What the hell are weapons of mass destruction?

A giant clown's head?

What exactly is a “weapon of mass destruction”? Nuclear, chemical, biological.  Just a big bomb perhaps?

I didn’t know, and nobody that I asked was sure either. Googling it:

Wiki  – A weapon of mass destruction (WMD) is a weapon that can kill large numbers of humans and/or cause great damage to man-made structures (e.g. buildings), natural structures (e.g. mountains), or the biosphere in general

hmm..”large numbers of humans”.. I reckon 10, say, is quite a large number of dead humans


Within U.S. civil defense organizations, the category is now Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive (CBRNE), which defines WMD as:

(1) Any explosive, incendiary, poison gas, bomb, grenade, or rocket having a propellant charge of more than four ounces [113 g], missile having an explosive or incendiary charge of more than one-quarter ounce [7 g], or mine or device similar to the above. (2) Poison gas. (3) Any weapon involving a disease organism. (4) Any weapon that is designed to release radiation at a level dangerous to human life. This definition derives from US law, 18 U.S.C. Section 2332a[16] and the referenced 18 USC 921.[17] Indictments and convictions for possession and use of WMD such as truck bombs,[18] pipe bombs,[19] shoe bombs,[20] cactus needles coated with botulin toxin,[21] etc. have been obtained under 18 USC 2332a.
Nice detail there, but one-quarter ounce? Doesn’t sound much.
Some dissent though:
Chemical weapons expert Gert G. Harigel considers only nuclear weapons true weapons of mass destruction, because “only nuclear weapons are completely indiscriminate by their explosive power, heat radiation and radioactivity, and only they should therefore be called a weapon of mass destruction”. He prefers to call chemical and biological weapons “weapons of terror” when aimed against civilians and “weapons of intimidation” for soldiers.
Gert seems a bit anal about the names, but Saddam Hussein never had nuclear weapons, and despite Tony Blair’s attempt at prophecy today, it wasn’t on the cards.
Personally,  I reckon a weapon is a weapon. It must be splitting hairs to declare that nuclear destruction is somehow worse than being blown up or fried by another means.
So for nuclear weapons, within the first two to four months of the  bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki, with roughly half of the deaths in each city occurring on the first day. In early March 1945, one raid on Tokyo with conventional bombs  caused 16 square miles of the city to bedestroyed and over 100,000 people are estimated to have died in the firestorm.
Somehow, the specific chemical reaction involved doesn’t seem to be the point.
None of this is to defend bad behaviour, and I know that chemical weapons were used by Saddam Hussein  in Halabja (~5000 dead), but are they really worse than other forms of aggression? Over the border in Syria,  Hafez-al-Assad had used hydrogen cyanide and other weapons to destroy Hama in 1982. He finished off up to 40,000 in one day. This seems to have been less controversial, and certainly hasn’t been used as a reason to invade Syria.
WMD – whatever they are – were a very feeble excuse  for the biggest man-made disaster of my lifetime.

A deadly organism capable of killing thousands


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