June 26, 1915

by Richard van Pelt, WWI Correspondent

In a classic example of the logical fallacy of tu quoque the headline in the Capital Journal read “Germans Defend Use of Gas Bombs – Say Allies Set Example:”

Berlin, via Wireless to Sayville, June 26. – Defending the use of asphyxiating gas bombs, a government statement today pointed out that the French and British used gas shells for moths before the Germans resorted to such a weapon. The aim of the Germans, it was stated, was simply to drive the enemy from their trenches by the gas. The slow approach of the gas cloud makes it possible for the enemy to flee.

It was also pointed out that the allies flooded the German trenches in Flanders and declared there was no difference between the use of water and gas clouds.

“If the enemy attempts to rouse feeling in America against Germany’s use of gases, it will suffice to point out that the American delegates to the Hague convention 1899 voted against prohibiting gases. Captain Mahan, before the sub-committee, declared that gas bombs were as humane as high explosives which inflicted terrible wounds.

The paper reported this article without comment. The victim here is truth. And the truth is that in war, as in politics, it is often the truth that gets trampled. The Hague Convention of 1899 banned the of gas-filled projectiles. The Convention referred to shells “solely for the dispensing of gas” and Germany sought to evade the spirit of the Convention by initially using shells that were a mix of explosives, shrapnel, and gas. Later, when they began to use gas cylinders, they argued that these were not “gas-filled shells” (Hammond, Poison Gas: The Myths Versus Reality, page 23).

The German government’s’ statement was directed at the American audience, and uses Alfred Thayer Mahan’s testimony where he is alleged to have declared “that gas bombs were as humane as high explosives which inflicted terrible wounds.” This is Mahan’s testimony:

That no shell emitting such gases is yet in practical use or has undergone adequate experiment; consequently vote taken now would be taken in ignorance of the facts as to whether the results would be of a decisive character, or whether injury in excess of that necessary to attain the end of warfare of immediately disabling the enemy would be inflicted.

The reproach addressed against those supposed shells was equally uttered against firearms and torpedoes, although each is now employed without scruple. Until we know the effects of such asphyxiating shells, there would be no saying whether they would be more or less merciful than missiles now permitted.

That it is illogical and not demonstratively humane to be tender about asphyxiating man with gas, when all were prepared to admit that it was allowable to blow the bottom out of an ironclad at midnight throwing four or five hundred men into the sea to be asphyxiated by water with barely the remotest chance of escape. If and when a shell emitting asphyxiating gases has been successfully produced, then and not before, will men be able to vote intelligently on the subject.

In 1915 cross-dressing was frowned upon, as this article from The Oregon Statesman reports:

Girl In Male Attire in Company with Man Taken in Charge by the Officers

In male attire and declaring that she was on her way to San Francisco, and evidently having ‘hoboed’ her way thus far from Portland, a young woman given the name of Alice Davis was taken in charge, in company with a man who she says is her brother, by the police officers yesterday. The couple is being held as suspects for investigation of the case. No charge has been placed against either. Both are about 23 years old.

According to the officers the couple is thought to have arrived in this city early yesterday morning and to have spent the day near the Southern Pacific depot, but it is thought they came up in the business district once or twice during the day. The matter was reported to the police officers by a man who saw the young woman put a stray lock of hair back under her cap. The couple managed to elude Officers Varney and Nicholson, who were trying to locate them, until late in the afternoon when they were finally caught.

According to the officers the man, who says his name is Jack Davis, has little today, but the girl stated that they are from Portland where both worked in a laundry and were no their way to San Francisco but changed their minds when they reached this city. The man was without money but the girl had 25 cents. She was dressed in a dark blue suit and wore a cap and had no feminine clothes whatever with her.

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About whclarc

We are devoted to providing information fresh from the Archives, Library and Collections of the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem, Oregon. We specialize in the history of Marion County and the greater Salem area.
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