2015 September

International Symposium “100 Years of Chemical Warfare: Research, Deployment, Consequences” (April 21 and 22, 2015)

Monday, 14th September 2015Events

Link to the symposium page

On April 22, 1915, the German military released 167 tons of chlorine gas at Ypres, Belgium. Carried by a long-awaited wind, the chlorine cloud passed within a few minutes through the British and French trenches, leaving behind at least 1,000 dead and 4,000 injured. This chemical attack, which amounted to the first use of a weapon of mass destruction, marks a turning point in world history. The preparation as well as the execution of the gas attack was orchestrated by Fritz Haber, the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry in Berlin-Dahlem. During World War I, Haber transformed his research institute into a center for the development of chemical weapons (and of the means of protection against them).

Bretislav Friedrich and Martin Wolf (Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society, the successor institution of Haber’s institute) together with Dieter Hoffmann, Jürgen Renn, and Florian Schmaltz (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science) organised an international symposium to commemorate the centenary of the infamous chemical attack. The symposium examined key aspects of chemical warfare from the first research on and deployment of chemical weapons in WWI to the development and use of chemical warfare during the century hence. The focus was on ethical, legal, and political issues of chemical weapons research and deployment — including the issue of dual use — as well as the ongoing effort to control the possession of chemical weapons and to ultimately achieve their elimination.

Vorträge und Sprecher

The symposium culminated in a Public Event that included a Minute of Silence, an address by Ghislain D’hoop (the Belgian Ambassador to Germany), a talk by Gerhard Ertl (2007 Chemistry Nobel Laureate) on the role of Fritz Haber and his institute in the development and deployment of chemical weapons in WWI, as well as a lecture by  Paul Walker (Laureate of the 2013 Right Livelihood Award) on building a world free of chemical and other weapons.

The Public Event also featured an excerpt from Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem and Thomas Hennig’s composition to the words of Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce et decorum est, sung by Vernon Kirk (tenor) and Ralf Lukas (baritone).

Dulce et decorum est

Dulce et decorum est

Gerhard Ertl

Paul Walker