The advent of chemical weapons, originally in the forms of chlorine and mustard gasses, is often attributed to being a direct byproduct of the industrialized nature of World War I. The first major use of this technology occurred on April 22, 1915 by the German military at Leper, Belgium. After witnessing the destructive capabilities of poison gas on entrenched soldiers, the European powers began to combine chemical weapons with long-range artillery, ultimately accounting for over one million casualties by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

Chemical weapons were considered unique in comparison to conventional munitions and quickly became viewed as weapons of absolute terror for several reasons. First, exposure to poison gas led to protracted and painful symptoms, which often resulted in either death or permanent disability. Second, chemical weapons were wildly indiscriminate in their capacity to kill enemy or friendly forces, often dictated by a simple shift in wind patterns. Chemical weapons also introduced a particularly dehumanizing aspect of modern warfare, both in their indiscriminate and largely anonymous capacity to perpetrate agonizing pain and death as well as the advent of protective gas masks worn by infantrymen that effectively hid their identities on the battlefield. Given these factors, chemical weapons have come to be one of the most abhorrent tools of modern warfare, and their use in the 20th century widely characterized as particularly barbaric.

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