Feeding a War

Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber developed Germany's poison gas program during World War I and supervised the first use of chlorine gas on the Western Front. Photo courtesy of Archiv der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Berlin-Dahlem.

MM: You have a fascination with science. Why is that?

DR: At the ACS [American Chemical Society] presentation of the film [on 18 August 2009], one of the issues that came up is the ethical responsibility that a scientist bears. Someone said, “Why is this responsibility any different than a chef who makes food used to feed soldiers?” My answer lies in the difference between what a scientist does and what a chef does. A scientist’s work changes the whole nature of the game—the rules we have to live by. The fascinating thing about science and scientists is that they alter the nature of reality. What is possible changes. We see that every day in how we communicate and how we get resources. How can that not have an ethical component?

MM: How do you balance telling an accurate history with creating a compelling narrative?

DR: My goal is that after viewing the film, audience members will have roughly the same sense of the people and the events that I have after doing all the research. Some details may have to be changed, and that’s always a tough decision as I want to stay as true to the details as possible. The biggest change I made in the film was portraying Haber as unwilling to go to the front to supervise the gas attack. In reality he was very involved in operations at the front—he felt a duty and an obligation to be there—and in the feature that will be how it’s portrayed. In the short I had to crystallize his dilemma in a short time frame, and the most effective way was to have him protest. Everyone has to make up his or her own mind as to whether that’s appropriate or not, but I had to be able to dramatize his dilemma and reservations.

MM: How has Haber been used?

DR: After the film appeared in festivals, I started getting e-mails from high school and college teachers in the United States, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands about using the film in an educational setting. I realized this would be a great educational tool to provoke discussion among students. By selling the DVD to teachers and educators we’re also demonstrating that there is a market for this subject matter. We can then turn to the film industry and say, “We’ve shown there is a market for this film; now help us make a feature version.”

For more information on the film, visit http://www.haberfilm.com.

Michal Meyer is editor in chief of Chemical Heritage.