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  • Michael Baker

Was WW1 a 'just' war?

Big wars have a habit of changing what warfare means. If your enemy can find a means to best you, however heinous, they will almost invariably use it, for moral squeamishness

quickly collapses in the face of national survival and the imperative to win. The Nobel Prize-winning German chemist Fritz Haber once said: 'During peacetime a scientist belongs to the world but during wartime he belongs to his country.' He practised what he preached and went on to develop poison gas, which the Germans first used on the Western Front in April 1915. The Allies soon responded in kind. Barely two weeks after those first chlorine clouds had floated into the French and Canadian lines at Ypres, the passenger liner Lusitania was sunk by a German U-boat, with the loss of almost 1200 people. Just over three weeks later a German Zeppelin randomly dropped bombs on London for the first time, killing seven and injuring 35, heralding a campaign of air raids on civilian centres that were carried out by both sides with increasing ferocity. Poison gas, the sinking of passenger ships and the aerial bombardment of civilians were all banned by pre-1914 international agreements on the conduct of war. Yet within just six weeks in 1915 all these ethical lines were crossed. WW2, of course, would take this moral slide to an unprecedented level of depravity, but it is perhaps no accident that Haber's team were later responsible for making Zyklon-B, the gas used in the Nazi death camps. Listen to Crossing The Line in the WW1 podcast series Unknown Warriors: www.unknownwarriorspod. co. uk

An Understanding History podcast.

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