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The cure for the common cold is sarin. How death saddled chemistry

The fact that people can be killed not only with the help of piercing-cutting objects was known in ancient times. True, the chemical weapons then used could not be called weapons of mass destruction. These were rather the forerunners of the future. Thus, in Greek myths, Hercules used Hydra’s poison to smudge arrows. But the man of the 20th century stepped far beyond the mythical demigod, surpassing him in bloodthirstiness and ingenuity, learning to kill a lot and quickly. About the most terrible representatives of chemical weapons, the shameful cases of their use, as well as serious consequences, read on.

Many Chinese letters describe the tactics of the besiegers who dug under the walls and set fire to the balls of toxic plants, sending smoke through these tunnels with bellows. There were many recipes. For example, the peasant uprising of 178 was suppressed with the help of a fog consisting of arsenic and finely crushed lime.

It was not only theory, but also practice. The success of the tactics of digging and poisonous smoke can be judged by the ruins of the ancient city of Dura-Evropos on the Euphrates River. In 256, the city-fortress belonged to the Romans, but fell under the onslaught of the Persians. Both the attackers and the defenders during the siege dug numerous tunnels under the city walls. In one of these tunnels later, archaeologists found a vessel with sulfur and tar. The Persians set fire to this mixture in the tunnels, and the toxic cloud of sulfur dioxide did the rest: in a minute or two they killed their opponents. Thus, at least 19 Roman soldiers were killed during the siege of Dura-Evropos.

In general, the craving for mixing poisonous substances with the subsequent application to the enemy has been laid in human genes since ancient times. But this was only the beginning of a sweeping campaign for the development and use of chemical weapons, which over time, most countries in the world nevertheless agreed to ban and eliminate.

War of chemists

From the start of the First World War, rivals had projectiles with chemical non-lethal irritants that did not lead to death, but could spoil the well-being of the personnel. At some point, a stalemate occurred on the fronts. The positions of both sides of the conflict are frozen at the borders of the deeply echeloned defense. Trench warfare and low effectiveness of frontal attacks forced the military to creatively.

Since according to the Hague Convention, the major world countries agreed not to use projectiles with asphyxiating and harmful gases, the Germans decided to cheat and use a tail wind to deliver toxic fumes. For the first time, they cranked it in 1915 near the Belgian city of Ypres, where they sprayed 168 tons of chlorine. But the yellowish-green cloud was easy to see, and its deadliness was diminished by a cloth moistened with urine and covering the nose and mouth. In addition, the concentration of gas flowing by the will of the wind is difficult to control. Nevertheless, until the discovery of effective countermeasures, the fearful effect was strong. But over time, chlorine was abandoned in favor of more efficient weapons.

However, Ypres became famous thanks to another gas – mustard, which the German troops sprayed with artillery shells in July 1917 during the third battle for this Belgian city. After that night, when shells with mustard gas fell on the position of the Entente, 2.5 thousand people were poisoned. Of these, 87 died, and the rest faced severe consequences from poisoning and disability.

Soldiers who temporarily or permanently lose their sight as a result of a chemical attack

Blisters appeared on the skin of the mustard gas victims, eyes began to ache, conjunctivitis and blindness developed, and the people themselves vomited. Internal and external bleeding appeared, the mucous membrane in the bronchi collapsed, the victims could die slowly and painfully for a month.

– There are no lungs. They are literally burned. Some eyes and faces are almost completely eaten away by gas. They can not be tied up or touched. We cover them with a sheet-backed tent. Gas burns are painful, because other patients, even those with the most severe wounds, do not complain so much. But cases with gas burns are always unbearable. They just can’t help but cry for help, ” Nurse S. Millard told in a letter from the front.

And let relatively few soldiers perish from chemical weapons in the First World War, sometimes the psychological horror and fear of painful death were much greater.

