What People are Saying
"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Haber was not the first to use poison gas. The French did. Britain and the US each produced and used more poison gas than Germany did. Haber did not invent chlorine or phosgene or mustard gas or Lewisite. He did invent Zyclon, to fumigate flour and kill insects, lice, etc. Haber, as a civil servant and military officer, did what he was told to do, out of patriotism.
If you want to find war criminals, start with the psychopaths who start wars, such as Hitler, who invaded Poland, and Bush, who invaded Iraq.
For those who think the Haber-Bosch process is an evil for allowing a surplus 3 billion or so people to exist who, otherwise, could not do so; tread lightly.
It's a fairly good chance that you and/or your children are among them.
Does having 7 billion people on the planet express a benefit or deleterious situation? What if the fertilizer fails for some unknown calamity/ reason, then the food won't be available.
Enabling a curious if not evil connection , akin to the mythic karma cultural effect?
- I don't get these two men they created this synthetic fertilizer to save the world and they just ended up trying to destroy it. It is ridiculous
- They DID choose to have their weapons released on the people, in fact, they supervised the release at Ypres themselves
- i strongly agree Mr McCrakin!
- I feel that he should be remembered as a hero. His method of making fertilizer has fed many people and made growing easier. So what if he invented chlorine gas, something of which killed many people, just as many may have died during trench warfare. Trench warfare was not fun, there were diseases and other things floating around the air which could have killed many people. They didn't choose to have their chemicals released on people, the leaders of their country, so ya don't blame the hommies
- You sir is where I agree
- All these guys wanted was fame and fortune. Sure they're the reason there are so many people on Earth today, but they did it for themselves so they could be rich and not have to worry about the troubles lower class people face. Haber's wife couldn't live with herself because he had an addictive cupidity for power and money. She wanted to help other people who he was killing, and he wanted only to help himself. And he knew that if he solved Germany's starvation problem, it would become the most powerful nation in the world and since he was Jewish, he feared being killed so he wanted to join the superior Aryan race. The only way he could do that was to become the richest, most well-known scientist in the world. His only intentions were to survive and live the best possible, and by doing that, he was willing to make many sacrifices, including the lives of other people. Let me know if you agree.
These guys did not save the world. They developed a method to manufacture ammonium nitrate - this is now being restricted for use due to many detriments.
Yes we may all be fat on the fact that crops can be grown with greater yield, but in doing so disease pathogens and subsequent insect infestations occurs. But not to worry the same scientist / corporate companies manufactured pesticides (materials that kill fungi / bacteria / insects / etc) to kill and control these so called pests. We the human race and our livestock consume these pesticides ridden forced food. Are all the ailments and conditions a result of the chemical farming experiment?
As for saving the world’s population - this is the problem the balance of nature has be greatly moved and as a result the planet is over populated and out of balance with nature. I am not saying the population should be culled but with education and responsibility I hope the population can be reduced. Otherwise what happens when human get hungry they fight to get at the food another may have / or to capture the land and resources from others. This fighting then turns to war - Nature works in cycles and it seem inevitable that so will mankind. But imaging our cancer ridden forces going to war with their synthetic manufactured lunch box.......
- could you give me an example of the mass & energy balance of ammonia production?
- no u r an idot
Several wars were avoided during 20th century because of FEAR of weapons of mass distraction. Wouldn't it be nice if WW1 and WW2 could have been avoided as well?
Telling scientists that creating new weapons is unethical is absolutely idiotic. You can't control progress even when it comes to weapons. Thinking otherwise is naive and dangerous. You can try and control the rules of weapons usage.
P.S. Are we labeling Archimedes unethical as well for the hit ray invention during Syracuse siege? Scientists are human, thinking that they are above the human feelings (love for your country among them) is, how should I put it, utopian. We need to invent robot scientists first.
I like the ammonia produktion very much! Because without that even more people would die because they couldn't get food.
But I don't think the produktion of gas is good, of course I think that is bad. But I think we must remember that German was in war, and we human often protekt our self and the people that are on our side.
My English might be bad, but I'm not English.
- This site should check their facts. under 2.3 million were affeced by the gas, and only around 88,000 were actually killed by it. "casualty" does not mean "fatality"
Ammonia production was not originally designed for munition but for high-nitrogen fertilizer. Can we blame these two for Chris McVie's decision to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City (he used high-nitrogen fertilizer)?
There is no doubt that Haber was instrumental in the development of poison gas but he was a German patriot who wanted Germany to be victorious. Haber even led a project after WWI to extract gold from seawater (he was not successful) to pay back the war reparations forced on Germany. The US used poison gas in Vietnam, but were we put on trial as a war criminals?
The victors write the history and, no doubt, if Japan had won, Pres. Harry Truman and many others, would have been tried as criminals, even though his decision ultimately saved 100's of thousands of military lives and millions of civilian lives.
Hindsight (Monday morning quarterbacking) is always clearer than when the decisions are made.
Footnote: Fritz Haber's mother was Jewish, and as such, Haber was forced in 1936 to leave Germany, the country that he had greatly contributed to, he died in exile. Also, Haber had a hand in the development of other poison gases, Zyklon A & Zyklon B. Do you know how these were used?
