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The weekly Daley: What is, and what is not a WMD?

By
From page A6 | May 03, 2013 | 19 Comments

I’ve been uncomfortable hearing the media refer to the Boston Marathon bombs as weapons of mass destruction. Now:

“Attorney General Eric Holder announced today that Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev, 19, a U.S. citizen and resident of Cambridge, Mass., has been charged with using a weapon of mass destruction against persons and property at the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013, resulting in the death of three people and injuries to more than 200 people,” says a recent statement from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Whether that designation carries some kind of additional criminal penalty, I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised. There was considerable destruction, but did it rise to the level of “mass destruction?” I don’t think so. Having grown up under a nearly continuous threat of atomic bombs and resulting nuclear annihilation, I have a hard time reconciling that level of cataclysmic destruction to that of backpack bombs.

Weapons of mass destruction were nuclear bombs and radioactive stuff, chemical agents like poisons and gas, and biological things like small pox or anthrax weaponized for widespread death and horror. WMDs were things that continued to create death and damage, especially to humans, long after the initial explosion or dispersal of the materials. The FBI’s Website lists these four categories as the official weapons of mass destruction, although evidently there has been significant differences in interpretation over the years. Apparently, there are both political definitions and technical definitions and fairly indiscriminate use of the former.

In the run-up to the Iraq war, no one anywhere considered grenades or homemade bombs or standard artillery shells as the WMDs we could not allow Saddam Hussein to possess. U.S. and allied forces didn’t wear HazMat suits to protect themselves from regular bullets or RPGs. They put them on to counteract assaults by chemical and biological weapons, i.e. weapons of mass destruction. The threat to the world from Iran and North Korea is not based on those rascals having too many AK-47s and flamethrowers. It’s based on their efforts to develop real WMDs in the form of nuclear missiles.

A few clicks online turn up a wealth of discussions about what is and what is not a WMD. Going back to 1948, the United Nations sought a definition and got one from its “Commission for Conventional Armaments.” By a process of elimination, that commission determined, in effect, that it had jurisdiction over “all armaments and armed forces, except atomic weapons and weapons of mass destruction.”

Furthermore,  ”… weapons of mass destruction should be defined to include atomic explosive weapons, radioactive material weapons, lethal chemical and biological weapons, and any weapons developed in the future which have characteristics comparable in destructive effect to those of the atomic bomb or other weapons mentioned above.”

That seems a sensible and realistic definition. That the FBI uses basically the same definition as the UN’s should prompt some concern. After all, the FBI is a significant branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. They should be in agreement about what is or is not a WMD. Otherwise, I would think there could be some  unintended “taint” on evidence as it works its way from the FBI labs to the courtroom.

And there’s a darker concern here as well. “Hyping” explosive devices made with fireworks powder, BBs and Vaseline as WMDs seems a pretty cynical designation on the part of the Justice Department. In that context, it gives the agency a much bigger hammer than it should need or have. It gives me a sense of being manipulated into the parade wherein the “Emperor’s New Clothes” were displayed to a fearful and gullible public. That is, “don’t believe what you see and know; believe what we tell you to believe.”

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines a WMD as a “weapon with the capacity to inflict death and destruction on such a massive scale and so indiscriminately that its very presence in the hands of a hostile power can be considered a grievous threat.” Related discussions note that the threat applies to humans, other life forms, man-made structures, natural things such as mountains or rivers and to the biosphere.

“Hey, Emperor, love the new look.”

Chris Daley is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. His column appears each Friday. 

 

 

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 19 comments

  • James E.May 02, 2013 - 9:53 am

    There is a case in northern Virginia where the federal prosecutor is going after a guy for shooting WMDs (rocket propelled grenades in Syria). I had no idea the bad guys in Vietnam were shooting WMD at me. If this goes to trial, I hope that there are some old Vets on the jury.

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  • Ken SteersMay 04, 2013 - 3:04 pm

    Geez, You've got your acronyms confused. You are mistaking IED (improvised explosive device) with WMD (weapons of mass destruction).

