[FOUNTAIN]Ending a trail of tearsNot all inventions or findings are used as the discoverer intended. Albert Einstein’s theories that led to the atomic bomb are the leading example, but another case is tear gas. Scientists in England in the 1920s found that chlorobenzylidene-malononitrile, or CS, causes irritation of the eyes, tearing and temporary difficulty of breathing. At the time, their discovery was just an interesting piece of research.
Thirty years later, a research team in England manufactured tear gas for crowd control. CS was diluted and sealed in a canister to be thrown into an unruly gathering. The rudimentary invention later went through a series of ingredient changes and alterations; today there are 15 different tear gas varieties in use throughout the world. This instrument of control is still believed to be relatively benign, causing only temporary physical discomfort.
The United States started mass production of tear gas when antiwar demonstrations escalated in the 1960s. Korean police acquired the material here for crowd control during the same period. The use of tear gas in Korea increased steadily after that. It reached a record level in June 1987 during the democracy movement. The use of ruthless force and tear gas against demonstrators were the symbols of the Korean government headed by a former military general. Recognizing this less than honorable past, President Kim Dae-jung declared that his government would operate on the principle of “no tear gas.” Female police officers stood still under a barrage of eggs from demonstrators. President Kim’s policy caused discontent inside the force, but it held to his pronouncement.
In the United States and Europe, tear gas is still being used for crowd control. It was used in Switzerland recently to break up protests against the Group of Eight summit meeting. Recently, the commissioner of Korea’s National Police Agency, Choi Key-moon, cited the effectiveness of tear gas in breaking up violent protests. It seemed that the police chief, following a demonstration in which the crowd hurled excrement at the police and used bulldozers to move patrol cars, intended to justify the force’s future actions based on the policies of law enforcement authorities in Western countries. But those who remember the brutal crackdown by the military dictatorship here reject this idea. Tear gas is only a tool; the problem is with people ― those who fire the tear gas shells and those who protest violently.
by Lee Gyu-yun
The writer is a deputy crime news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.