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Posted August 30, 2010
"The earliest gas chamber for execution purposes was constructed in the Nevada State Penitentiary at Carson City and first employed on February 8, 1924 . . . the first execution by gas arose as a byproduct of chemical warfare research conducted by the U. S. Army's Chemical Warfare Service and the chemical industry during the First World War . . ."
From the advantage of current access to court cases and other documents, Scott Christianson has compiled a weighty tome devoted to the history of the Gas Chamber. The book is heavily referenced and authoritative. Christiansons' background as an investigative reporter and historian uniquely qualifies him to take on this subject. Personal and political ties influenced many decisions in regard to the development and use of deadly chemicals. In his detailed account, names are named and you will recognize them.
In the early 1900s, racism was pervasive. Immigrants were viewed with suspicion. Many prominent persons believed the defective and unfit did not deserve to live and certainly not to reproduce.
"If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly, and then I'd go out in back streets and main streets and bring them all in, all the sick . . . the maimed; I would lead them gently, and they would smile a weary thanks."
---D. H. Lawrence.
German troops introduced chemical warfare in 1915. It had the advantage of rendering a battlefield uninhabitable, but the greatest impact was psychological. Before WWI the use of gases was considered dishonorable under the rules of warfare, but after the German's use of it the Allies decided that "there was no choice on their part and that they had to retaliate in like manner." In secret, America's chemists rushed to catch up to Germany's chemical development. They tested more than 1600 compounds on mice, rats, dogs, and other animals, as well as on American soldiers.
After the war, the powerful chemical lobby wanted to keep the gas technology they had developed, but turn it into "constructive peacetime uses." Scientists were testing poisons to fight fires, make dyes, exterminate insects and animals, make fertilizers, to fumigate ships in all of America's ports, and to fumigate fruits and other foods. It was used in the miningindustry to separate silver, gold, copper, lead, and other ores. Claims were even made that poison gases could rid the world of cancer and other dreaded diseases. In 1921 Nevada enacted the Humane Execution Law and became the first state in the world to require the administration of lethal gas to legally end human life. The news of the first two executions flashed around the world. Other states followed Nevada's lead. But in harmony with the eugenics of the time, it was often the poor, the mentally handicapped, and minorities who were killed.
"Hitler's concept of concentration camps as well as the practicality of genocide owed, so he claims, to his studies or English and United States history."
I was amazed at the degree that American financiers bankrolled fascist regimes in WWII, as well as the secret alliances of prominent men that were hidden through a web of trade agreements. They are named in this book and referenced, and I congratulate Christianson for his thoroughness in following the paper trail.
Posted August 18, 2010
This is the first authoritative history of one of America's most hideous inventions, the execution gas chamber that proved to be the twentieth century's most deadly and efficient means of mass murder. And what a surprising, fascinating and disturbing story it is, when told by this ace investigative historian! Eugenics, chemical warfare, pesticides and industrial empires, spies and diplomats, genocide, "humane killing," the battle over capital punishment... Much more than a scholarly study of one means of execution or another treatise about the death penalty, this masterful book bursts with new revelations about German-American corporate complicity in the Holocaust and offers a cautionary tale about Utopian ideas that don't exactly turn out as intended or advertised. General Amos Fries, John J. McCloy, Fritz Haber, Dr. Alan Hamilton, Robert Conant, and a host of other memorable characters are depicted along with scores of reformers, wardens, executioners, and condemned prisoners. The author is a skilled storyteller and a fine historian who is also a dogged investigator and a recognized expert on criminal punishment. Once again, his research is prodigious and path-breaking. The treatment is fair, balanced, compassionate and insightful. The result is shocking and haunting. It opens new pathways for thought. This notable book will shake up several fields and generate some controversy here and in Europe.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.