[Continuing our series on deception and misdirection.]
I’ve worked as a press secretary for politicians—for candidates for Congress and statewide office, for a controversial U.S. Senator, and, at the state level, for a presidential campaign. I know how tough the job can be. You must be ready and able to answer questions on any topic in the news, lessen the damage from your boss’s blunders and moments of extreme candor, and joust rhetorically with members of the news media, some of whom are eager to do you harm.
No press secretary has it tougher than the White House press secretary, and no White House press secretary has it tougher than Donald Trump’s. The Washington press corps hates Donald Trump and his “deplorables” with a passion beyond reason, and largely blames itself for the Trump’s election, which it considers a 9/11-level disaster. (I’m not exaggerating. A typical reaction to Trump’s election was that of Bloomberg’s Mark Halperin, who declared on Election Night that “Outside of the Civil War, World War II, and including 9/11, this may be the most cataclysmic event the country has ever seen.”)
Members of the Washington press corps believe that they didn’t do enough, prior to the election, to bring Trump down; now their mission is to fix that mistake. Sean Spicer is on the front lines of the war between Trump and the elite media, who have their bayonets drawn.
That said, Spicer performed awfully at that press briefing April 11 at which he discussed the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war. Using chemical weapons in war, Spicer attempted to point out, was something “even Hitler” didn’t do. Here’s what he said:
We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You had someone as despicable as Hitler, who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons. You have to ask yourself if you’re Russia, is this a country and a regime you want to align yourself with? You have previously signed on to international agreements rightfully acknowledging that the use of chemical weapons should be out of bounds by every country.
Given a chance to clarify, he said:
I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no — he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Ashad [sic] is doing. I mean, there was clearly, I understand your point. Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that. There was not, in the, he brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that. But I’m saying, in the way that Assad used them where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent—into the middle of towns, it was brought, the use of it. I appreciate the clarification. That was not the intent.
Later, he clarified further:
In no way was I trying to lessen the horrendous nature of the Holocaust. I was trying to draw a distinction of the tactic of using airplanes to drop chemical weapons on population centers. Any attack on innocent people is reprehensible and inexcusable.
Well, there you go.
Deer, meet headlights
If a deer staring into the headlights of an oncoming minivan could pause time and conduct a press briefing, it would sound like Spicer explaining his position on Assad and Hitler. Spicer didn’t help himself by mispronouncing Assad’s name as “Ashad” and by referring to “Holocaust centers,” a neologism that sounds weird and seems like it should be offensive, but isn’t, at least not to a reasonable person. (I thought of David Letterman’s old bit, “Top 10 things that sound dirty but aren’t.”)
What came next was a storm of criticism, much of it smarmy.
The BBC’s “History Guy” Dan Snow, the great-great-grandson of David Lloyd George, tweeted about the comment, quoting Spicer that “Hitler didn’t even sink to the level of using chemical weapons” and adding smarmily, “There speaks a man without a history degree.” In These Times, the leftist publication founded with the tagline “The Socialist Newsweekly,” tweeted: “Happy Passover from Sean Spicer and the Trump Administration.” (Passover this year was from the evening of April 10 to the evening of April 18.)
Former Speaker and current House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi declared: “While Jewish families across America celebrate Passover, the chief spokesman of this White House is downplaying the horror of the Holocaust. Sean Spicer must be fired . . .”
TeenVogue declared in a headline: “Sean Spicer Falsely Stated That Hitler Did Not Use Chemical Weapons in World War II.”
And if you can’t trust TeenVogue on matters of military history, who can you trust?
How about Washington, D.C.’s newspaper for Far Left gay people, the Washington Blade, which reported: “White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer apologized Tuesday for what he said were ‘insensitive’ remarks suggesting Adolf Hitler didn’t gas Jewish people during the Holocaust amid calls for his ouster.”
Yes, that’s the actual lede on the Blade story—the false claim that Spicer suggested that Hitler didn’t gas Jews.
(That version is becoming the stuff of urban legends. A friend of mine encountered a woman at a gathering shortly after Spicer’s comments. The woman looked tired and obviously upset. Asked what was wrong, she poured out a stream of invective and rage over “what I saw on the news yesterday, what Sean Spicer said about the Jews!” She almost teared up, saying, “Members of my own family died in the ovens in Germany! I CANNOT BELIEVE that Spicer could be so evil as to say that ‘even Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons.’ It ruined my whole day and I could hardly sleep last night.” Before my friend could correct the woman’s mistaken account, two other people at the table began commiserating with the woman about “that horrible man” and “how awful Trump is.” My friend was the only person there who knew what Spicer had actually said.)
U.S. Representative David Civilline (D-Rhode Island), the former mayor of Providence, managed to combine, in a single paragraph in a press release, several baseless charges against Trump aides: “Steve Bannon made his name running a website that trafficked in anti-Semitism and racism. Seb Gorka has a history of working with anti-Semitic groups and individuals. And today, Sean Spicer made despicable, ignorant remarks about the Holocaust and Adolf Hitler. Enough is enough.”
Newsweek headlined its report: “Barbra Streisand, Debra Messing and more call for Sean Spicer to be fired after Hitler gaffe.” Streisand is a famous singer/actress. Messing is a TV star best known for the sitcom Will & Grace.
Messing tweeted that Spicer was “denying gas use in Holocaust. #FireSpicer. Please use this hashtag.”
Adding to the intellectual firepower of the attack on Spicer:
- Mira Sorvino (Mighty Aphrodite): “Spokesperson for the president of the US must understand the unprecedented atrocity of the Holocaust. His ignorance-unacceptable #FireSpicer .”
- Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead): On Passover none the less. I can’t even get over the idiocy of this man. Pure lunacy and ignorance.”
- Kirstie Alley (Cheers): “When I was ten years old I saw actual footage of Jews led into the gas chambers and their bodies removed. Spicer you need to resign & repent.”
- Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!): “Mr Spicer. You need to [fornicate] off now.”
The most pointed criticism came from something called the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect. “On Passover no less, Sean Spicer has engaged in Holocaust denial, the most offensive form of fake news imaginable, by denying Hitler gassed millions of Jews to death,” said the center’s executive director, Steven Goldstein. “Spicer’s statement is the most evil slur upon a group of people we have ever heard from a White House press secretary.” (We’ll cover the Anne Frank Center in a later article.)
PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning “fact checking” effort of the Tampa Bay Times, weighed in with an article headlined “Did Adolph Hitler use chemical weapons? Sean Spicer wrongly says Hitler didn’t sink to that level.” PolitiFact rated Spicer’s claims “Pants on Fire”—in other words, not a statement was garbled or mistaken, but an outright lie.
Sean Spicer turned heads in the White House briefing room during a discussion of the situation in Syria when he wrongly claimed that Adolf Hitler did not use chemical weapons.
Spicer, President Donald Trump’s top spokesman, was discussing why Russia might withdraw support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and referenced Assad’s attacks on his own people. “You had someone who is despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” Spicer told reporters April 11, 2017.
Spicer attempted to clarify his point when pressed by reporters. “He was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing,” Spicer said. “He brought them into the Holocaust centers, I understand that. But (not) in the way that Bashar al-Assad used them where he went into towns, dropped them down, into the middle of towns.”
We believe Holocaust centers refers to concentration camps.
With that last comment, PolitiFact was making a joke at Spicer’s expense. (Of course, if you’re going to mock someone for ignorance, you should check your own facts first. As I explain later in this article, he was referring to the Nazis’ extermination camps, not concentration camps.)
As for the rest of Spicer’s statement, there is a reason Nazis and Hitler became synonymous with the term gas chamber. That’s because they pumped hydrogen cyanide gas into the killing rooms packed with Jews, Roma, and others singled out for extermination by Nazi leaders. At concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Mauthausen and Sachsenhausen, Jews were taken from cattle cars and forced into “showers,” where guards released the gas. At the height of deportations, an estimated 6,000 Jews died each day in the Auschwitz gas chambers.
Spicer appears to be trying to limit his definition of chemical weapons to those dropped from planes or fired through cannons, as Assad has been alleged to have done. That sells short the definition in the Chemical Weapons Convention, which took force in 1997.
Get that? “Spicer appears to be trying to limit his definition of chemical weapons . . . ”—as if Spicer simply concocted the distinction between the use of chemical weapons in war and the use of chemicals in mass murder. The source, cited by PolitiFact, for a broader definition of chemical weapons, is a treaty that took force 42 years after Hitler was dead.
Here’s the convention’s definition:
- “Chemical Weapons” means the following, together or separately:
(a) Toxic chemicals and their precursors, except where intended for purposes not prohibited under this Convention, as long as the types and quantities are consistent with such purposes;
(b) Munitions and devices, specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of those toxic chemicals specified in subparagraph (a), which would be released as a result of the employment of such munitions and devices;
(c) Any equipment specifically designed for use directly in connection with the employment of munitions and devices specified in subparagraph (b).
The Nazis’ hydrogen cyanide meets the first condition and the gas chambers would qualify as a “device” in the second.
There is no mention that chemical weapons are only those used on the battlefield.
Brian Finlay, president of the Stimson Center, a Washington defense policy group, told us that “the Nazis would surely have been in contravention of the (Chemical Weapons Convention) had it being in effect during the second World War.”
Yes, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) expanded the definition of chemical weapons. Some have read the terms of the convention so broadly that it would prohibit the use of tear gas against rioters, or the use of a gas chamber to executive criminals (as in three U.S. states currently, and in 11 executions since the 1976 restoration of the death penalty nationally). That is not a serious use of the term “chemical weapons.” Indeed, the vagueness of the CWC’s definition is one reason that many national-security experts in the U.S. opposed American ratification of the treaty.
Using the broadest possible definition of chemical weapons, PolitiFact then proclaimed that Spicer was lying.
Spicer said Hitler never used chemical weapons. The Nazi regime brought an industrial approach to mass murder of its citizens and others it sought to exterminate. The construction of gas chambers and the use of deadly gas was fundamental to that strategy.
While the convention against chemical weapons did not exist in World War II, the modern definition would encompass the Nazi gas chambers. It makes no difference whether victims are brought to a room filled with deadly gas, or if the gas is sent to them in a bombing raid.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire.
Get it? PolitiFact searched around, found a definition of chemical weapons that was inconsistent with what Spicer had said, and proclaimed, based on that definition—“the modern definition”—that he was dishonest. Once again, a “fact checker” called someone a liar for making a statement that was arguably untrue and arguably true.
(For more on PolitiFact’s record of dishonest reporting, see our previous articles https://capitalresearch.org/article/dishonest-fact-checkers/ and https://capitalresearch.org/article/hillary-doesnt-lie-according-to-hillary-how-the-fact-checkers-blew-open-borders/ )
Even faker news
Spicer’s real comments were bad enough to elicit sharp, fair criticism, but there’s no garbled comment that can’t be made worse by the creators of Fake News. Lori Robertson and Robert Farley of FactCheck.org reported that—
Spicer’s comments also sparked fake news postings.
A Facebook page called “Press Secretary Sean Spicer” – which has since been deleted – posted a bogus statement attributed to Spicer saying: “The media has mischaracterized my recent statements on the Assad regime. It was not my intention to imply that Hitler had never used chemical weapons, but that he never used them on fellow Germans.”
A Google cache version of the page, captured at 9:18 p.m. ET on April 11, shows about 300 people had liked the post, nearly 2,000 had shared it and even more had commented on it. The page included several postings of articles from [Brietbart] Insider, a parody site (just note the fake Pulitzer reference, for instance, on the “About Us” page), not the actual Breitbart.
And the satirical site Newslo fabricated several quotes it attributed to Spicer, including a line that gas chambers were “a minute part” of World War II. Newslo, our readers may recall, often includes some real news in its stories, giving readers the opportunity to “show facts” or “hide facts.” In this case, its post started off with real Spicer quotes from the press conference, and then fabricated several paragraphs.
Among the Fake News quotes, supposedly things said by Spicer (which, to be clear, he never said): “As a matter of fact, if you were to open a dictionary and look up under ‘monster’ and ‘psychopath,’ you’d find a picture of Adolf Hitler right up there alongside Hannibal Lector [sic]. And in case you’re wondering–yes, I’m well aware of the fact that Hannibal Lector is a fictional movie character. . . . It’s not like I told a lie, I just used history as a means to make a point. . . . World War II lasted for almost 6 full years and during that time, countless atrocities were committed by the Nazis. However, the one thing they never did was target their own race.”
Jen Psaki, communications director for the Obama White House, empathized with Spicer. “Every press secretary screws up. Everybody who’s ever had Sean’s job—There were times when Josh said things he wished he hadn’t said. Now it was never at this level, to be fair.” Interestingly, she placed part of the blame for the brouhaha on bad feelings between Spicer and the press—in other words, on media bias, albeit media bias for which Spicer is at least partly responsible. “There isn’t a lot of goodwill and therefore, there isn’t a lot of bandwidth for reporters to kinda give you a break or people to give you a break,” she said.
Retired Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said of Spicer’s statement, “It was a serious mistake and it showed a kind of ignorance of history, but it was an honest mistake. He didn’t do it out of any bad motive [i.e.] because he’s a Holocaust denier . . . and he immediately apologized.” In fact, he said, “it’s are to see an apology so full-throated and full-hearted as his apology . . . ”
Jean Card, a communications consultant, wrote in U.S. News:
Watch the video of Sean answering the clarification question, where he horribly said “Holocaust centers” after visibly mentally searching for the term “concentration camps.” Look at the circles under his eyes. If you are middle-aged or older, imagine searching for the word “stapler” while 50 national reporters are looking at you. Yeah. That would suck.
But the media and the tweeting public have no such empathy for Sean Spicer as a human being. My own view is that one should only criticize Sean after one has worked 12+ hour days, seven days a week, for a couple of years under incredible scrutiny and pressure, then goes to a podium with hot lights and the whole world watching and says everything completely perfectly. Only then do you have the experience and context to criticize Sean Spicer.
The overreaction to Spicer’s gaffe diminishes the seriousness of the true outrage, which is the horror of Assad’s evil attack. The press corps, Democrat politicians, and every tweeter/poster/troll on social media who jumped to judgment yesterday needs to get some perspective.
Right vs. wrong
The problem with the criticism by the likes of Nancy Pelosi, Barbra Streisand, and TeenVogue is that Spicer was right, in the sense of “chemical weapons” that is normally used by experts on the subject. The term “chemical weapons” almost always refers to weapons of war, not weapons of mass murder and genocide.
Snopes, the left-wing “fact checking” website now affiliated with Facebook, characterized Spicer’s claim as “Adolf Hitler never used chemical weapons (against his own people),” which Snopes rated FALSE. The explanation:
Hitler did indeed use “gas on his own people the same way that Assad is [allegedly] doing” in the sense of employing it to kill innocent civilians; the only difference (to which Spicer was referring) was the delivery method: herding people into prison chambers to be gassed versus dropping gas bombs on them from the air. Spicer may have been technically correct in that particular sense, but his words still left many listeners puzzled (if not outraged) about why that distinction was significant.
Well, no. The significant difference between what Hitler did and what Assad did was not the delivery method—that’s a point that Spicer stumbled over and Snopes got wrong—it was that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons in war. Indeed, one of the reasons that the mass-murder of Jews is considered perhaps history’s greatest crime is that it served no military purpose. The Holocaust was genocide, which is defined as an attempt to wipe out an entire religious, ethnic, or national group. The Holocaust was never “legitimate” warfare. (Yes, there are “legitimate” types of warfare, in the sense that there are international laws governing the conduct of war, with some forms of warfare outlawed while others are allowed.)
In contrast to the Nazis’ use of chemical agents for mass murder, Assad’s apparent use of chemical weapons was in pursuit of a military objective, mainly to frighten civilians into submission. If Syria had done such a thing during World War II, and had it been a party to the agreement at that time (it joined in 1968), its actions would have violated the Geneva Protocol, which applied only to warfare. Note that the Protocol’s full name was “the Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare.”
Nor did “chemical weapons” mean all chemicals. The term, as it was understood, did not include chemicals such as those that would be used in the Vietnam War to clear foliage or start fires. It did not include the use of tear gas in crowd control. It didn’t mean the explosive chemicals that make firearms and bombs work.
See how complicated this can be?
To most people, the distinction between chemical weapons and chemicals or chemical agents seems like nit-picking. But, in the twisted world of international law, such distinctions are important.
For example: The U.S. recently attacked ISIS with a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast weapon, nicknamed the Mother Of All Bombs. The MOAB, one of the largest non-nuclear explosives ever devised, is quite a weapon of mass destruction. But it was not a Weapon of Mass Destruction.
It’s thought that the term “Weapon of Mass Destruction” was first used in 1937, by the Archbishop of Canterbury to describe the aerial bombardment of Guernica, Spain. Over time, it became a term of art, a phrase with a meaning beyond its literal interpretation. Following the use of atomic bombs at the end of World War II, policymakers began to use the term—sometimes as “weapons adaptable to mass destruction,” “weapons capable of mass destruction,” or “weapons for mass destruction”—to describe a class of weapons that included chemical, biological, and nuclear (later expanded to include radiological weapons, that is, weapons such as dirty bombs that explode conventionally but can kill a large number of people with radiation).
So, contrary to what people might think, every weapon of mass destruction is not a Weapon of Mass Destruction, and a WMD is a WMD even if it’s only used to kill five people, as in the anthrax letters attack in 2001.
Looking at the military and diplomatic history of the world over the past 70 years, you would get very confused if you failed to recognize the distinction between (a) literal weapons of mass destruction such as MOABs and commercial airliners flown into skyscrapers, and (b) the class of weapons known as Weapons of Mass Destruction or WMDs.
Likewise, when examining chemical weapons and World War II, it’s easy to get confused.
What Hitler did and didn’t do
The critics who ridiculed Spicer for calling concentration camps “Holocaust centers” seem unaware of a distinction made by Holocaust scholars between concentration camps, where political prisoners were held and tortured, and extermination camps or death camps, where Jews and others were killed by poison gas, mass shootings, extreme work, starvation, lack of medical care, and other methods. As often happens when someone is the subject of such a news media/social media smarm storm, the critics revealed themselves as no more knowledgeable than the person they’re ridiculing.
As to whether Hitler used chemical weapons:
I tell people that Hitler and the Nazis, with a few exceptions, declined to use chemical weapons in World War II, but I’m always careful to make this distinction:
- Hitler and the Nazis did use chemicals, gases such as carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, to murder many, many people during World War II.
- Hitler and the Nazis did not use chemical weapons in World War II—that is, in the war effort. (That is generally true, although the Nazis did use chemicals a few times for the purpose of clearing tunnels, i.e., killing people who had taken refuge underground.)
Consistent with this distinction between “chemical weapons” and “chemicals used to kill people,” MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, appearing on the “Morning Joe” program in 2013, said this regarding Assad’s use of chemical weapons: “We didn’t use them in World War II. Hitler didn’t use them.”
After Spicer’s comments on the subject, Matthews defended the press secretary on the ground that Spicer “clearly” was talking about battlefield use. On his program “Hardball,” Matthews said that “I’ll call it a faux pas, because I think he was thinking, you know, I remember growing up hearing from my father and others that, you know, in World War I the gas was used. I remember all the horrible pictures coming out of World War I from battlefield use of gas and the gas masks and what it did to people. And even when Hitler, the worst person ever perhaps, was surrounded, they didn’t resort to that in the battlefield. I think that’s what clearly—that’s what I think Spicer was talking about.”
Likewise, Boris Johnson, then the mayor of London and now the U.K.’s secretary of state for foreign affairs, had to clarify his comments when he suggested, in a 2013 interview, that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons. As reported by the London Evening Standard:
Boris Johnson has said it is a “great shame” the UK is not taking military action against Syrian despot Bashar Assad, claiming: “Not even Hitler used chemical weapons.”
The London Mayor was quick to clarify his comments, adding that the Nazi leader had never used such weapons “against allied troops”. . . .
The Mayor said not even Nazi Germany had used chemical weapons on the battlefield. “They are banned. As far as I am aware they are banned and they have been and the use of chemical weapons has been under international law since after the First World War,” he said.
“Not even Hitler used chemical weapons, as far as I can remember, not even Hitler used chemical weapons against allied troops.”
In a possible reference to the use of gas in Nazi concentration camps, the show’s host Adam Hills pointed out: “There is an argument to say that he did use chemicals at some point.” Mr Johnson then clarified: “But in the theatre of war, as far as I can remember, and I stand to be corrected on this, I don’t believe that even the Nazis used chemical weapons.”
Thus, as in the Spicer case, Johnson clarified his comment, noting that Hitler didn’t use such weapons “against Allied troops.” When prompted, he added, “in the theater of war.” That didn’t stop the Evening Standard from reporting, in the first paragraph of its story, that Johnson said: “Not even Hitler used chemical weapons.”
Weapons (of war, that is)
Until April 11, 2017, when Spicer fumbled, it was not unusual for people to differentiate between chemical weapons on the one hand, and chemicals used for mass murder on the other hand.
A 1990 account distributed by Reuters news agency took the same tack, treating the term “chemical weapons” as describing weapons used in war, not chemicals used for mass murder.
Since the Geneva protocol [of 1925], the best-documented evidence of the use of poison gas has been by the Italians in Abyssinia in 1935, by the Japanese against China in 1937-42, and by Egyptian forces against royalist guerillas in North Yemen in the 1960s.
The Germans had nerve gas during World War II but Hitler never used it, fearing retaliation.
The two leading types of chemical weapons are:
> Mustard gas: Despite its antique vintage, it’s still regarded as one of the most effective, especially in warm weather because it is difficult to disperse and can affect even troops wearing gas masks. . . .
> Nerve gas: The original types, Tabun and Sarin, were developed as pesticides in the 1930s. Nerve agents prevent the breakdown of a body chemical which causes muscular contraction. . . .
Note that the article lists the leading types of chemical weapons as mustard gas and nerve gas—neither one of which was used in the Holocaust. In this context, chemical agents used in the Holocaust are not counted as “chemical weapons.”
A 1991 story in the Herald Sun (Australia), which appears to draw from Reuters accounts, implicitly took the same position:
It was the use of chemical weapons during World War I, in which chlorine and mustard gas killed almost 100,000 men and injured more than one million, that led to a ban on their use in a 1925 Geneva agreement.
Chemical agents were used rarely during World War II. . . .
Chemical weapons divide into two basic kinds, both of which Iraq could use in a Gulf war.
- Blister agents: These include “mustard gas”, named for its pungent smell. . . .
- Nerve agents: The best-known types, Tabun and Sarin, were developed as pesticides in the 1930s by Germany’s IG Farben, which later supplied the Nazis with the Zyklon B used to gas the Jews. . . .
In addition, there is hydrogen cyanide. Once breathed, it chokes the victim to death, usually in about 15 minutes. It disperses quickly. . . .
Chemical weapons can also be effective against civilian populations. Unless people have access to large numbers of protective suits and masks, there may be no place to hide.
There’s no Holocaust denial here. The article acknowledges the use of “Zyklon B used to gas the Jews,” but does not count it as a chemical weapon. Hydrogen cyanide, the main ingredient in Zyklon B, is mentioned, but is described as “dispers[ing] quickly,” a clear reference to use in the open air. (When the Nazis used chemicals to kill Jews, the murders took place in confined spaces.)
In 2006, Neal Conan of National Public Radio interviewed Jonathan Tucker, a senior fellow at the liberal Federation of American Scientists. Tucker was one of the top experts in the field. When he died five years later, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists called him “a humble giant of biological and chemical weapons control.” In the NPR interview, Tucker said:
There has been historical debate over why chemical weapons were not used in World War II, and there are a number of different theories. One is that mutual deterrence prevailed. The Nazis knew that the Allies possessed large stock of phosgene and mustard gas, which had been invented during World War I and were stockpiled in large quantities.
But the Germans had discovered a new generation of chemical weapons called the nerve agents quite by chance, during pesticide research, as I mentioned. And they considered, on many occasions during the war, the possibility of unleashing these secret weapons, but they were deterred by, actually, an intelligence failure. The German intelligence suspected that the United States and Russia had also developed nerve agents. This turned out to be not the case . . .
Again: “There has been historical debate over why chemical weapons were not used in World War II,” Tucker said. I can’t find any record of NPR listeners or anyone else attacking Tucker as a Holocaust denier.
Then there’s Robert M. Citino. Citino is described by Wikipedia as “a leading authority on modern German military history . . . an award-winning author on military history, receiving recognition for his works from the American Historical Association . . . awarded the 2013 Distinguished Book Award by the Society for Military History . . . ” According to Wikipedia, he has taught at West Point and the Army War College and was a consultant for the White House staff and the History Channel. In 2009, he wrote:
Hitler was a bad guy.
Talk about stating the obvious. We can call Hitler many things. Fanatic. Megalomaniac. Warmonger. War criminal. Mass murderer. No one fits the bill like the Führer.
And yet, there was one rather obvious crime that this world-class criminal refused to commit. And I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why. My students ask me the question every single semester, and after 25 years of college teaching, I have to confess that still don’t have a really satisfactory answer.
Why didn’t Hitler use poison gas in World War II?
He certainly did everything else. Unprovoked aggression (multiple counts). Terror towards civilian populations in occupied areas. And the greatest mass murder of all time, the “Judeocide” that most people refer to as the Holocaust.
But he didn’t drop poison gas on civilian populations during bombing raids by the Luftwaffe. He didn’t even use it tactically against enemy troop concentrations. The conundrum becomes even tougher to explain when we remember that this is a man who himself fought in a war that featured the liberal use of poison gas. Chlorine, mustard, phosgene: World War I saw them all used in abundance, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers on all sides died a horrible choking death, or spent the next twenty years of their lives in the most painful suffering imaginable. World War II, however, a war that dwarfed the previous one in virtually every category of cruelty, almost completely eschewed this particular variety of horror. It remains a puzzle.
In this case, a historian, no denier of the Holocaust (it was, he wrote, “the greatest mass murder of all time”), wondered why Hitler didn’t use poison gas in the war. “My students ask me the question every single semester . . . Why didn’t Hitler use poison gas in World War II?”
The question of whether Hitler used chemical weapons came up in 2012 on the message board of The Straight Dope, the fact-checking and ask-me-anything newspaper column/website. A poster asked: “I read that the Germans invented chemical weapons during WW2 but decided not to use them; why is that? Was it really a sense of ethical concern?” (Actually, the Germans invented nerve gas during that period, but chemical weapons as a general class of weapons pre-dated the war.) In response to the question, Helena330 commented, “Seems to me gas in the showers is a chemical weapon,” to which Little Nemo replied “I don’t think you’d consider it a ‘weapon’ under those circumstances.” Moderator RickJay wrote:
Yes, the Nazis gassed people to death. That obviously is not a chemical weapon in the sense meant by the OP [original poster], which is a poisonous or noxious substance used in a military context. Holocaust victims were not soldiers in the battlefield. They were victims of murder.
The reason the Nazis didn’t use chemical weapons is because they didn’t want the Allies to, and they were, with fairly good justification, fearful that a chemical weapons fight was one in which the Allies would have a huge advantage.
On another message board, Reddit’s AskHistorians, a 2016 poster wondered: “Why didn’t Germany use chemical weapons during WW2? Has there been any research done or records found as to why Germany didn’t use chemical weapons during WW2, particularly when they began to struggle on the Eastern Front?”
The answer quoted from a report by the leftwing Stockholm International Peace Research Institute:
The two sides warned each other not to use chemical weapons at the risk of strong retaliatory action in kind; a general feeling of abhorrence on the part of governments for the use of CB [chemical/biological] weapons, reinforced by the pressure of public opinion and the constraining influence of the Geneva Protocol; and actual unpreparedness within the military forces for the use of these weapons.
Writing in the Weekly Standard in 2015, Geoffrey Norman wondered the same thing: Why didn’t Hitler use, against military or civilians, the chemical weapons banned by the Geneva Protocol?
It was widely assumed, on the eve of World War II, that the Geneva treaty was a dead letter and that gas would be used, and perhaps used extensively, against civilians. Gas masks were issued to everyone in England. There was one in red and blue for children between 2 and 5 years old. It was called the “Mickey Mouse” mask in hope that the name, along with the colors, would soothe a child’s natural reluctance to put the thing over his or her head. Parents were urged to let children learn to put on their own masks and to make a game of it.
Things never, mercifully, got beyond that stage, and this is still something of a mystery and a marvel. The most likely nation to break the Geneva Protocol would seem, of course, to have been Germany. Hitler broke agreements when he believed it would work to his advantage. So why didn’t he—even near the end, when his most devoted and fanatical followers were urging it—resort to gas? Why didn’t he drop gas on London, as many assumed he would? Or use gas against the advancing Russians when it was stand and die for him and the Reich?
You can find vague suggestions, here and there, that Hitler was reluctant to authorize the use of gas in World War II because he had been a gas casualty himself in the first war. . . . The most plausible explanation for his never giving the fatal order is that he feared reprisal by the Allies and suspected that Germany would not prevail if it came down to who had the more lethal gas and greater quantities of it.
Why was Hitler “reluctant to authorize the use of gas in World War II,” ultimately deciding against it? There’s no Holocaust denial in asking that question—simply an implicit acknowledgement of the difference between chemicals used in war and those used in mass murder.
It should be noted that this issue came up in the immediate aftermath of World War II at the Nuremberg trials, at which the Allied powers sought to hold Nazi officials accountable for the Holocaust and other war crimes. The use of chemical weapons, banned in war by the Geneva Protocol and therefore a war crime, was treated as an issue separate from the murder of millions by chemical and other means.
Albert Speer, who was Reich Minister of Armaments and War Production for the Nazis, was questioned on June 21, 1946 by the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson.
Q. You testified yesterday that it was proposed to withdraw from the Geneva Convention [the Geneva Protocol]. Will you tell us who made the proposal?
A. This proposal, as I already testified yesterday, came from Dr. Goebbels [Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda]. It was made after the air attack on Dresden, but before this, from the autumn of 1944 on, Goebbels and Ley had often had conversations to the effect that the war effort should be increased in every possible way, so that I had the impression Goebbels was merely using the attack on Dresden, and the excitement it created, as an excuse to renounce the Geneva Convention.
Q. Now, was the proposal at that time to resort to poison gas warfare, was the proposal made at that time?
A. I was not able to make out from my own direct observations whether gas warfare was to be started, but I knew from various associates of Ley and Goebbels that they were discussing the question of using our two new combat gases, Tabun and Sarin. . . .
Tabun and Sarin were nerve gases invented by the Nazis—chemical agents which, importantly, were not used in the Holocaust or otherwise in World War II. (It was Sarin that was apparently used recently by the Assad regime in Syria.) More from the questioning of Albert Speer by Justice Jackson:
Q. Can you identify others of the group who were advocating gas warfare?
A. In military circles there was certainly no one in favor of gas warfare. All the sensible army people opposed gas warfare as being utterly insane, for, in view of the enemy’s superiority in the air, it would not have been long before it brought the most terrible retribution upon German cities which were completely unprotected.
Q. The group that did advocate it, however, consisted of the politicians most intimate with Hitler, did it not?
A. A certain circle of political people, very limited in number. . . .
Q. Now, one of these gases was the gas which you proposed to use on those who were proposing to use it on others, and I suppose your motive was—
A. I must say quite frankly that my reason for this plan was the fear that under certain circumstances gas might be used, and the thought that we might get the idea of using it ourselves led me to make the whole plan.
Q. And your reasons, I take it, were the same as those of the military, that is to say, it was certain Germany would get the worst of it if Germany started that kind of warfare. That is what was worrying the military, was it not?
A. No, not only that. It was because at that stage of the war it was perfectly clear that under no circumstances should any international crimes be committed which could be held against the German people after they had lost the war. That was what decided the matter.
The point, clear as early as 1946, was that the use of chemical weapons (“gas warfare”) was a separate matter from the Holocaust. The Nazis, the perpetrators of the Holocaust, worried that violating the chemical weapons ban would make Germany look even worse!
The truth, until April 11
The reaction to Spicer’s comments shows how zealously the Left guards its ability to re-write history.
For more than 70 years, it was legitimate to ask why Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. Suddenly, on April 11, any suggestion that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons became Holocaust denial—one of the worst intellectual crimes that can be committed—or, at least, a sign of profound ignorance that should get you fired and marked forever as a “deplorable” of the lowest order. You’re branded even if you follow up by pointing out that, of course, the Nazis killed people with poison gas during the Holocaust.
The Left does this sort of thing all the time. Bill Clinton, Cesar Chavez, and civil rights hero Barbara Jordan strongly opposed illegal aliens taking American jobs, but expressing that view today marks you as a bigot. Hillary Clinton in 2004 took “umbrage” at the suggestion that anyone was more opposed than she to same-sex marriage, and Barack Obama ran for president as an opponent of same-sex marriage. Now, in leftists’ retrospection, people who opposed same-sex marriage were hate-mongers. Salman Rushdie, who ridiculed Islam, was once the Left’s hero for standing up for free speech and modernity, but now, if you criticize the violence and oppression fairly associated with mainstream Islam, you’re a villain in the eyes of the Left. Once, Russians were free to meddle in U.S. elections, such as in 1948 when they ran a recent vice president, Henry Wallace, for president of the United States. Now, people who meet with people who meet with people who meet with Russians are eyed as possible traitors.
Consider the Women’s March in January, supporting women’s rights for all women, a protest at which Donald Trump was denounced as a Russian agent. One of four principal organizers was Linda Sarsour, a supporter of Islamofascists who subjugate women. One of the speakers was Angela Davis, who was twice the Communist Party candidate—that is, the Russians’ candidate—for vice president of the United States.
Leftists’ freakout over the defeat of Hillary Clinton and the election of Donald Trump has brought out their worst, and their worst includes smearing everyone who stands up to them as Nazis or Nazi sympathizers or, at least, people ignorant of the crimes committed by the Nazis who somehow fail to see Donald Trump as the new Hitler.
From the Leftists’ perspective, it’s their world, their reality, and you just live in it.
Dr. Steven J. Allen (J.D., Ph.D.) is vice president & chief investigative officer of the Capital Research Center.
Often, such shifts in Political Correctness can be seen in the fight over the contents of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which is seen by many as the ultimate information source.
In approximately two days, the section on the Nazis in Wikipedia’s page on chemical warfare went from this (footnotes omitted):
[Photo of airplane flying overhead with caption: The Germans may have used poison gas on survivors from the Battle of Kerch, May 1942.]
Recovered documents suggest that German intelligence incorrectly thought that the Allies also knew of the nerve agent compounds, interpreting their lack of mention in the Allies’ scientific journals as evidence that information about them was being suppressed. Germany ultimately decided not to use the new nerve agents, fearing a potentially devastating Allied retaliatory nerve agent deployment.
Stanley P. Lovell, Deputy Director for Research and Development of the Office of Strategic Services, reports in his book Of Spies and Stratagems that the Allies knew the Germans had quantities of Gas Blau available for use in the defense of the Atlantic Wall. The use of nerve gas on the Normandy beachhead would have seriously impeded the Allies and possibly caused the invasion to fail altogether. He submitted the question “Why was nerve gas not used in Normandy?” to be asked of Hermann Göring during his interrogation. Göring answered that the reason gas was not used had to do with horses. The Wehrmacht was dependent upon horse-drawn transport to move supplies to their combat units, and had never been able to devise a gas mask horses could tolerate; the versions they developed would not pass enough pure air to allow the horses to pull a cart. Thus, gas was of no use to the German Army under most conditions.
One reported incident indicates the German army eventually used poison gas on survivors of the Battle of Kerch on the Eastern Crimean peninsula. After the battle in mid-May 1942, roughly 3000 soldiers and civilians not evacuated by sea were besieged in a series of caves and tunnels in the nearby Adzhimuskai quarry. After holding out for approximately three months, “poison gas was released into the tunnels, killing all but a few score of the Soviet defenders.”
In February 1943, German troops stationed in Kuban received a telegram.
…Russians should be eventually cleared out of the mountain range with gas.
The troops also received two wagons of toxin antidotes.
[Photo of airplane flying overhead with caption: The Germans eventually used poison gas on survivors from the Battle of Kerch, May 1942.]
During the Holocaust, a genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany, millions of Jews and other victims were gassed with carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide (including Zyklon B). This remains the deadliest use of poison gas in history. Nevertheless, the Nazis did not extensively use chemical weapons in combat, at least not against the Western Allies, despite maintaining an active chemical weapons program in which the Nazis used concentration camp prisoners as forced labor to secretly manufacture tabun, a nerve gas, and experimented upon concentration camp victims to test the effects of the gas. Otto Ambros of IG Farben was a chief chemical-weapons expert for the Nazis.
The Nazis’ decision to avoid the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield has been variously attributed to a lack of technical ability in the German chemical weapons program and fears that the Allies would retaliate with their own chemical weapons. It also has been speculated to have arisen from the personal experiences of Adolf Hitler as a soldier in the Kaiser’s army during World War I, where he was gassed by British troops in 1918. After the Battle of Stalingrad, Joseph Goebbels, Robert Ley, and Martin Bormann urged Hitler to approve the use of tabun and other chemical weapons to slow the Soviet advance. At a May 1943 meeting in the Wolf’s Lair, however, Hitler was told by Ambros that Germany had 45,000 tons of chemical gas stockpiled, but that the Allies likely had far more. Hitler responded by suddenly leaving the room and ordering production of tabun and sarin to be doubled, but “fearing some rogue officer would use them and spark Allied retaliation, he ordered that no chemical weapons be transported to the Russian front.” After the Allied invasion of Italy, the Germans rapidly moved to remove or destroy both German and Italian chemical-weapon stockpiles, “for the same reason that Hitler had ordered them pulled from the Russian front—they feared that local commanders would use them and trigger Allied chemical retaliation.”
[The later version of the article picks up the paragraphs from the earlier version, beginning with “Stanley P. Lovell . . . ”]