Chapter 5: Elements in Times of War

by David Moore

Synopsis

War can trace its roots back to prehistory, but chemical warfare can find its origin in ancient Greece. Failed attempts by the Spartans at chemical warfare inhibited its development until its importance was realized around World War I. A ban was placed on chemical weapons in 1899, but all countries that signed broke their promise (Ch 5, p 81). Early gas weapons were primarily bromine, which could easily incapacitate a grown man. The Germans took cue from the French and with help of evil genius Fritz Haber, developed chlorine based gas weapons over the next two wars, using osmium as a catalyst (Ch 5, p 83). He also manufactured the first-generation-killer, Zyklon A. Horror and tragedy surrounding Haber and his creation, but the damage was already done (Ch 5, p 85).


Gas weapons weren't the only way elements contributed to war. German weapons called Big Berthas could launch shells nine miles in a matter of seconds, but the firepower needed to launch the shells destroyed the guns after repeated launching. The metal molybdenum and tungsten were highly sought after because they strengthened the machines (Ch 5, p 88). Violence raged as supply for these metals grew, but yet again, it was too late to prevent the havoc the elements had wreaked (Ch 5, p 88). More recently, demand for metals tantalum and niobium (used in cell phones) and tin has caused violence and bloodshed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, owner of 60% of the world's supply of these metals. The bloodshed shows that the elements of the periodic table aren't always as awe-inspiring and lighthearted as one might think (Ch 5, p 97).

Elements Mentioned:

Summary

The periodic table contains elements that can be used for an endless possibility of purposes; including nefarious purposes. From gases such as bromine and chlorine to metals such as tungsten, osmium, molybdenum, and scadium, some elements succeed in fighting and assisting violence. Worse still, certain elements such as tantalum and niobium help start the bloodshed in the first place. It is true that elements create life, but it is also true that elements create death (Ch 5, pg 81-97).

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