Emily Winters ‘21
Minors: English and Gender Studies
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Katherine Epstein, Associate Professor of History
During the Fall 2020 Semester, I researched the New York Times’ and the London Times’ reporting on gas warfare use during the First World War. Scouring through the two papers’ historical databases, results were eventually narrowed into around five-hundred issues of each paper in which gas use was mentioned in some substantial way. Several broad trends emerged. For example, both papers engaged in the debate over gas warfare’s morality versus its potential utility. Initially, Britain and then-neutral America reported that Germany’s gas warfare use on the fields of Ypres in 1915 breached the moral codes of the so-called “civility” that colonizing countries used to measure warfare. By using so-called “savage science,” Germany had forfeited its claim amongst “civilized” nations. This impetus to use racializing hierarchical language when referring to German gas warfare use is evident in other well-known linguistic occurrences such as the German as “Hun” moniker that abounded throughout the war. Though more often than not the New York Times utilized similar language when referring to German gas use prior to Allied retaliation, there is evidence that prior to America’s entrance in the war, the New York Times indeed tried to adopt a modicum of neutrality, citing sources from Berlin and the German frontlines. Following Allied gas retaliation, the papers were quick to emphasis that Allied gas use was not Germany’s immoral scientific barbarism, but rather the justified act of a forced hand. Thus, the question of gas warfare’s immorality became less emphasized than debates over its usefulness. The two papers generally determined that gas warfare was a primarily psychological tool that was useful in conjunction with other weapons such as artillery. While this paper’s primary source section attempted to understand the New York Times’ and the London Times’ reporting on gas warfare use from 1915-1918, historiographical research focused on gas casualty lists’ reliability, newspaper censorship and propaganda during the First World War, and the wider debate over gas use’s morality.