|Length:||50 minutes, 40 seconds.|
Man has warred against man for land, for territories, for power, for wealth, for reasons large and small. Man has devised many weapons of war, but in his deadly arsenal none have been more feared more hated than those he cannot see - weapons that strike in silence, carried by the wind. To understand significance of chemical warfare and its implications for society, this 1980 KUED documentary looks at the history of chemicals used as weapons of war.
The film explores a variety of chemical weapons, including blistering agents (like mustard gas, incapacitating agents like tear gas and psycho chemicals; choking and blood agents like chlorine and hydrogen cyanide; fire makers like napalm; and nerve agents like GB and VX, which kill in seconds and have been labeled "an insecticide for people."
Many nations have stockpiled chemical weapons and have used them in warfare. The history of chemical warfare and its development over time is complex, shrouded in secrecy and very controversial. The film looks at past uses and casualties of chemical weapons in war as well as treaties and agreements to prohibit their use.
In 1966 U.N. drafted and passed a resolution to prohibit use of chemicals in warfare, but research and development of the weapons continued. In 1968 at Dugway Proving Grounds, 80 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, more than 6,400 sheep died during after an unexpected shift in wind during an open-air test of VX. The army never admitted responsibility but paid $350,000 in damages to ranchers. In 1969, a law was passed banning open-air testing of chemical weapons.
Governments then began looking at programs to destroy chemical weapons. The film shows what happened when accidents and contamination occurred at some of those facilities. It also looks at safety and security issues surrounding the controversial storage and destruction of chemical agents in Utah and elsewhere across the nation. There have been cases in which canisters of deadly nerve gas have disappeared. In 1979, the film says, Tooele covered up for missing canisters of nerve agent by labeling empty canisters as though they contained the agents.
In 1973 Israel was at war with Egypt. Some of the Soviet built tanks captured, were fully equipped for chemical warfare, not only to operate defensively but to protect from offensive attacks. This led Americans to wonder if America needed to be able to provide a chemical deterrent to the Soviets. Yet, in the 1970s, the general attitude was for chemical disarmament. It also explores the moral dimensions of the use of such weapons. Asks one Defense Department official, "are they more immoral than land mines that blow people to bits?"
The film ends on a sobering note: "Amid the controversy, one fact remains. The deadly winds of war will blow again."
The film, which provides an excellent historic overview, was produced for KUED by Michelle Kendall and narrated by veteran journalist Phil Riesen.
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