Should gas have been used in the Pacific?

Discussion in 'General Military Arms & History Forum' started by Pistolenschutze, Jan 19, 2007.

  1. Given the enormous American casualties during the Pacific island-hopping campaigns of World War II, should the United States have employed poison gas (mustard, phosgene, or other such substances) against these Japanese strongholds prior to invasion?

    As many of you know, serious consideration was given to the use of gas on the island of Iwo Jima, but the idea was nixed at the last minute by President Roosevelt. It has always seemed to me, however, that at least on some of the islands, using gas, delievered by shell fire or other means prior to invasion, would have saved countless American lives. Granted, the political fallout would likely have been considerable, but when that price is compared to the brave Marine, Navy, and Army personnel sacrificed in these campaigns, it seems one well worth paying. What is more, the U.S. had vast stockpiles of gas available and this weapon would have been extremely effective against Japanese underground bunkers and surface positions.

    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 19, 2007
  2. Xracer

    Xracer *TFF Admin Staff Mediator*

    A really tough call PS.

    As you say, it probably would've been effective. And if I were a Marine on Iwo, or if I had a son that was, at the time I probably would've said yes.

    However, poison gas was outlawed internationally after WWI....and at the time of WWII, we were a nation that followed the International Laws of Warfare.

    Also, pragmatically speaking, we, at the time thought that we were going to have to invade Japan.....what would have stopped the Japs from using poison gas against us during the invasion and warfare on the Japanese main islands?

    We fought an honorable war, and we won honorably. It caused us a lot of causualties......but we won fair and square.

    From the perspective of today, where the present administration doesn't feel it has to follow any rules.....I agree with FDR.

  3. as a former 54E/H/C…. and History major….

    the use of gas in the Island war would not have produce the desired effect…. even CS gas

    there were also many Islands that had indigenous people still on the them …..

    and.. as stated… our adherents to the treaty of both WWI and the conventions in 1928 and 1930 against its use….

    that is one reason that the Marines, to their great wisdom… used flame….

    it WAS NOT against the treaties as it was written….. “to not bring great harm and undue suffering” to the combatants… (The flame exhausted the oxygen and they suffocated well before the flame killed them (in most cases)

    one other thing... if we had done that, and the Germans got wind of it... they may have used their gas stockpile in Europe...(even through Hitler was afraid of it and a former the winds in Europe was also against the Germans all during WWII). Remember… we had the Germans convinced that WE had a nerve gas thru our propaganda (we DID NOT)

    (Note : the Rangers on D-Day, when they scaled the cliffs.. did not find the Guns they we sent to destroy… but ten tons or so of Nerve agent ready to deploy… Rommel wanted to use it.. Hitler overrode him)

    (.02 cents posted)

  4. It is indeed a tough call, X. It is worthwhile to note, however, that most of the so-called "rules of war" went down the toilet--on both sides--nearly as soon as war was declared, not the least of which was the outlawed use of unrestricted submarine warfare and the prosecution of war directly against civilians population centers. In Europe, both sides were thoroughly prepared to use gas, and frankly, I'm somewhat surprised the Germans didn't use it in the Battle of the Bulge or during the last, desperate days before the fall of Berlin. My primary focus when I posed the question, however, was if its use against strictly military targets--such as on Iwo Jima--might have made some sense, even at the cost of political fallout. I'm far from convinced as well that if invasion of the Japanese Home Islands had taken place in late '45 as scheduled, the Japanese--or at least some of the more fanatical military leaders--would not have resorted to gas weapons in a last ditch attempt to stave off final defeat. I find it ironic as well that, in the end, we used (quite justifiably, in my opinion) a weapon far more devastating and horrible than even gas to finally end the war. A final point as well: would the use of gas have really been any more barbaric than the fire bombings that were in fact used against both Germany and Japan, on Tokyo and Hamburg, for example?
  5. Xracer

    Xracer *TFF Admin Staff Mediator*

    I can't completely disagree with you PS.....but had we used gas on Iwo, the camel's nose would've been under the tent.

