Ashes Ashes
a podcast about the end of the world
2 months ago

Ep 73 - Tear Up, Tear Down

smoke gets in your eyes

Episode 73 - "Tear Up, Tear Down"

Protests around the world in 2011 gave riot-gear dealers a three-fold increase in sales of tear gas. In 2013, Turkey used up an entire year's supply of tear gas in just two days, before promptly ordering more. 2015 was the year Kenyan police fired tear gas into a group of schoolchildren as young as 7, and its use is so popular in Uganda that a girls rugby team named themselves the Police Teargas Rangers. Such profligate use of tear gas tempts us to take for granted the conflicts between unruly protesters and the police who demand order. Indeed, Israeli Defence Forces have employed tear gas for close to 90 years against Palestinians.

But tracing the history of tear gas tells the story of a tool that did not simply emerge naturally, but was created from the ground up for the singular purpose of domination. Of countries opposed to the use of gas against citizens on ethical grounds, but eventually caving from the economic necessities of colonial empire; of industrial owners, rich from the poison gas arms race of global war, determined to drum up new demand for their banned products; and finally, of the creeping association of protesters with criminality. More than anything else, the history of this weapon is a revelation into the relationship between the state and her citizens, and the many ways status quo hierarchies are maintained in the face of public outcry against overt expressions of violence and power.


  • 11:55 Tear gas: from the trenches of WWI
  • 25:48 Tear gas: the colonial arsenal
  • 29:36 Tear gas: policing in 60s America
  • 32:51 A state and its people
  • 44:13 Tear gas: nonlethal?
  • 53:48 Going beyond
  • 58:15 What can we do: direct action
  • 1:08:37 What can we do: protest safety

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