Dew of death: The story of lewisite, America's World War I weapon of mass destruction

Joel Vilensky, Pandy R. Sinish

Research output: Book/ReportBook

20 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

"Dr. Vilensky raises important concerns regarding the threats posed by lewisite and other weapons of mass destruction. As he describes, non-proliferation programs are a vital component in the War on Terror." -- Richard G. Lugar, United States Senator. "Joel Vilensky's book is a detailed and immensely useful account of the development and history of one of the major chemical weapons.... We will always know how to make lewisite, the 'Dew of Death,' but that does not mean that we should, or be compelled to accept such weapons in our lives." -- from the Foreword by Richard Butler, former head of UN Special Commission to Disarm Iraq. In 1919, when the Great War was over, the New York Times reported on a new chemical weapon with "the fragrance of geranium blossoms," a poison gas that was "the climax of this country's achievements in the lethal arts." The name of this substance was lewisite and this is its story -- the story of an American weapon of mass destruction. Discovered by accident by a graduate student and priest in a chemistry laboratory at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., lewisite was developed into a weapon by Winford Lewis, who became its namesake, working with a team led by James Conant, later president of Harvard and head of government oversight for the U.S.'s atomic bomb program, the Manhattan Project. After a powerful German counterattack in the spring of 1918, the government began frantic production of lewisite in hopes of delivering 3,000 tons of the stuff to be ready for use in Europe the following year. The end of war came just as the first shipment was being prepared. It was dumped into the sea, but not forgotten. Joel A. Vilensky tells the intriguing story of the discovery and development of lewisite and its curious history. During World War II, the United States produced more than 20,000 tons of lewisite, testing it on soldiers and secretly dropping it from airplanes. In the end, the substance was abandoned as a weapon because it was too unstable under most combat conditions. But a weapon once discovered never disappears. It was used by Japan in Manchuria and by Iraq in its war with Iran. The Soviet Union was once a major manufacturer. Strangely enough, although it was developed for lethal purposes, lewisite led to an effective treatment for a rare neurological disease.

Original languageEnglish
PublisherIndiana University Press
Number of pages213
ISBN (Print)0253346126, 9780253346124
StatePublished - 2005

Fingerprint

Weapons
World War I
Weapons of Mass Destruction
Government
History
Non-proliferation
Poison
Accidents
Neurological Disease
United Nations
Washington, D.C.
War in Iraq
Art
Foreword
Iraq
Climax
Soviet Union
Testing
Manhattan Project
Second World War

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

Cite this

Dew of death : The story of lewisite, America's World War I weapon of mass destruction. / Vilensky, Joel; Sinish, Pandy R.

Indiana University Press, 2005. 213 p.

Research output: Book/ReportBook

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abstract = "{"}Dr. Vilensky raises important concerns regarding the threats posed by lewisite and other weapons of mass destruction. As he describes, non-proliferation programs are a vital component in the War on Terror.{"} -- Richard G. Lugar, United States Senator. {"}Joel Vilensky's book is a detailed and immensely useful account of the development and history of one of the major chemical weapons.... We will always know how to make lewisite, the 'Dew of Death,' but that does not mean that we should, or be compelled to accept such weapons in our lives.{"} -- from the Foreword by Richard Butler, former head of UN Special Commission to Disarm Iraq. In 1919, when the Great War was over, the New York Times reported on a new chemical weapon with {"}the fragrance of geranium blossoms,{"} a poison gas that was {"}the climax of this country's achievements in the lethal arts.{"} The name of this substance was lewisite and this is its story -- the story of an American weapon of mass destruction. Discovered by accident by a graduate student and priest in a chemistry laboratory at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., lewisite was developed into a weapon by Winford Lewis, who became its namesake, working with a team led by James Conant, later president of Harvard and head of government oversight for the U.S.'s atomic bomb program, the Manhattan Project. After a powerful German counterattack in the spring of 1918, the government began frantic production of lewisite in hopes of delivering 3,000 tons of the stuff to be ready for use in Europe the following year. The end of war came just as the first shipment was being prepared. It was dumped into the sea, but not forgotten. Joel A. Vilensky tells the intriguing story of the discovery and development of lewisite and its curious history. During World War II, the United States produced more than 20,000 tons of lewisite, testing it on soldiers and secretly dropping it from airplanes. In the end, the substance was abandoned as a weapon because it was too unstable under most combat conditions. But a weapon once discovered never disappears. It was used by Japan in Manchuria and by Iraq in its war with Iran. The Soviet Union was once a major manufacturer. Strangely enough, although it was developed for lethal purposes, lewisite led to an effective treatment for a rare neurological disease.",
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