Fritz Haber, born in 1868, was a world-renowned German chemist whose multifaceted works in the field of chemistry earned him a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1918. His most notable work involves the chemical process of synthesizing ammonia, which is used as one of the core ingredients in fertilizers and explosives (Stoltzenberg 84). The entire food industry is arguably dependent on his ingenious method, as most of the food is produced using fertilizers and other elemental components produced using his premier method. Perhaps the most unsettling role he played as one of the world’s most notable genius chemists was in the establishment of modern chemical warfare, effectively developed and used during the First World War. This is needed my main argument against what is otherwise a worthy use of one’s latent talents and abilities.
The First World War
According to Stoltzenberg (133), the First World War was the first instance of large-scale deployment of chemical weapons in the form of poisonous gases such as chlorine. Fritz Haber, having been in the lime light during the race to develop these chemical weapons as indicated earlier, was no doubt the prime authority to be consulted. To understand the nature of chemical warfare, it is important to offer a brief account of how the aforementioned chemical weapons were used and for what purposes. Chemical weapons during World War I, generally deployed in the form of poisonous gases, worked effectively by covering the target area with clouds of slow-moving toxic agents aimed at inflicting harm on foot solders barricaded in open-air field trenches. This means that, these target foot soldiers, without the aid of gas masks, would either be effectively disabled by such less potent gases as tear gas or killed by more toxic gaseous agents such as chlorine and mustard gas.
As noted earlier, Fritz Haber was called upon by the German government, along with other German chemists of equal professional distinction, to design methods of deploying these chemical weapons on a large-scale in a full-blown attack against enemy soldiers in the battlefield. This was, in essence, the beginning of Haber’s direct involvement in the annihilation of several of the allied forces including British and French soldiers. This tactic, which is very effective at the destruction of one’s perceived enemy during war, is an affront to peaceful coexistence among people of different ideological dispositions and demographical backgrounds.
One might argue that, had Fritz Haber not agreed to get directly involved in the development of the large-scale chlorine dispersion mechanisms, the German government would still have gotten another qualified chemist in his place. But in my view, it was his responsibility to understand the grave consequences of his work with the chemical gases and its effects if it were to ever get into the hands of such dictators as Adolf Hitler, which, incidentally, is exactly what happened. By developing means of effectively dispersing poisonous gases on a large scale, Fritz Haber had in essence opened Pandora’s Box; he had shown the world that it was possible to develop high-level chemical weapons and launch an effective attack against large populations indiscriminately at little or no effect to the attacker.
It is very clear from history what Adolf Hitler did with this systematic negative exploitation of scientific genius; Hitler used the same scientific principles to launch indiscriminate attacks against the Jewish community, which is the hallmark of the Holocaust, one of the darkest times in human history. Perhaps it would have been better for Fritz Haber to comprehend, if indeed he did not, the long-term effects of his work against the general wellbeing of humanity. His science, though not in any way an evil exploit, was the core basis of mass killings perpetrated by power hungry dictators of his time and beyond. He would have been better off using his keen understanding of the principles of chemistry purely for the benefit and advancement of humanity. This is what his earlier exploits with the process of synthesizing ammonia did; it provided humanity with a new lease of life by essentially guaranteeing food security through the development of fertilizers.
Fritz Haber was by no means a bad person. He just used his latent talents and abilities in the development of what would turn out to be a destructive human creation. His theories and innovations helped the main players during World War I develop new means of killing each other indiscriminately and with devastating consequences. Not only were these tactics of warfare used during World War I and beyond, they became the very focus of further research into the field of biological and chemical warfare (Coffey 338). Such leaders as Adolf Hitler have essentially been known to have benefited immensely from these exploits, and as a result, orchestrated considerable amounts of unwarranted attacks against innocent people.
The main argument here has been that Fritz Haber should have known the potential of his research in the long-term. As such, he could have tried to focus solely on that aspect of the research geared towards the development of helpful breakthroughs for the advancement of humanity and not its destruction. This means that he could have at least chosen to only focus on such chemistry projects as those guaranteed to shape the way for further revolutionary breakthroughs like his process of ammonia synthesis.
Coffey, Patrick. Cathedrals of Science: The Personalities and Rivalries That Made Modern Chemistry. London, UK: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.
Stoltzenberg, Dietrich. Fritz Haber: Chemist, Nobel Laureate, German, Jew. Philadelphia, PA: Chemical Heritage Foundation, 2004. Print.