Sarin instead of medicine for a cold

In 2004, the High British Court reviewed the case of the death of a 20-year-old engineer of the Royal Air Force in 1953. The death of Ronald Maddison in the military laboratory of Porton Down and the new court sessions shared more than half a century. The young man was the victim of secret experiments – the court ruled that he was illegally killed with a dose of sarin, although he was sure that he was taking part in an experiment testing a medicine for a cold. In the 50s of the last century, the investigation focused on the version of death as a result of an accident.

Sarin is a nerve agent without color and smell, which was discovered in Germany shortly before the outbreak of World War II. However, the Wehrmacht did not dare to use it in the later stages of the conflict, fearing a symmetrical response from the USSR and the allied army. And by that time chemical protective equipment reduced the effectiveness of such weapons.

However, after the war, this did not stop the generals from wanting to experiment with chemistry. According to Maddison’s family, Ronald was attracted to the experiment by deceiving him, saying that he would test a cold medicine. For this, the guy was promised three days off and 15 shillings – something equivalent to $ 25, adjusted for inflation. With this money, he planned to buy a wedding ring for his girlfriend.

In testing, the young man participated along with five experimental subjects, and the purpose of the experiment was to determine the lethal dose of sarin when it hit the combat uniform. Respirators put on guys locked in the gas room. Twenty minutes after applying twenty 10-milligram drops of sarin to two layers of tissue attached to the forearm, Maddison felt bad: he began to sweat and complain about his health. The fabric was removed, Ronald was taken out of the room and called an ambulance. He complained of deafness, then collapsed and began to choke. Attempts to save him in the hospital did not succeed, and 45 minutes after applying the sarin, the young man died.

The son was delivered to his parents in a steel and tightly closed coffin. A large number of tissue samples of the brain and spinal cord, skin, stomach, lungs and intestines were removed from the body of a guy without the knowledge of his relatives. At the funeral they were given 40 pounds. 51 years later, according to a new court order, another 100,000 pounds of compensation was added to this amount.

Photo: KYODO

Zarin later in the 90s was used as a military weapon by the Iraqi army and Japanese terrorists from the religious sect Aum Shinrikyo. The latter sprayed it in the Tokyo subway, nearly three dozen people were killed, and several thousand more were poisoned with varying degrees of severity.

Agent “orange”

But not always chemistry acts on a person instantly. Sometimes the consequences can be felt after many years. And even through generations.

During the Vietnam War, American troops pollinated the jungle with chemicals in order to deprive the guerrillas of food and natural plant shelters. In particular, for this purpose, a mixture of herbicides and defoliants was used – the agent “orange”, which causes leaf dropping. This mixture was given the name because of the barrels of a specific color in which it was stored on military bases.

In South Vietnam from 1962 to 1971, this and similar mixtures were sprayed at least once over 20% of forests, about 20 thousand square kilometers of which were damaged or completely destroyed, like thousands more square kilometers of crops. But this was not the worst consequence of chemical pollination.

Yes, herbicides and defoliants are used for agricultural needs, but in Vietnam they were sprayed in doses that are 13 times higher than recommended. Agent “orange” was a mixture of 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Specifically, these substances were developed by the British and Americans for use during World War II, but this conflict ended earlier and Japan avoided the role of a test site.

Before and after

This was the fate of Malaysia, which was in 1948 a British protectorate, in whose territory guerrilla groups of nationalists operated. In the early 50s of the last century, the United Kingdom for the first time used a mixture (which in the future was called the agent “Orange”) for exhausting partisans.

This goal was pursued by the Americans in Vietnam. True, spraying was carried out en masse, and therefore, for the most part, the ordinary civilian population suffered. And if the first blow was the death of crops and hunger, then later long-term consequences were added to them – mutations in newborns (cleft lip, mental disorders, hernia, polydactyly, and other anatomical deviations). According to various estimates, between 1 and 4 million Vietnamese have suffered from the effects of the use of the agent.

In the States, there is still debate about the degree of toxicity of this substance and its effect on humans. After all, the impact of the agent was experienced not only by the peaceful Vietnamese, but also by American veterans, who could not help but have contact with him during the war.

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