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Picks and Pans Review: A Higher Form of Killing

updated 04/26/1982 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/26/1982 01:00AM

by Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman

The title of this book by two British TV journalists is from the 1919 Nobel Prize acceptance speech of Fritz Haber, the German chemist whose prize was for synthesizing ammonia but who was most noted for directing the first use of poison gas. "In no future war will the military be able to ignore poison gas," he said. "It is a higher form of killing." Harris and Paxman's history of chemical-biological warfare (CBW) only begins with World War I. In World War II Hitler stockpiled potent nerve-gas weapons he was afraid to use for fear of retaliation; Winston Churchill was ready to drop gas bombs on Germany. The U.S Office of Strategic Services discussed sneaking female sex hormones into Hitler's food so his mustache would drop off and his voice would rise. Later both sides in the Cold War built CBW arsenals, the U.S. used defoliants and tear gas in Vietnam, the Soviet Union has used gas and possibly biological warfare in Afghanistan. Despite agreements to ban them, the weapons persist. By one reliable estimate, the U.S. has 150,000 tons of bombs, shells and mines containing nerve or mustard gas; the Soviets' stockpile is unknown. And, the authors warn, research in genetics might lead to even more "effective" weapons. Full of chilling anecdotes and detail, this book leaves little room for optimism. (Hill and Wang, $14.95)

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