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  • GermaineMay 05, 2013 - 4:42 am

    What about AIDS?? Muslim extremists developed this disease in Africa back in the 70's in reltaliation to the Bush family moving their oil holdings from Northern Africa to Saudi Arabia. Hallibuton has been rumored to have its tenicles in this mess as well. Biologists trained in the UK worked on this new form of the Black Death in hopes that promiscuous Americans would be annihilated by the end of the century. They miss their deadline but the death toll continues to rise. Conservitards dismiss this as a disease of lesser beings but the jihad will work its way into the 1% ers then it will become a mainstream issue. Every day babies are born without eyelids because of this plague & yet we do nothing to stop this WMD because so far it has touched the the Cheneys of the USA.

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  • James E.May 05, 2013 - 11:33 am

    Germaine, back in the early 80s AIDS was said to be God's punishment on gays. Now, Muslims in Africa developed AIDS to kill the infidels and resulting in babies without eyelids. You have a very active fantasy life, don't you?

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  • EvelynMay 05, 2013 - 11:42 am

    James: Thank you.

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  • James E.May 05, 2013 - 11:54 am

    You are welcome, Ms. Evelyn. Mr. Fred welcomes you too.

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  • EvelynMay 05, 2013 - 12:03 pm

    James: You're taunting me. Nonetheless, I won't hold it against Mr. Fred.

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  • EvelynMay 05, 2013 - 12:46 pm

    Massive disaster drill planned for Pennsylvania Amusement Park on May 13: HERE

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  • francescaduchamp@att.netMay 05, 2013 - 1:16 pm

    Evelyn--is James your brother as well? I also like Mr. Fred...and I love when my relatives call me Ms. and or Miss Fran >:( It started out as Miss Fran--but the little ones just did an "m" sound with a short "s" sound...lololol It is much better than when than call me Francis after the talking mule.

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  • EvelynMay 05, 2013 - 1:22 pm

    Fran: Poor James must be having apoplexy right now!!! (No, not related.)

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  • francescaduchamp@att.netMay 05, 2013 - 1:26 pm

    lolol...just checking--dont want your whole family upset with me. (shhhhhhhhh along with Phil--I find James to be intelligent as well.)I figured he was yet another brother following in your foot steps of intelligence.

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  • EvelynMay 05, 2013 - 1:30 pm

    Fran: Whatever you do, don't risk getting the Veerkamps mad at you!!! As for James . . . TBD.

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  • francescaduchamp@att.netMay 05, 2013 - 1:36 pm

    I try not to have any one mad at me--I have made a few new enemies in town...but no Veerkamps yet. Last night it was mentioned three times that people were afraid to say anything to me--that I might "write" about them here. I told them that they hadnt made me mad yet...off to a baseball birthday party.

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  • James E.May 05, 2013 - 1:53 pm

    James Veerkamp, has a nice ring to it don't you think.

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  • James E.May 05, 2013 - 1:57 pm

    Of course, at this late date would it be worth it? All the government and financial records would have to be changed. But, on the plus side, maybe local retailers would treat me with more respect. And, speaking of local retailers I'm off to spend some money with them. Be back later.

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  • EvelynMay 05, 2013 - 2:11 pm

    James: You'd bring some much-needed class to the family. We don't have a Colonel. Yet.

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  • Phil VeerkampMay 05, 2013 - 2:37 pm

    James, James (Jim) Veerkamp does indeed have a nice ring to it. He is a 1st cousin of mine, the father of a very respectable contractor and, hopefully, the father of a very respectable Co. Supervisor.

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  • dist 4 residentMay 05, 2013 - 2:44 pm

    Phil V doesn't know if James (Jim) Veerkamp really is the sup's father.

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  • Phil VeerkampMay 05, 2013 - 3:18 pm

    LOL! . . . my bad! poor wording . . . respectable (hopefully). . .

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