by the energy of their quick expansion. But "that is another story," to which I have referred only to emphasize that it is through our knowledge and control of this ultimate structure of matter that chemistry can transform at will the same crude material toluene into a destructive giant like T. N. T. or into the fairies of modern realism—hypnotics, anaesthetics, and other curative agents.
Upon the chemist also falls the duty of insuring a constant stream of supply of the basic materials from which these high explosives are made. The manufacture of sulphuric acid is in itself a vast industry, working at its utmost capacity and seeking every available source of its own crude material, sulphur. For the production of nitric acid we are still dependent on the nitrates of Chile and Peru, but at the end of last August our government at length made a definite start on the erection of plants for the production of nitric acid from the atmosphere. Similar factories in Germany, as I have already said, have kept her supplied with this absolutely necessary material, without which she could not have faced the possibility of a prolonged war.
Along the Atlantic coast huge plants for the manufacture of alcohol from molasses and other cheap fermentable materials, have risen as war industries. From the alcohol acetic acid is obtained by oxidation on a scale which produces in a single plant a quantity approximately equal to the vinegar made in the world the year before the war; and the acetic acid in turn is converted into acetone for the munition manufacturer. Similarly, the needed production of toluene and benzene for the high explosives has led us under the guidance of chemists to begin to recover the by-products of our coke ovens, by-products which formerly went to waste in smoke to the amusement and hardly suppressed scorn of the European chemist. From the recent report of the Secretary of the Interior we find that this industry has doubled its capacity since 1914, but that half of our coke will still be made this year in the old beehive ovens, from which the coal-tar, the benzene, and toluene so urgently needed for increasing the output of high explosives, escape into the air. So precious are these products that our larger gas plants are introducing, with the aid of the government, expensive machinery for the collection of the three or four drops of benzene and toluene which are found in every cubic foot of gas, the total quantity thus to be recovered running into the millions of gallons. If the critical situation of the food supply of the world and the war weariness of the fighting nations do not bring the war to an early close, a decision probably can be forced only by the side that can hurl against the enemy the greater number of thousands of tons of high explosives. A maximum production to the limit of our capacity by a rapid extension of the modern coking oven to all of our coking plants would, therefore, prepare us for an attempt to duplicate on the western front in Europe some such tremendous effects of T. N. T. as were witnessed in the Halifax disaster.
In passing, we may ask what can be done with all these by-products of the gas and coking plants after the war. Benzene, toluene, and the other coal-tar ingredients will no doubt be a drug on the market; but chemists are continually discovering new uses for these materials. Moreover, for dyes and medicinals they are being used on an ever increasing scale in the manufacture of modern plastics, like Dr. Baekeland's bakelite, a condensation product of phenol and formaldehyde, like redmanol and condensite, which have found innumerable applications. These range from the preparation of fixier articles, like the plates for phonograph records, to the manufacture of massive insulating blocks and the manifold other insulating devices needed by the electrician. With the great excess of supplies of coal-tar after the war we may also expect to see a rapid extension of the applications of these useful inventions of modern chemistry, possibly to articles of furniture, flooring, and similar household appliances.
The part which chemistry has in the battle-line itself is perhaps the most interesting and absorbing chapter in the history of the war so far as it is being written by chemists; it is also the most horrifying and depressing, and for very obvious reasons it can be written in detail only after the war is over. When Germany let go the first wave of poison gas in contravention of all international agreements, it is said that the British general in command wired to London that if relief were not sent within three days the whole British line would be compelled to retire. This is a measure of the intolerable suffering of the first victims of this treacherous mode of attack, which has been justified in the eyes of the German public only by the claim that the French had first used chemical "stinkpots." To the credit of the co-ordination of science and government in England it is reported that within thirty-six hours a million and a half of the first crude but sufficiently effective gas masks were delivered at the front—simple gauze affairs saturated with absorbent (probably some alkaline liquid) for the dread chlorine gas of the enemy.
Since that day chemical warfare has developed rapidly on both sides, offensively and defensively. At first it was simply a matter of a "gas wave" propelled by the wind and rolling over the land from trench to trench; but this mode of attack was too dependent on the whims of the shifting winds, and chemical warfare very soon had recourse to the hurling of shells loaded either with a deadly poison or with irritants for the eyes and all exposed mucous membranes. It is estimated that on the western front every fifth shell now fired is loaded with chemicals, which are held in much greater fear by the men in the trenches than shrapnel or bomb. Most dreaded of all, however, is the last form of chemical attack, the attack by liquid fire, against which there is no defense except speedy flight or retirement and the species of defense which lies in the fact that the attackers in flame warfare are usually easily detected and rapidly "picked off."
