The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


The Chemical Weapons Conundrum

In December 2012, President Obama addressed reports that Syrian president Bashir Assad was on the verge of using chemical weapons against rebels in his country.

“And today, I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command, the world is watching. The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences. And you will be held accountable.” – President Barack Obama, December 2012.

If recent reports are to be believed, Assad took this very step last week – allegedly using chemical weapons in a suburb of Damascus, killing hundreds. Obama and leaders around the world are now determining their response – but what is it about chemical weapons that led Obama to issue such a strong warning last year?  Why do such weapons seem so much worse than conventional ones?  It’s a question we addressed earlier this year on our show, “Rules of Engagement,” which looked at ethics in warfare over time.

To help us answer it, we talked with Richard Price, a political scientist at the University of British Columbia and author of The Chemical Weapons Taboo (1997).  Take a listen to the interview, and learn about the history of chemical warfare:


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