If the process they invented had not enabled more humans to survive, then there would have been fewer humans around to join in the fighting.
I see them as heroes because I don't believe it was their intention to cause harm to others except in so far as they may have believed that it was their duty to do so in order to help their country; that is, they thought the benefits to some (their compatriots) of making the weapons would outweigh the evil caused to others (the opposing armies) by their use.
In a way the story illustrates well the ultimate futility of all human striving.
What is the evidence to support the claim that without the synthetic fertilizer "30-40% of the world’s population would not be alive"?
Based on the story as written here these people knew they were contributing to offensive and illegal weapons development. There is no fairness in war but knowingly torturing and millions of people is unconscionable.
- Bosch also invented synthetic urea production (Bosch-Meiser urea process) which is the fertilizer with the greatest N2 content (46% N2). Also, consider that people from the developed world contain about half of their protein derived from the air via the Haber-Bosch process (the other being from nitrogen-fixation plants like legumes). Hero or villian? Both should be remembered for their wonderful contributions and for their involvement in non-peaceful and horrific endeavors. All of science, unfortunately has a darker history of R&D for more destructive discoveries than peaceful ones. Many comment that guilt is the root of the Noble prize?
- I think they are science heroes because if it wasn't for them we would be starving and wouldn't be able to have the food we do.
Your Vote Matters
Were the scientists Haber and Bosch merely defending their country or did they take an evil tangent and become war criminals?
Humankind is largely fed by food grown with synthetic chemical fertilizer. Because synthetic fertilizer requires a plentiful supply of nitrogen, inventing a process to fix it in ammonia was daunting. Attempts were made for over 100 years. Then in 1909 Fritz Haber, a German chemist, solved the problem in principal. In 1910, Carl Bosch, pioneering new engineering methods, commercialized the process. Known as the Haber-Bosch Process, it is now responsible for growing about half of the world’s food. It was one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. Without it, 30-40% of the world’s population would not be alive.
There is no debate about the good Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch did for humanity by inventing the method used to make synthetic fertilizer. It was what they did afterward, during World War I, that is controversial.
Fritz Haber became the director of the Institute for Physical Chemistry that made poisonous chlorine gas. He actively participated in its development and was an advocate for its use, even though poisonous gas was banned by the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. His wife, also a scientist, committed suicide ten days after the first use of chemical warfare. Some believe she did so as a protest. Fritz Haber was the proud recipient of the Iron Cross as an award for his work. Gas warfare killed over 1.3 million people in World War I.
Carl Bosch, working for BASF, a giant German company, converted the ammonia production he helped engineer into munitions production for World War I. Ammonia is the key to fixing nitrogen, the chemical necessary to make either fertilizer or explosives. Bosch took an active part in designing a new plant deep inside Germany that provided Germany with the munitions they needed to stretch out the war.
Both Haber and Bosch were richly rewarded, within Germany with honors and money, and outside of Germany – both won the Nobel Prize. But both were directly responsible for the deaths of millions of people in World War I.
Pro and Con Arguments
Vote War Criminals
There is no question that Haber and Bosch were geniuses. But to be remembered as a good human being it takes more than brilliance. It also requires using one’s intelligence to determine how to exercise one’s brilliance. A key component in doing so is having a conscience. To have a conscience requires considering how one’s actions affect other human beings. Neither Haber nor Bosch respected the lives of other human beings. Each turned away from the good science can produce and headed down the path of evil, using science to kill people with chlorine gas or bombs.
The legacy a society applies to a person is an underutilized moral tool. Choosing how society remembers a person is important in that it instructs others on the importance of behavior. In the case of Haber and Bosch, it instructs society on the potential destructive power of science, if science is performed without ethics. Haber and Bosch chose to use science to kill people, activities that should not be ignored as if they never happened. No one knows what those people killed or their progeny might have produced for humanity; perhaps discoveries as great as those of Haber and Bosch.
Society holds science up as a tool that is good for humanity. But without ethics science has just as much power to harm humanity. Bill Foege, who made the key insight that led to the eradication of smallpox, said, “What is it that is better than science? Better than science is science with heart, science with ethics, science with equity, science with justice.” Haber and Bosch ignored all of these, so society’s memory of them should be as killers, as war criminals.
I argue that we should conclude Haber and Bosch are patriots, rather than claim the authority to draw an arbitrary moral line separating the "good" scientists from the "bad." Many great scientists did things we would rather they hadn't done. Werner Heisenberg, one of the greatest physicists of all time, led the German effort to build a nuclear bomb during World War II. Many American physicists worked on the Manhattan Project, which led to weapons that killed thousands of Japanese civilians. We might like to imagine that science is somehow above, or separate from, politics and the events of the world, but it is not. Scientists are often patriots who wish to serve their country, an impulse we generally view with sympathy today. Haber himself was known to say that "A scientist belongs to his country in times of war and to all mankind in times of peace." He also justified gas warfare by claiming that it would break the stalemate in the trenches, and save more lives than it destroyed. We may view these statements today as naive at best, and quite possibly mercenary or disingenuous, but it is also hard for us to see the world as a German living at the time would have. Rather than banish these scientists for their less savory actions, we should let them serve as a powerful reminder that science is value-neutral, and it is we humans who use it for good or ill.