As the United States makes ready to possibly launch a military strike on the nation of Syria as punishment for alleged chemical weapons attacks, Secretary of State John Kerry went on the record on Sunday saying that the U.S. now has definitive evidence that sarin gas was the particular type of chemical weapon used. This particular article will not get into the semantics or the various conspiracy theories surrounding the Syria situation; instead, we are going to answer a question we have been receiving pretty regularly through emails and search results. What is sarin gas and where did it come from?
Sarin gas was originally conceived as a pesticide way back in 1938. The gas that has now infamously been used to eliminate human pests was unfortunately all-too-appropriately developed by Nazi scientists. Too potent to succeed as a normal pesticide, it was shelved, and as happens more frequently than any world government wants to admit, was secretly developed into a weapon.
The gas is extremely potent, so potent in fact that it has been declared as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations. It is a nerve agent; it attacks the nervous system, causing muscles to lose their ability to stop. Convulsions lead to death within minutes due to asphyxia. The gas causes plenty of terrible effects on the body, but what actually ends the game is the interruption in the body’s breathing functions. Sarin gas is so potent and volatile that even 30 minutes after exposure, it is still present and ready for further exposure in the clothing of the victims. It is also odorless and colorless. It is entirely likely that you would have no idea that you were dying from sarin gas poisoning until you were thrown into an endless range of muscle convulsions.
If you think the United States would never consider such a terrible weapon, think again. Both the United States and Russia (then the USSR) aggressively produced sarin in the early 1950’s. Production was finally stopped in the U.S. in 1956, although the batches already produced were kept on hand until 1970.
In March of 1988, 5,000 people died in a poison gas attack that included sarin in the city of Halabja in northern Iraq. This was one of the most famous incidents that would later be listed as one of a myriad of reasons to fight Saddam Hussein in both Iraq wars.
In 1993, the United Nations organized a treaty signed by 162 countries banning the production and possession of a variety of chemical weapons. Sarin gas was one of those included in the list. It should be noted that Syria did not sign onto this agreement.
From there, we only had very isolated incidents of sarin coming up in the news. In Japan, a terrorist group exposed a subway to the gas, but only thirteen people died. Attacks of that nature happened occasionally, but until this current month, August 2013, no government had unleashed a real barrage of chemical weapons like sarin gas until what happened in the Syrian civil war.
The current death toll has a huge margin of error. Reports range anywhere from 300 to 1800 deaths, with a further error margin 300-500 being children.
As we stated before, there is little doubt that the use of this gas is nothing short of evil. However, it is important to note that the United States has given little else than their word to go on for why Syria’s government is guilty of this war crime, one that will probably lead to a U.S.-led war on Syria.