A Strange and Formidable Weapon


A Strange and Formidable Weapon

British Responses to World War I Poison Gas

Marion Girard

Studies in War, Society, and the Military Series

294 pages
18 photographs


June 2008


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eBook (PDF)
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June 2008


$45.00 Add to Cart

About the Book

The advent of poison gas in World War I shocked Britons at all levels of society, yet by the end of the conflict their nation was a leader in chemical warfare. Although never used on the home front, poison gas affected almost every segment of British society physically, mentally, or emotionally, proving to be an armament of total war. Through cartoons, military records, novels, treaties, and other sources, Marion Girard examines the varied ways different sectors of British society viewed chemical warfare, from the industrialists who promoted their toxic weapons while maintaining private control of production, to the politicians who used gas while balancing the need for victory with the risk of developing a reputation for barbarity. Although most Britons considered gas a vile weapon and a symptom of the enemy’s inhumanity, many eventually condoned its use.
The public debates about the future of gas extended to the interwar years, and evidence reveals that the taboo against poison gas was far from inevitable. A Strange and Formidable Weapon uncovers the complicated history of this weapon of total war and illustrates the widening involvement of society in warfare.

Author Bio

Marion Girard is an assistant professor of history at the University of New Hampshire.


"This well-researched study offers a creative and long-overdue interpretation of the subjects of gas and gas warfare in World War I Britain. . . . Girard marshals an impressive variety of evidence to offer interlocking portraits of gas and gas warfare framed by the observations and experiences of a variety of groups."—Jeffrey S. Reznick, Journal of the History of Medicine

"Girard has offered a detailed survey on Britain's reaction to poison gas and scholars of the Great War, technology, and wartime popular culture will find this a strong foundation upon which to conduct further reading or research."—Tim Cook, Journal of Military History

"Much of this story has been overlooked in previous work, and Girard has provided an informative account that is based on considerable research in some under-exploited archives."—David Stevenson, American Historical Review

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations                               



1.  The Political Challenge: Descent to Atrocities? 

2.  The Army’s Experience: New Weapons, New Soldiers    

3.  The Scientific Divide: Chemists vs. Physicians  

4.  Whose Business is It?: Dilemmas in the Gas Industry  

5.  Gas as a Symbol: Visual Images of Chemical Weapons

in the Popular Press    

6.  The Re-Establishment of the Gas Taboo and the

Public Debate: Will Gas Destroy the World? 





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