28 June 2003

WMD: Where Did the Phrase Come From?

George Mason University student Will Mallon pens a column on the origination of the phrase "Weapons of Mass Destruction":
The term Weapons of Mass Destruction was first used in the London Times in 1937, according to Robert Whealey, writing on H-Diplo. It was used to describe a Luftwaffe German air force attack on the town of Guernica, Spain. The attack reportedly lasted for 3 hours and destroyed 70 percent of the town and killed a third of the population. The attack was ordered by President Franco of Spain to crush the Basque resistance to Nationalist forces. Documents discovered after World War II suggest that Guernica served as the testing ground for a new military tactic -- blanket-bombing of a civilian population to demoralize the enemy. When the London Times reported the bombing of Guernica the paper was referring to the devastation caused by the blanket bombing. Although the phrase "Weapons of Mass Destruction" was used to describe the massive amount of damage by conventional bombs, it was not associated with biological or chemical weapons as it is today.