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Behind the Gas Mask

Behind the Gas Mask: The U.S. Chemical Warfare Service in War and Peace

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Behind the Gas Mask
    Book Description:

    When the United States entered World War One, inadequacies in research, manufacturing, and battlefield training left the military at a severe disadvantage in deploying poison gas while American soldiers suffered the highest rate of gas casualties among the belligerent nations. In Behind the Gas Mask , Thomas Faith offers an institutional history of the Chemical Warfare Service, the department tasked with improving the Army's ability to use and defend against chemical weapons. Taking the CWS's story from the trenches to peacetime, he explores how the CWS's work on chemical warfare continued through the 1920s despite deep opposition to the weapons in both military and civilian circles. As Faith shows, the believers in chemical weapons staffing the CWS allied with supporters in the military, government, and private industry to lobby to add chemical warfare to the country's permanent arsenal. Their argument: poison gas represented an advanced and even humane tool in modern war, while its applications for pest control and crowd control made a chemical capacity relevant in peacetime. But conflict with those aligned against chemical warfare forced the CWS to fight for its institutional life--and ultimately led to the U.S. military's rejection of battlefield chemical weapons. The only current book on the Chemical Warfare Service and its times, Behind the Gas Mask offers a thought-provoking view of the history and place of chemical weapons in American warmaking.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09662-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The first poison-gas attack experienced by the members of the 102nd Infantry Regiment occurred just before 7 P.M. on March 16, 1918, as they defended a one-kilometer portion of the Western Front extending from Mont des Tomes to the village of Pargny.¹ Many of these soldiers had heard about chemical weapon attacks from other U.S. Army units, as well as their British and French counterparts, and they remembered from training what to expect once the German gas artillery bombardment began. They discerned the distinctive odors of several types of gasses, including the pineapple aroma of tear gas, the musty lime...

  5. 1 Origins, 1917
    (pp. 7-21)

    Despite ample warning that U.S. soldiers would need to be prepared to face poison gas, preparations for chemical warfare waited till almost the last minute. Once the Department of War began making arrangements to enlist, train, and equip the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to join a war that in 1917 was already in full swing, the nation’s political and military leaders hoped that the doughboys would soon be ready to fight on equal footing with the British, the French, and the rest of their allies. Nevertheless, the U.S. Army’s lack of prior experience with gas and its dearth of chemical...

  6. 2 Battle, 1918
    (pp. 22-55)

    The chemical warfare organization that had evolved in the United States in 1917 had to support battlefield operations in 1918. The American Expeditionary Force (AEF) began to arrive in Europe, where it faced poison gas. On the whole, the nascent Chemical Warfare Service found itself seriously challenged by conditions on the Western Front and dependent on U.S. allies for information and equipment. The gas-mask training that soldiers of the AEF were given proved to be inadequate, and they suffered comparatively heavy gas casualties in the fighting. The AEF favored the use of more conventional weapons and therefore made only limited...

  7. 3 Crisis, 1919–1920
    (pp. 56-76)

    The future of the Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) and chemical weapons was uncertain in the postwar world. In 1919 the American public reacted against modern weapons in general and poison gas in particular because of the battlefield suffering it had caused. Policymakers in the Department of War and the U.S. Army had formed negative impressions of chemical weapons during World War I, and they attempted to limit all chemical warfare activities in the armed forces after the armistice. Faced with the likely elimination of their area of service, the officers of the CWS, principally under the leadership of Amos A....

  8. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  9. 4 Improvement, 1921–1925
    (pp. 77-106)

    The National Defense Act preserved the Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) as an organization within the military, but it was surrounded by army officers who still had doubts about chemical weapons. The tenuous relationship between the CWS and the rest of the military was exacerbated by the financial constraints of the postwar period. In 1922 Secretary of War John W. Weeks said of the army and its budget that “economy has literally become of primary consideration in every departmental undertaking.”¹ The army’s shrinking peacetime funds gave the enemies of gas warfare a justification for starving the CWS of money and resources....

  10. 5 Legacy, 1926–1929
    (pp. 107-116)

    By 1926, the Chemical Warfare Service (CWS) had developed into a well-established organization capable of supporting the continuation of poison-gas work into the foreseeable future. The officers of the CWS had successfully influenced public policy to make it possible for chemical warfare research to proceed after World War I, and the Department of War was beginning to act more favorably on their requests and proposals. Despite what the CWS and its supporters had been able to achieve during the decade, however, they were unable to motivate people to believe that gas warfare was humane. Public hostility toward chemical weapons ultimately...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 117-134)
    (pp. 135-144)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 145-150)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 151-154)