Saturday, August 06, 2005

Weapons of Mass Delusion

Where did the phrase 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' originate? During the Cold War no one ever used that histrionic phrase in television or newspapers to describe nuclear weapons. It only came into common usage during Bush's public relations campaign to drum up support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. I started my research with Wikipedia and discovered it was first used to describe the aerial bombardment of Guernica, Spain in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. The weapons used were conventional aerial bombs; the amount of damage was massive, not the type of weapon. After World War II, the United Nations categorized nuclear weapons as a type of WMD and the phrase then became common in arms control discussions as a general term encompassing nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. However, there is no consensus on a precise definition in the diplomatic community which renders the word useless for any type of international agreement. For example, a good arms control treaty must contain very exact language describing all details. A vague term like WMD cannot be used in such a document or, for that matter, any other type of detailed and substantive discussion. Overly dramatic terms are often used in politics and the media by demagogues who wish to curtail rational discussion. There's even a contest to judge such phrases. In 2003, "Lake Superior State University issued its 28th annual ‘extreme’ List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness", which included WMD. When I first heard the phrase from an ex-alcoholic and cocaine addict, I thought, "Doesn't this sound like an hysterical rant that's designed to frighten and coerce? Why is anyone taking this seriously? Show me some evidence and a detailed analysis, and then explain why no other nation except the U.K. is backing up these statements." Unfortunately, WMD seems to have permanently entered common everyday usage. I briefly watched part of a documentary that ridiculously described a WWII Japanese submarine as a weapon of mass destruction. This versatile phrase seems perfectly designed to demonize an enemy and his weapons. How rovewellian. P.S. Happy Hiroshima Day.

2 Comments:

Blogger Jeff Huber said...

I just remembered, we were calling it NBC (nuclear, chemical, biological) when I was in War College in '94. Not scary enough, I reckon.

Jeff

8/08/2005 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Tarantula Lady said...

Yeah. I thought Evil Empire was pretty stupid, too, and we were going to use the Star Wars defense to fight them.

8/08/2005 10:28:00 AM  

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