5 Things You Don’t Know: Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)

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5 Things You Don’t Know: Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs)
Hosted by Benari Poulten, a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. In this episode, we reveal five intriguing facts about WMDs.

With the ability to create destruction on a massive scale, they are some of the most feared weapons in the world.

This is Five Things You Don’t Know About WMDs.

Fact One: The phrase “weapons of mass destruction” is often used to refer to any nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological device capable of creating destruction on an immense scale. However, when the expression was first coined, it was actually used in reference to conventional bomber aircraft.

In May 1937, it was reported that German and Italian planes bombed the Spanish town of Guernica – killing more than 200 people in what was described as one of the first raids on a civilian population by a modern air force.

Fact One: The phrase “weapons of mass destruction” is often used to refer to any nuclear, chemical, biological or radiological device capable of creating destruction on an immense scale. However, when the expression was first coined, it was actually used in reference to conventional bomber aircraft.

In May 1937, it was reported that German and Italian planes bombed the Spanish town of Guernica – killing more than 200 people in what was described as one of the first raids on a civilian population by a modern air force.

Fact Two: During the height of the arms race, the United States had more than 31,000 nuclear weapons in its arsenal. And with that many warheads, it’s almost inevitable that a few accidents, on in this case a few losses, would occur.

One unfortunate mishap took place in 1965 onboard the carrier USS Ticonderoga. On December 10th of that year, an A-4E Skyhawk carrying a B-43 hydrogen bomb was preparing for takeoff when the aircraft suddenly rolled off the flight deck and plunged into the ocean. Not only was the pilot killed, but the aircraft and the nuclear bomb immediately sank some 16,400 feet to the bottom of the ocean, where they remain to this day.

And while these incidents such as this may seem extreme, it is actually just one example of the 11 known nuclear weapons that the United States has accidently lost and never recovered.

Fact Three: During the First World War the introduction of modern chemical weapons, such as chlorine and mustard gas, was devastating. In fact, more than 25% of total US casualties suffered during the war were caused by poison gasses alone. So, when World War II erupted, all of the major combatants, except for Japan, opted to refrain from using chemical weapons on the battlefield.

However, when it came time to invade Iwo Jima, military planners recognized just how brutal and costly the battle was going to be. And in an effort to curtail the projected losses, they actually proposed saturating the island with mustard gas.

Of course, in the end this proposal was ultimately rejected by President Franklin Roosevelt, and a large-scale amphibious assault was conducted instead.

Fact Four: Classified as a Category A agent by the CDC, anthrax was first employed as a deliberate weapon during World War One, when the German military was suspected of secretly using the bacteria to infect livestock intended for trade with allied nations.

During World War II, the continued development of bioweapons such as anthrax spurred the creation of the United States Biological Weapons program. Established in the spring of 1943 under direct orders from President Franklin Roosevelt, the highly-classified program was a response to fears that the US lagged behind Nazi Germany in the creation of bioweapons.

Although none were ever deployed during the war, it is now know that the United States created more than 5,000 anthrax-filled bombs, and had them ready to go in preparation for a retaliatory strike against Germany.

Fact Five: America’s chemical weapons program began in 1917, during the latter part of World War I. And from then until 1968, the US produced nearly 40,000 tons of chemical weapons.

By the mid -1960s, however, public opposition to these types of weapons had caused the nation to start taking steps to reduce its stockpile.

So, between 1967 and 1970, as part of Operation CHASE – which stood for “cut holes and sink’em” – the US Department of Defense disposed of thousands of chemical weapons by loading them onto World War II era Liberty Ships and sinking them in the waters between Florida and the Bahamas. This included weapons such as mustard gas, VX nerve agent, and sarin-filled rockets.


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