Human history has always been plagued by war. The evolution of humans has been accompanied by the evolution of increasingly deadly weapons. From sharp rocks to metal spears to firearms and modern explosives, humans have continued to develop more and more powerful weapons. In the 20th century in particular, several types of weapons have been developed that are so devastating in their effects that they have been classified in their own category: Weapons of Mass Destruction. These weapons are so dangerous that the nations of the world have moved to limit their use or forego their use entirely.
This section of the website will explore the history of weapons of mass destruction and help you see how such destructive weapons have been used in history. We discuss the major time periods in the world when weapons of mass destruction were present in the forefront of the public consciousness. A timeline has also been included to fill in any gaps that are not covered by the major time periods.
The term "Weapon of Mass Destruction" was first recorded from a Times article dated December 28, 1937. It was written on the bombing of Guernica, Spain during the Spanish Civil War.
The term "Weapons of Mass Destruction" does not have a universal meaning; however, different groups and associations have developed their own definitions and classified weapons accordingly. Throughout time different groups have changed the definitions. The United Nations, U.S. Military, and most law enforcement agencies in every country each have their own definition for such a term. There is an agreement on certain weapons such as nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. These three are classified by most as being "Weapons of Mass Destruction".
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When a person hears "Weapons of Mass Destruction" there is one particular word that usually comes to mind. That word is nuclear. Nuclear weapons have been considered the most destructive in terms of destroying populations as well as destroying the the world's landscaping. However, nuclear weapons were NOT the first weapons of mass destruction. Take a look into the past and you'll discover the destructive powers of some of the first ever used weapons of mass destruction.
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During World War I, prior to the invention of nuclear weapons, chemical weapons were used against enemies. Although chemical warfare had its disadvantages, it had terrible effects on the enemy. In WWI, one of the most common facts is that Germany used chlorine against the enemy trenches. Despite the complications of trying to filter it down only to the enemy, chlorine proved to be a chemical weapon that would kill.
World War II was the era in which scientific advancements made the nuclear bomb possible. In the United States, a secret project was developed called the Manhattan Project. The goal of this secret project was to construct a working atomic weapon. The project was lead by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer at Los Alamos National Laboratory. The bombs created were used on two Japanese cities, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This devastating blow to Japan forced their surrender and the end of the war. However, such destruction created lasting worldwide fear that another catastrophic attack would occur.
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The Cold War was not a direct confrontation, it was rather a manifestation of the arms race between the US and USSR, the proxy wars fought by the US and other nations such as Vietnam and Korea, and the perceived threat of a nuclear war. The conclusion of the Cold War did not eliminate the threat of nuclear weapons, but rather it ended in a stable draw, forcing an uneasy peace among nuclear powers.
Despite many arms control treaties concluded to prevent the use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, the use of WMD's have continued through recent years. Nowadays, the most dangerous risk of WMD use is by a private, non-governmental terrorist group. Rogue nuclear states such as Iran and the DPRK (North Korea) also pose a nuclear threat.