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Concentrate!

I was intrigued to hear that the British invented poison gas warfare around the turn of the 20th Century. The claim was made on the BBC World Service – so it must be true. The BBC for some reason thought it might be a good idea to have a panel discussion in German city of Dresden about whether the Germans were to blame for the First World War. Dresden was an interesting choice of venue, having been heavily bombed by the British and Americans in the closing days of the Second World War. I would have thought Louvain in Belgium might have been a better choice as the historic library there was torched by the Kaiser’s men in 1914 and around 250 civilians murdered. The audience in Dresden were invited to participate and maybe it should not have been a surprise that at least one member believed the Germans could not be held responsible for either World War. Another announced that it was the British who first used poison gas artillery shells, during the Second Boer War, 1899-1902, rather than the Germans pioneering effective chemical warfare in 1915. That’s the problem with such radio events – absolute twaddle often goes unchallenged during them. I suspect that our little German friend was referring to the use of lyddite shells by the British. Lyddite is based on picric acid and the fumes can cause vomiting.  Not exactly on a par with the clouds of poison chlorine gas the Germans released on French and Canadian troops at Ypres in 1915. I got the impression that someone is teaching the Germans that every frightfulness they perpetrated in both World Wars was actually pioneered by the British in 1899-1902. There are those who will claim that the British pioneered concentration camps. The camps the British herded the families of Boer farmers into were a disaster and countless women and children perished in them. But the point of the camps was not deliberate extermination.  The deaths were due to British incompetence and indifference. The Spanish had a few years earlier herded the civilian population in several parts of Cuba into similar camps as they struggled against an independence insurrection. So, the British operations in South Africa were not even a very original solution to guerrilla warfare. And what pray what were the Indian reservations/reserves of North America but concentration camps without barbed wire? 

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