• Email
  • Single Page
  • Print

Your Friendly Neighborhood MACE

Most military historians cite April 22, 1915, the day the Germans used chlorine to kill 5,000 Frenchmen, as the beginning of gas warfare in World War I. A year earlier, however, both sides had set a dangerous precedent by firing tear gas shells and grenades at each other. Still, for nearly fifty years, gas was not systematically used again in warfare, until, late in 1963, the United States authorized tear gas attacks in the Vietnam War. The pattern was the same: tear gas followed by more lethal agents (see my earlier essays in the NYR, April 25 and May 9, 1960). Moreover, in 1963, during the Yemen war, the Egyptians began using mustard gas against the Royalists, and aroused little public protest; by 1967 Egypt was using nerve gas, according to official, but little noted, United States reports and evidence accumulated by the US State Department and Central Intelligence Agency.1

Since then, the United States has embarked on the use of gases and chemicals as a standard means of domestic crowd control. The use of gas by police, encouraged by the military, has become as much an index of popular opinion as an anti-personnel weapon. In the mid-1960s the gassing of civil rights protestors in the South, notably at Selma, Alabama, provoked anger and shock in northern newspapers and among white liberals. Yet this same group had found nothing wrong with the use of tear gas in 1962 against whites protesting James Meredith’s entrance into the University of Mississippi at Oxford. In that case, the Justice Department, then headed by Robert F. Kennedy, authorized the use of military nausea gas known as Adamsite, or DM, against the students. To make the weapon more effective, DM was combined in a grenade with a less toxic, but faster acting, tear gas known as CN. Army manuals make it clear that Adamsite is not to be used “in any operations where deaths are not acceptable.”

That the widespread use of gas is now so readily accepted by many white liberals as a means of controlling ghetto riots and student outbreaks seems a clear sign that even stronger agents will be tolerated.2 Already civilian police departments have discarded CN, the standard tear gas agent, and are using a more painful, faster-acting military tear gas known as CS (the S informally stands for Super). The next step is Adamsite. That gas, at a concentration of .00038 milligrams per liter (about 1 in 30 million parts), can produce headaches, pain, nausea, and vomiting within seconds; ten minutes’ exposure to 3 milligrams per liter can be fatal.3

Moreover, the methods of police-style gas attacks raise serious questions. On June 24, 1968, the day Resurrection City was shut down in Washington, a crowd of about 300 youths, largely black, began congregating on a ghetto street corner in protest. A police report noted that “it became increasingly evident that a potentially dangerous pattern was developing…” Specifically, fourteen windows were broken and a few bottles and other missiles were thrown at police officers and squad cars. No police or bystanders were injured, yet the police responded with a barrage of 1,346 tear gas canisters and grenades (the figure is the official police estimate). The youths scattered, leaving behind the neighborhood women and children.

Gas is not a discriminating weapon, as a bystander’s letter to the Washington Post reveals:

I was an eyewitness to the senseless and indiscriminate use of the gas against children and adults who were merely sitting or standing on the steps of their respective apartment buildings…I saw a kid of about 12 years old walking briskly to get home, when without any type of warning a policeman shot gas at his heels, causing him to scream and run…. Without any provocation, I saw the police fire pellets on the north side of the street at persons on the steps—driving them inside. Again, the gas was shot on the south side of the street, this time bursting in front of my apartment and the picture which Washington did not see in the papers was of my mother, age 102, and BLIND who sat wiping her eyes with a cold cloth while I, a heart patient, had to battle the effects of the gas.

This incident was not an isolated one. Only a few days earlier, at 2 A.M., Washington police responded to the random stoning of some passing cars near Resurrection City by firing dozens of tear gas canisters into the area. Prevailing winds spread the gas throughout the enclosure. Many of the area residents woke up in panic, and nine were taken, some of them unconscious, to a nearby hospital. No one was arrested. The Rev. Ralph Abernathy later told a reporter: “In all of the tear gassing and other military attacks we have experienced in the South, none was ever as vicious as this attack on Resurrection City.”

