Weapon of Mass Destruction

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A weapon of mass destruction (WMD) is any weapon designed to inflict, in a single blow or other application, casualties and/or property damage equivalent or more than equivalent to the destruction of a village and the execution of all its inhabitants.


The definition given above for a WMD is the best attempt available to define such a weapon in terms of its destructive and/or killing power. Most definitions of the term use vague and indefinite terms to describe this power, or else "define" it by example.

Some authorities require that all WMD not be conventional. That is not, however, a universally held convention. (A "conventional" weapon, as used here, means one based on a chemical explosive.)

Any weapon capable of flattening one village and killing every person in it qualifies as a WMD. But usually conventional ordnance does not achieve such power to kill or destroy in one blow.

Types of WMD


Arguably the first true WMDs were the chemical agents used in the First World War. These were gases, generally of two types: mustard gas (a severe irritant and corrosive) and nerve gas (a blocker of neurotransmission). Common household insecticides are still based on the nerve gas principle, and for that reason can be dangerous to use.


Any micro-organism (usually a bacterium) or virus capable of killing large numbers of exposed contacts can form the basis of a WMD. A partial list of agents that have been used or contemplated as WMD includes:


The most obvious WMDs are nuclear weapons. They include:


The Anthrax Scare

In the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, five persons died of anthrax, which they contracted after opening envelopes containing finely-milled sand laced with Bacillus anthracis, the etiological agent of anthrax. The investigation of these incidents has concluded only that a single perpetrator is responsible. That perpetrator has not yet been identified.

Operation Iraqi Freedom

Operation Iraqi Freedom has been controversial since its inception, because it began with a failed attempt by a United Nations commission to confirm, or deny, that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD (of a chemical or biological nature) and had the power to use them. Saddam Hussein had definitely used chemical weapons before, in his brutal suppression of a Kurdish revolt in 1984, but had not used them since. Invading and occupying coalition forces searched thoroughly for WMD stockpiles, but found only a handful of trucks that might have been used as mobile WMD laboratories. Persistent rumors surrounding this controversy fall into two categories:

  1. Saddam Hussein destroyed his WMD stockpiles long ago. A corollary rumor states that President George W. Bush knew this even as he gave the order to invade.
  2. Saddam Hussein transported all of his WMD stockpile and equipment to Syria, perhaps with Russian aid.
  3. Saddam Hussein was bluffing. A story at FoxNews.com stated that Saddam Hussein bluffed the world with respect to his rumored possession of WMD in order to give the Iranians pause.[1]

In fiction

In Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, the administration of Mr. Thompson constructed a WMD based on a sound amplifier. This device, known as Project X, was triggered when two members of that administration struggled physically for its control. The result was the total destruction, with one hundred percent casualties, of a 100-mile-radius region of eastern Iowa and the cutting of a key railroad bridge.

Author Tom Clancy has speculated twice in his writing about the possible weaponization of Ebola, the viral agent of African hemorrhagic fever, either to attack the United States or, worse yet, to destroy the entire human population, except for a "select" few.

The hijacking and threatened triggering of a nuclear device is a frequent staple of thriller fiction. In addition, several novelists and television writers speculated often about the hijacking of surplus nerve gas canisters from the United States Army and the threatened release of the contents in a city or town, either as revenge for a real or imagined slight or an attempt to extort a ransom from the population involved.

Weapons capable of destroying entire planets or solar systems are an occasional staple of science fiction. The Star Wars franchise made repeated reference to a dwarf-planet-sized "mobile command station" (actually a very large ship) that carried a directed-energy weapon that could, in a single shot, destroy even a planet-sized astronomical body. The Star Trek episode called "The Doomsday Machine" centered on a berserker machine that used an anti-proton beam to carve planets to rubble, and then "ate" the rubble for fuel. Even earlier, the chief villain in the Flash Gordon franchise, Emperor Ming of Mongo, repeatedly used chemical and/or directed-energy weapons in an attempt to inflict massive casualties on the earth.


  1. "FBI Interviews: Hussein Lied About WMD Out of Fear of Iran", The Times, London, UK. Quoted at <https://www.foxnews.com/>, July 2, 2009. <https://www.foxnews.com/politics/2009/07/02/fbi-interviews-hussein-lied-wmd-fear-iran/>