    Would we have then used it on Okinawa, which had a large civilian population? Granted, many Okinawan civilians committed suicide rather than face occupation by the "Brutal (they were told) Americans"......but most of them sought shelter in the jungle and in the many caves on the island. Poison gas would've caused horrific civilian casualties.

    Additionally, our breaking of the "rules of war" was in response to the Axis powers doing it first (the U-boat warfare, the bombing of London, Coventry, Shanghi)......we didn't do it first.

    Maybe a weak argument on my part, but I still feel that WWII was our last "good war". We entered it for the right reasons, we fought it (for the most part) honorably, we played it by the rules (for the most part), we treated enemy POWs within the rules, and we won it. And then we prosecuted the war criminals with fair (again for the most part) trials.
  6. As usual, X, you make a very intelligent point and your metaphor is an apt one. Once the jennie was out of the bottle, it would have been very difficult--if not impossible--to get him back inside it again. The ramifications of that in later conflicts, like Korea, are definitely worth considering. I agree that, by and large, we did play by the so-called "rules of war" throughout the conflict (there were a few exceptions, as you well know), though I wonder, had the full extent of the atrocities committed by the Japanese against American POWs--and the Germans against the Jewish prisoners in the concentration camps--been known to the American public, if there would not have been an even greater outcry for revenge and retribution, and thus the use of whatever weapons we had to utterly destroy them to the last mother's son. In the long run though, such an action would likely have done us more harm than good. On Okinawa, it is true, the use of gas would have been at least as harmful to the innocent civilian population as to the Japanese military, yet, by the same token, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by nuclear blast was as well.
  7. Xracer

    Xracer *TFF Admin Staff Mediator*

    Actually PS.....I believe the use of the Atomic bombs can be defended on humanitarian grounds.

    At the cost of approximately 160,000 combined deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, measure the hundreds of thousands and perhaps a million, or more, casualities, both American and Japanese, that would've occured if we had to invade Japan.

    For that reason, Harry Truman said he never lost a wink of sleep at night over his decision to use the atomic bombs.
  8. I don't disagree with your reasoning at all, X. In the cold calculations of war, there is no doubt at all that using the bombs actually saved hundreds of thousands of lives--both American and Japanese--in the long run. Yet it might be logically argued, using the same sort of reasoning, that using gas in the island campaigns might have had a similar life-saving effect, at least on the American side. I think it is interesting to note as well that we could easily have accomplished the same amount of destruction--if not far more-- as the nukes produced, using conventional incendiary weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What made the nuclear devices a far better choice was, I think, the sheer magnitude of destruction created by a single weapon in such a short space of time. It gave the Japanese something of a face-saving way of finally accepting the inevitability of their defeat. All but the most fanatic Japanese were forced to realize that the jig was up and the Rising Sun was about to set, like it or not!

    Nonetheless, you are very likely correct in your overall argument concerning the use of gas, at least from a geoplitical perspective. It is a tempting thought though, you must admit, for it would have saved so many fine young American lives. I know that when I was in Vietnam, if we had been ordered to dump mustard gas or phosgene into some of Charlie's hidy holes, I wouldn't have thought twice about it . . . or lost any sleep over it either. On the other hand, from an overall perspective, doing so would likely have made that conflict even worse than it already was.
  9. Xracer

    Xracer *TFF Admin Staff Mediator*

    Agreed, 100%! Postwar interviews and reasearch into the Japanese Emporer's and Cabinet discussions on ending the war have shown that this is exactly the case.

    In his broadcast to the Japanese nation announcing a "cessation of hostilities" Hirohito is quoted as saying, "Recent events have not necessarily gone to our advantage....." about an understatement!!!! :D

    As for using gas on Charlie's hidy-holes......that's why decisions on The Rules of War aren't made by "grunts-on-the ground", but by higher eschelons (both military and civilian) who have political and international ramifications to consider.

