Shows the intersection of chemical warfare and pest control in the twentieth century.
An engrossing, unusual social narrative, documenting the close ties between chemical weapons development and"peaceful" applications in insect warfare. Russell's debut views the predominantly military history of the world wars and the Cold War as a metaphor for similarly volatile technological developments in the private sector. He explores how, despite the horror of indiscriminate gas warfare promulgated by all sides in WWI (here termed"The Chemists' War"), a clique of ambitious scientists and soldiers in the Chemical Warfare Service created an advocacy culture that portrayed the frightening new technology as safer and more humane than the era's gruesome trench-war stalemates. Such"gas boosterism" was checked by Depression-era public hostility towards the"merchants of death," and by FDR's horror of chemical warfare, evident in his"no-first-use" policy. This altered the service's priorities, towards development of incendiary devices such as napalm, flame throwers, and cluster bombs; ironically, this shift made Allied bombing of German and Japanese cities especially devastating, much more so than gas warfare would have been. The most ingenious element of Russell's approach may be seen in his even-handed exploration of how chemical warfare science influenced the civilian pest-eradication industry. He unearths startling cultural histories, such as how the military need to combat typhus and malaria fed the American enthusiasm for DDT, how the imagery and language of insect extermination fused with conceptions of"total war" to inure soldiers to massive killing (particularly regarding the Japanese), and how postwar science exploited Nazi development of organophosphates (powerfulinsecticidesrelated to nerve gasses) for great profits and terrifying new weapons. He concludes by addressing the Cold Warera unease epitomized by Eisenhower's warnings about the"military-industrial complex" and Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (1962), seeing both as warnings that an"elite class [had] lost sight of what they were ostensibly trying to protect" through endorsement of chemical warfare's many forms. A lively work on a somewhat arcane topic, and an important prehistory of our environmentally conscious, biologically threatened era.