Super tear gas also was used in vast quantities during the disturbances in Chicago before and during the Democratic Convention. The gas, in many cases, was discharged simply to slow down some protestors so that the police could strike them with their nightsticks at closer range. The Walker Report, Rights in Conflict, gives many examples of the misuse of tear gas by Chicago policemen. On Wednesday, August 28, police gassed a crowd of demonstrators on a bridge in Grant Park. The Walker Report quotes a National Guard medical orderly as saying that shortly after the gassing, “Two forces of police arrived, one from the Michigan Avenue side of the bridge and one from the south on the east side of the bridge. They immediately waded into the crowd with clubs swinging indiscriminately, driving them off the bridge and away from the area.”

The biggest supporter of the increasing use of gases and chemicals in civil disturbances has been the Pentagon. A former Defense Department official once told me that “by using gas in civil situations, we accomplish two purposes: controlling crowds and also educating people on gas…” so that “we could control the public outcry” against chemicals which hinders their usage in wartime. “If one could change the environment of public opinion about CBW [chemical and biological warfare],” the official said, “we might be able to use something that otherwise would be ruled out.” Regular Army troops have played an important role in many big city riots, including the 1967 outbreak at Detroit. The sight of men in military uniform wearing gas masks and throwing tear gas canisters is readily accepted by the public. The military, on its part, has set up a permanent riot control command center inside the Pentagon (under the direction of Lieutenant General George R. Mather4 ), and there are some 400,000 National Guard troops trained and ready for riot duty. City police often find themselves outmaneuvered and outmanned by the protestors; the main role of the military has been not to provide additional training and manpower for the police, but to be a force in its own right.

Indeed, the future of riot control is largely in the hands of the military. The Institute for Defense Analyses, a Pentagon-managed consortium of academics, has long been a leader and proponent of the use of nonlethal gases and other weapons for crowd control. No potential weapon is ruled out by the IDA. A recent IDA study paper contains the following: “Present nightsticks, of course, have been modified in a variety of ways. There is a little Japanese device made up of three telescoped thin-walled tubular sections that may be flicked out rapidly into a whip-like weapon. This specialized stick resembling a radio antenna is meant for use by plainclothesmen. Incorporating tear gas dispensers into the nightstick is a very attractive application since it widens the officer’s capabilities without adding to the weight or to the number of items that he must carry.” Science marches on—although the use of such weapons is left to the judgment of each police officer.

In view of all this, it is alarming that since late 1966 police have been relying increasingly on a new kind of chemical weapon, the toxic substance known as Mace. This chemical is manufactured by the General Ordnance Equipment Corporation (GOEC) of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and is supplied to police units in several different aerosol spray containers ranging from a miniature fountain-pen type gadget that can spray as far as 6 feet to a large canister that can spray 30 one-second bursts as far as 30 feet. The New York Times reported that as of May, 1968, more than 250,000 cans of the spray have been sold to 4,000 police departments in the United States.

There is a staggering amount of evidence that the chemical can cause permanent injuries. Mace is composed of slightly more than 1 percent 2-chloroacetrophenome, a tear gas known as CN; 4 percent kerosene; 5 percent 1,1,1-trichloroethane; and a Freon propellent. CN produces intense irritation of the membranes lining the inner surface of the eyeball, irritation of the upper respiratory tract, and irritation of the skin. Acute inhalation of kerosene can produce lung irritation and even pneumonia; small amounts have proven fatal to children. Trichloroethane similarly can cause irritation of the eyes, mucous membranes, and lungs. In high concentration it can cause death from heart or lung failure.

Freon is the trade name of a group of fluorinated hydrocarbons widely used as refrigerants and propellents. According to an unpublished study by Dr. Alan L. Pearlman of the Harvard Medical School, the agents are inert chemically but pose several hazards bearing on the safety of Mace. Freezing of the skin is possible after repeated sprayings. At least two youngsters died after inhaling Freon-12; their deaths were attributed to freezing of the larynx and subsequent asphyxiation. Pearlman further notes that “the most serious potential hazard of Mace lies in the use of Freon propellents to produce an aerosol containing CN, kerosene and tricholoroethane.” The Freon manufacturer specifically warns, according to Pearlman, that “even though a propellent and an active ingredient are harmless individually, use of the active ingredient in aerosol form may be irritant or even toxic…the exceedingly fine particles of an aerosol may reach parts of the respiratory system that would not be reached….”

