Jeffrey Allan Johnson
Villanova University, USA
Military-Industrial Interactions in the Development of Chemical Warfare, 1914-1918: Comparing National Cases within the Technological System of the Great War
Although a great deal is known about the role of scientists and especially of Fritz Haber, in the development of chemical warfare during the First World War, the role of industry has received much less attention. Partly as a result of the limited availability of appropriate sources, relatively little has been published on the ways in which the military authorities in various nations mobilized the chemical industries in the testing of potential chemical weapons and means of protection against them, and how the industries in turn dealt with resource scarcities, difficulties in scaling-up production, manufacturing safety issues, and ethical concerns while seeking to meet growing and changing military demands. As the nature of chemical warfare intensified from the tentative, small-scale experiments of 1914-1915 to the massive bombardments of 1918, it also changed qualitatively. Each side’s introduction of new agents, new means of deploying them, or new protective apparatus forced similar responses from their opponents, in a steadily escalating arms race that stretched resources to their limits. At the same time, manufacturers also benefited from increasingly lucrative military contracts, overriding practical or ethical concerns and creating vested interests in promoting chemical warfare. Hence the chemical dimension of the Great War exemplified that war’s increasingly “total” nature as a self-sustaining, all-consuming technological system integrating the fighting fronts and home fronts not only on each side, but across the lines. This presentation will address these issues by comparing the interactions of industry with the military in three interrelated national cases during the 1914-18 war: the Germans vs. the British and later the Americans, with briefer consideration of other national cases that will be discussed in other papers (France) or where less information is available (Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Italy).