Friday, April 25, 2008


When you start applying a term to cases where it ought not apply, you dilute its meaning:

An 18-year-old straight-A student accused of planning to bomb his high school was charged Tuesday with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, which carries a possible life sentence.

Authorities say his parents called police because he had ordered 10 pounds of ammonium nitrate, which they retrieved after getting a delivery notice from the postal service. Ammonium nitrate is a fertilizer that was a component in the deadly 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
The kid seems extremely disturbed, and if he had gone ahead with an attack, the results could have been terrible.

But none of that means this would have been a WMD attack.

This sort of thing is irritating because if we start applying "WMD" to any threat that can kill a few dozen people, then the term has lost its potency - and we risk underestimating real WMD threats.

There are already enough problems with threat recognition - let's not muddy the waters by pretending that words can mean whatever we want them to mean.

Update 2008-05-09: A bit of perspective on what 10 pounds of ammonium nitrate can do:
Ten pounds could take out, certainly take out a classroom,” said Donald Sachtleben, an FBI Bomb Technician with the Indianapolis FBI Field Office.
I stand by my argument.

1 comment:

William Tucker said...

I have never liked the WMD moniker. What's wrong with CBRNE? Its more specific and harder to dilute.