Ronnie Sookhdeo Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Ronnie Sookhdeo

Poisoning the world

(March 1984)

From Militant, No. 689, 2 March 1984, p. 6.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Ronnie Sookhdeo reviews No fire – no thunder, The threat of chemical and biological weapon, by Sean Murphy, Alastair Hay, Seven Rose, Pluto Press £3.95.

“THE RELEASE of mind-bending drugs such as LSD in the drinking water of enemy forces could facilitate a peaceful US take-over.

“The spraying of a pacifying gas will reduce opposing troops into fits of helpless laughter.

“An epidemic that will weaken and debilitate entire populations.”

These are just a few of the more bizarre examples from No fire – no thunder. The book, which includes reference sources and tables provides a rare glimpse into the nightmare world of chemical and biological warfare. The race to perfect the most horrendous weapons has now taken on fantastic dimensions that border on science fiction.

Deadly disease

Bombs filled with deadly disease, the release of millions of yellow-fever carrying mosquitos, chemicals that can irreversibly alter the environment, incapacitate, kill and mutilate on a massive scale, are all being developed and even tested.

The book correctly opposes the grotesque wastage of resources – $8 billion is predicted over the next 3 years in America alone.

New techniques

All the major advances in science, especially new techniques in genetic engineering that could be used to eradicate hunger, disease and the terrible misery that afflicts the vast majority of humanity are instead being used to produce weapons for mass destruction. The book also accurately maps the history and use of these weapons and examines their relationship with international law.

It documents all the cases of abuse of such agreements as the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1972 Biological Weapons convention. Singled out for special treatment are the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935–36 and Japan’s attack on China in 1938.

In both cases, vast quantities of deadly phosgene, mustard and tear gases were sprayed indiscriminately, and resulted in enormous casualties. In more recent times US forces released some 17 million tons of deadly weedkillers and an assortment of chemicals over Vietnam which not only devastated the country’s forests but inflicted appalling injuries.

These breaches of various agreements and many more are attributed though, either to imprecise wordings and definitions or to the method of classification of toxic substances. The book also claims that it is precisely the strength of international law and specific conventions which has prevented these weapons being used on a huge scale and thus preserving the peace.

War-free zone

The authors urge all nations to sign a declaration to abstain from first use of weapons, and call for a war-free zone in Europe. But experience shows such calls are totally inadequate.

The world has not been thrown into the horrors of all out nuclear, chemical or biological war but not because of international agreements. A major reason has been that even the most ruthless ruling class calculate that a world devastated by plague or permanently contaminated by chemical poisons would be of no economic advantage.

But how long can we rely on such a fragile “balance of terror” to keep peace? The 25 million dead in small wars in the peacetime years since 1945 are a reminder of how tenuous this cynical balancing is.

Socialists will find this book good on the nature and history of the weapons, but less reliable on the cures.

Join the fight to get rid of capitalism worldwide, as the only way to end the horrors of war. Use the facts in this book as ammunition.

Ronnie Sookhdeo Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 6 February 2017