Dr. Lawrence Rose, a San Francisco ophthalmologist, recently reported that he treated nine cases of eye damage resulting from Mace sprayings. Severe burns of the eyes occurred in three cases, and at least one victim developed a permanent corneal scar and a decrease in vision. Four victims had second degree skin burns of the eyelids and face with severe blistering and deep redness of the eyes. In a 1967 report compiled by the California Department of Public Health, twenty-three injuries to policemen and one fireman were cited as resulting from exposure to Mace; these included eleven cases of conjunctivitis, five cases of chemical burns, and four cases of dermatitis. Only those cases treated by a physician were listed. Moreover, doctors testing Mace in California found that the victim’s blood pressure rose as much as 100 points in seconds. There is no evidence that Mace is chemically responsible, but doctors attribute the rise in blood pressure to the fear, rage, and shock felt when a victim is struck by Mace.

  1. 1

    At least two Members of Parliament and one scientist connected with England’s chemical and biological warfare effort have said privately that the mustard gas shells used by Egypt were manufactured by England and stored in Egypt during World War II. The Egyptians apparently have now begun to dig out the many tons of World War II munitions hidden by the English. Similar information was supplied to a member of a Senate investigating staff during a recent trip to London. If this is true, and the English government has made no official comment on the matter, it would help to explain England’s hands-off attitude regarding the Egyptian violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which outlawed the use of such weapons.

  2. 2

    No serious military official in America admitted to the manipulation of public opinion regarding the use of CBW weapons, but in an extraordinarily candid interview in September, 1967, with the Montrealer Magazine in Canada, Archie Pennie, CBW research chief for the Canadian Defence Research Board, gave some hint of the prevailing attitude. The reporter asked: “Tear gas for some reason has become accepted. But if you used a hallucinogenic [psychochemical gas] there would be a fair amount of public outcry…[wouldn’t there]?” Pennie replied: “But it’s interesting how long the outcry lasts. It’s like taxation. People say they’re not going to put up with it and there’s a great hue and cry. But a month later, it’s accepted.” Pennie and other Canadian CBW officials work very closely with their US counterparts.

  3. 3

    The gas was used outdoors during the disturbances at the University of Mississippi where the possibility of accumulating lethal or near-lethal concentrations is minimal. Such concentrations can be attained, however, in enclosed areas such as tunnels or bunkers: hence the use of the gas in South Vietnam. The use of DM with CN in a grenade has been approved for National Guard units in domestic riot control situations for at least thirty years. In Riot Control and the National Guard, by Major Sterling A. Wood (The Military Service Publishing Company, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1940), DM-CN canisters are described as “a mixture combining the properties of each component agent. It may be considered as DM possessing a marked eye-irritant effect [supplied by CN].”

  4. 4

    Mather was the Army officer in charge of the Federal forces sent to Chicago during the April riots after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His deputy is Major General Joseph A. Cunningham of the Air Force, former commander of the Military Airlift Command at Travis Air Force Base, California, and an expert in rapid deployment of troops during emergencies. The Army now has detailed plans for riot control in most major US cities, many of them prepared by the Insitute for Defense Analysis. Viet Report Magazine reported last summer that each week the Army’s Military Police School at Fort Gordon, Georgia, offers a twenty-hour “Civil Disobedience Orientation Course” to local, state, and Federal police agencies, along with Army and National Guard troops. A major feature of the Fort Gordon area, according to The New York Times, is a sham community known as “Riotsville, USA,” where a simulated riot involving civil rights demonstrators and National Guardsmen culminates the training program. The military provides some detailed training along with orientation courses to domestic police departments, but the maneuvers have little to do with city riots. For example, Newsweek magazine reported recently that 65 Los Angeles policemen went through an anti-guerrilla school last Spring at the Marine Corps training base at Camp Pendleton, California, learning demolition tactics, rope-climbing, quick reaction firing, and how to set booby traps. Two of the officers took a concentrated course in sniper fire. The magazine said the “training is similar to that of Vietnam-bound marines, and police officials believe it could well be beneficial in ghetto rioting.”

  • Email
  • Single Page
  • Print