    Anyway.....isn't this a neat discussion!!! :) :) :)
  10. You are certainly right about that, X. I honestly believe that if Nixon had ordered a nuclear strike on North Vietnam during the time I was there, the grunts on the ground in the South would have said nothing but, "Go for it! Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out." :cool:

    There is yet another issue that relates to this as well. As you know, there were many who believed Hirohito should have been tried and executed as a war criminal (which he most assuredly was!) after the war. The decision not to prosecute him and to allow him to remain on the throne, in restrospect, was probably the right one, though I must say it was still much like making a pact with the Devil in many ways. What has always rankled me even more though, was the failure of the military authorities to try and execute more of the Japanese military guilty of atrocities, particularly Lt. Gen. Shiro Ishii who was in charge of biological experiments at Unit 731 in China, along with more of those responsible for the Bataan Death March. As you said earlier, we did more or less follow the rules of war, but it seems clear the Japanese held to no such scruples.

    And yes, this is indeed a most interesting discussion! :D
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 21, 2007
  11. Most of the rules were broken by the other side, and in some cases we followed suit. The U.S. always had a ready stock pile of Chemical weapons in case the other side used them. In Bari Italy a U.S. ship carrying mustard gas was hit by German bombers releasing the mustard gas against U.S. troops and civilians.

    I agree with Mithrandir the gas would not have been as effective againt troops in dispersed defensive positions. It would be very effective agains closely packed landing troops on the beach. If we opened this door to the use of chemical weapons it might have been more damaging to U.S. troops than to the enemy.

    And I think it is a good thing chemical weapons are banned. I agree on useing them in retaliation, but not first use.

    Mithrandir what is a 54E/H/C. Is that a M.O.S.?
  12. JohnK3

    JohnK3 New Member

    May 5, 2003
    Let's not forget the atrocities committed building the Burma Railroad, the site of the infamous "Bridge Over the River Kwai." (Which was, by the way, NOT over the River Kwae, but over a different river.)

    I just got finished reading "Ship of Ghosts" about the sailors of the USS Houston and the men of the Lost Battalion, a group of Texas National Guardsmen that were captured early in the war and worked on that railroad. Unlike the British rah-rah piece that "Bridge Over The River Kwai" ends up being, the reality of the Burma Railroad was one of torture, starvation, disease and brutality.
  13. Your point is well taken, 17th and I don't really disagree with it. My thinking in this case had more to do with the tactical use of gas against heavily dug-in fortifications, such as those the Marines encountered on Iwo Jima and various other Pacific island strongholds. As the troops found out the hard way, Iwo was a maze of interconnected tunnels and hard points that were virtually impervious to direct shell fire. Use of shell or bomb-delivered poison gas against such positions would have, I think, been extremely effective in a tactical sense. The gas is heavier than air and would have made the tunnels and machine gun positions quickly untenable, forcing the enemy troops out into the open where conventional weapons were more effective. As you suggest though, we could probably gotten away with that only once. Had we used it, it is likely the Japanese would have done so in turn the next time an island was hit.

    John, as we later learned, atrocities like that occurred all over the Pacific. Look, for example, at what happened in Nanking after the Japanese invaded China in the 1930s. It is perhaps well that the American public did not know the true extent of Japanese barbarity toward prisoners-of-war before the conflict ended, else the retribution demanded against the Japanese people would have been too horrible to behold at war's end. While such actions may well have been just in the Biblical sense, they would have been geopolitically counterproductive given the standoff with the Soviets that developed after the war.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 22, 2007
  14. dahermit

    dahermit Former Guest

    Jan 17, 2007
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2007
Similar Threads
Forum Title Date
General Military Arms & History Forum Quiz, Which WWII Army You Should Have Fought In Jul 10, 2008
General Military Arms & History Forum What should a Sten Mark 3 cost? May 18, 2008
General Military Arms & History Forum Should we go back to the 1911? Sep 8, 2007
General Military Arms & History Forum I haven't been on in a while, but I got a LOT of new threads to post ;) Jan 14, 2007