During the debate over the proper response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons, I kept waiting for articles to quote Wilfred Owen’s poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and, eventually, I decided to write one myself. I’m over at The Huffington Post today talking about why we find chemical weapons uniquely horrifying, and whether more types of warfare should provoke that same kind of visceral revulsion.
Death by IED or drone has perhaps not yet found its poet. How do we weigh the suffering of a victim and find gassing obscenely gratuitous but white phosphorus or cluster bombs reasonable? What do we weigh in our ethical calculus?Chemical attack is judged inhumane, and, indeed, there are no humans present to witness the results of their actions. The New York Times noted that the photographs of victims were “marked by the telltale signs of chemical weapons: row after row of corpses without visible injury.” There is no one to grapple with, no one to resist, no one to appeal to, no one who might show mercy.