The Haber Process, 1915

Fritz Haber stood in the garden across from the inspector. Surrounded by the summer bloom. The aroma. The night after the day after Mayday.

“I came right over,” said the inspector. “My partner is otherwise occupied. Another matter.”

“It is just, you see, my wife,” said Haber.

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“Is there a party going on in the house?” said the inspector.

“Yes, just something about work.”

“At the University?”

“At the front,” said Haber.

At their feet lay the body of Mrs. Haber, Mr. Haber’s better half.

“Are there witnesses?” said the inspector.

“My son,” said Haber. “Heard the shots.”

“Shot,” said the inspector, “through the heart.”

“He is upstairs,” said Haber.


“Now. Yes.”

It was the precipice of a great victory. We… We all stand on that precipice. Together.

I went to the generals. They held themselves high, in their uniforms of office. They were blind to the times. I moved upon them as a ghost of the future passing by. They had plans, you see. Based on the learning of past wars. But I brought to them the future. And they were not prepared to see that future. And they said, “That is not the way of war. No war which we know. You are unschooled in this matter. War is a game of inches. Hard-fought. There are rules and you don’t even know them.”

And they sent me away.

“So, you threw a party?” said the inspector.

“No. The party was going on when… It happened.”

“Mm,” said the inspector. “Back story.”

I rolled into the encampment of the men on the ground with my equipment in tow. They didn’t understand it, but the trucks were official and these men were trained to follow orders, not give them. And that can be handy when one just wants to get something done. When time is the matter most pressing. Always shortening here and elongating there. And, as a scientist, I seek to control the elements in conflict. To understand. To set the conditions. To examine the data of the response.

And we set up the equipment. Field conditions. Safety equipment first. And at the crack of dawn we released the experiment which was more successful than I had supposed. The gas, released from its confines, spread forward toward the line. It changed the color of the sunlight. As it rolled over the grass and plants they turned gray at its touch, draining all color out in an instant. It was a sight to behold, as we did. Directed by a reliable Wind it crossed territory. It killed any living thing it came across. We could hear the struggle for breath, unforthcoming, in the near distance. We were right there. Right there.

In it.

“I had an accomplishment at work,” said Haber. “And while all this is unfortunate, I must, in the morning, return to my work. Work through the mourning.”

“Of course,” said the inspector. “Sometimes our work is all we have to sustain meaning in this crazy world.”