It is best on the whole not to name the materials used in this savage business. Some of my readers may recall the incident in a London murder trial when a chemist was asked whether all poisons could be detected, and replied "all but one." When the question—"which one?"—was next put, the wise judge instantly forbade the chemist to reveal the dangerous secret. A few of the facts, nevertheless, concerning the materials used in chemical warfare have already received such wide dissemination that they may be mentioned here. Chlorine was the first gas used, a violent irritant for all mucous membranes and especially for the lungs, as every student in chemistry has experienced at some time or other. Chlorine is still much employed both for gas waves and in bombs charged with the liquefied gas under high pressure. Indeed, the manufacture of chlorine on a very large scale is becoming speedily one of the great munition industries of the United States. Even more terrible than chlorine is phosgene, a combination of chlorine with that other deadly gas, carbon monoxide, which is produced in a coal or charcoal stove when the glowing coal has an insufficient supply of air for complete combustion. The specific gravity of phosgene is greater than that of chlorine, and it has been largely used, often mixed with lighter and more poisonous gases, for the gas wave attack under the favor of the winds. Even a single whiff is oppressive to the lungs for a day. It will be better to say nothing about the nature of the ingredients carried by shells intended to scatter poison or irritant among the ranks of the enemy. Some of them are so deadly that two small whiffs are sufficient to cause death, others so irritating that they are blinding or cause such edema of the lungs that men are totally incapacitated
Against this dread offensive chemical warfare, after the first surprise attack, effective defense has been developed on both sides by masks containing suitable absorbents for the purification of the air which is inhaled. The nature of the absorbents is known to many, but in war time it seems wiser not to be specific in these matters. It should suffice to say that the most important quality which a good mask must have is to absorb a great variety of poisons with a speed which will allow the strenuously working soldier to inhale at least thirty litres of air per minute. This represents a tremendous rate of flow, and only the best, most porous, and most active materials are of any value. Chemical officers in the camps are teaching our men, by object lessons with some of the materials they are likely to encounter at the front, that the gas mask, uncomfortable as it no doubt must be, is the very best friend a man in the trenches can have.
With the perfecting of the gas mask has come a great duel of skilled minds on both sides in the invention of new deviltries, with the hope of surprising the enemy by some ingredient which cannot be absorbed by the common reagents used in masks. Chemists are stationed at outposts and in the trenches to detect the first signs of a chemical attack, both for the issuing of a quick warning to their men to be ready for the attack and also, if possible, to make a speedy identification of the material used. Between this service at the front and the development of new poisons and the supervision of the manufacture of old ones behind the lines, the chemist's share in the war is both exciting and dangerous. Any scientist who has experienced the joy of discovery by arduous research can imagine the feverish intensity of the men engaged in the invention of the new deviltries, with the prospect of their gaining a victory by surprise, not only over one or two opponents, as in the aeroplane service, but rather over a long front of the enemy. Typical of the life of a chemist in war time is the report sent to me concerning one of my recent students, Lieutenant B———, who was one of the first chemists sent to France. Working with an eminent French professor, it was reported to me that Lieutenant B——— "is getting results," but "for the present is laid up on account of too intimate contact with some of his results."
It is worthy of record and illustrative of the humane spirit underlying our own entry into the war, that our government at first thought it would be possible for us to refrain from this savage method of attack, forbidden by international conventions, and so organized competent bodies of men to take charge of the problems involved primarily in defensive measures only. But it soon became apparent that we should be fighting on disastrously unequal terms with, an unscrupulous enemy if we did not include in our offensive measures all the dread weapons which the foe had introduced into warfare in a desperate effort to win at any cost. Hence, we have now completely organized divisions of Gas Offense as well as of Gas Defense. The work of the former division includes supervision in the preparation of the chemicals required and in the training of men to use them, as well as intensive investigations for the discovery of new materials to be employed in attack. On the other hand, for gas defense, not only are continual efforts to perfect the mask necessary but also investigations which aim to anticipate any chemical surprise the enemy may attempt to spring, and to prepare for the use of any needed absorbent in the mask to counter the stroke. Recently a new division, the Chemical Service Section, has been attached to the general staff of the army. Accordingly, a chemical unit under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Raymond F. Bacon, director of the Mellon Institute, and including a long list of selected chemists, has now been dispatched to France to serve as adviser to General Pershing in all chemical matters of the war at the front.
"With chemists thus needed everywhere for the battle-line itself as well as for the key positions in the vast industries behind the line which supply munitions to our army and to the armies of the Allies, with chemists in no less urgent demand to assist in the solution of the pressing war problems of fellow scientists than to meet the more peaceful needs of the country in the matter of supplies formerly imported from abroad, our country has cause to congratulate itself that there is one important article which some twenty to twenty-five years ago it was wont to import from Germany or have manufactured there, but which it fortunately learned in good time to produce for itself, both of excellent quality and in goodly quantity—and that article is the American chemist himself. We owe this result in largest measure to the rapid growth of the graduate and other professional schools of our American universities, a development in which chemistry happily has been second to no other science.
The emphasis placed on scientific research with ever growing insistence for twenty-five years was a most fortunate element of unconscious preparation for the greatest test, the greatest strain, to which the skilled minds of our nation have ever been put. With a very few exceptions, found especially among the older chemists in the country, it is the American trained chemist that is guiding our great war industries; it is the American made chemist that is providing the medicinals, the fertilizers, the dyes, and other essentials of which our country first realized its need when its supplies were cut off; it is an American led corps of American trained experts that are serving under General Pershing at the front. At the same time the pick of our university staffs have been called upon, in the government laboratories and factories and in the research laboratories of the universities themselves, to organize at shortest notice the means for providing our nation with those new dread arms of poison gas and noxious liquid, of fluid flame and flaming bomb, which characterize what we all hope is the last desperate effort of a militaristic aristocracy to force its yoke on the necks of the peace-loving peoples of the world.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald