Project (2021-2022)

The Other Chemists’ War: The Uses, Dual Uses, and Abuses of Chemical Weapons in the Second World War

Alison’s dissertation highlights the long Second World War (1931–1945) as a transformative moment in the history of chemical weapons. Although the conflict is often sidelined as a case of chemical weapons “non-use” in the European theater, these weapons were in fact ubiquitous. Research and development programs, testing and disposal, concrete battlefield uses, and strategic threats of retaliation together rendered this conflict “the other chemists’ war.” Furthermore, research and development programs laid the material and information foundations for future chemical wars. On both sides of the Atlantic, research chemists developed novel weapons agents for possible battlefield use. Chief among them were the chlorinated phenoxyacetic acid herbicides (later developed into Agent Orange) and the first nerve gases: tabun, sarin, and soman. The former emerged out of botanical research in the United States and Great Britain. The latter were the result of organophosphate insecticide research at IG Farben laboratories and vitamin work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research. Focusing on these two classes of compounds, Alison’s dissertation investigates how practices of information control, including censorship, espionage, and scientific publication policy, contributed to the use and non-use of these novel compounds in twentieth-century theaters of war.