Cal Poly Pomona


History 499

Weapons of Mass Destruction


Instructor: Zuoyue Wang                                               Office: Building 94, Room 335

Spring Quarter 2007                                                     Office Hours: MW 10:30-11:30am & apptmt   

Class Hours: MW 4-5:50pm                                         Phone: 909-869-3872

Classroom: 9-403                                                         Email: zywang at

Course website:


Course Description: Nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons have been called weapons of mass destruction (WMD).  In one way or another, these weapons have figured prominently in modern world history:  chemical warfare in World War I, nuclear weapons in World War II, all three during the Cold War, the Persian Gulf War, and more recently in the war on terror, the Iraq War, and in debates over nuclear proliferation, especially in the case of North Korea and Iran.  What were these weapons and how did they differ from conventional weapons and from each other?  How did they come to be made, used, justified, perceived, and denounced by scientists, military leaders, politicians, and the public in Europe, the US, China, and other parts of the world over the years?  In this class we will address these and other issues as we trace and analyze the history of weapons of mass destruction in the 20th and 21st centuries in the format of a seminar.  We will read, watch, and discuss a number of books, articles, videos, and websites to explore the history of weapons of mass destruction and how it relates to other social, political, cultural, scientific, and technological developments and to the present events and debates, especially in regard to the Iraqi War.


Learning Objectives: To understand the history of the development and debates over weapons of mass destruction in the broad scientific, technological, international, political, and cultural context, to relate it to current discussions on these weapons, to sharpen critical thinking, and to improve written and oral communication skills.


History Majors: This class fits into any of the three main categories of History Core Courses (Area Studies, American History, and European History).


How to Succeed in This Class: Read the textbooks carefully for both information and for main historical arguments; Participate actively in discussions in class with questions and comments; Communicate with the instructors with any questions or concerns in class, during office hours, or via email; Read a national daily newspaper—e.g. Los Angeles Times (, also free at the Bronco Student Center) and New York Times (—or a newsmagazine to keep track of current debates over weapons of mass destruction, for we will regularly discuss these events and issues in class and make connections to the history we study; Be sensitive to the different perspectives that all of us bring to these issues, keep an open mind to other points of view, and express informed—especially historically informed—opinions; Work on your writing skills by following advice in the Marius/Page book, by utilizing the Writing Center (1-220, phone 909-869-5343), and by paying attention to style in all the things you read; Choose Your Sources of Information intelligently, using Wikipedia as a starting point but not as an end point; and finally, Be an Intentional Learner by connecting this class with your intellectual interest and your career goals.


Term Paper: There is no examination in this class.  Students will be required to write a major paper to explore one aspect of the history of weapons of mass destruction. The topic has to be approved by Prof. Wang in advance.  During the first two weeks, try to thumb through the texts to get an overview of the topics we will be studying and think about what topics you would like to write on.  You should start with a general topic, e.g., history of the atomic bomb, and proceed to narrow it to a more manageable scale, e.g., how did the American public reacted to the news of the first Soviet atomic bomb test in 1949?  You are required to submit and discuss with Prof. Wang the topic and a one-page outline of your paper by the third week of class.  A draft of the paper is due during the eighth week.  The completed paper is due on Monday of the finals week. 


Format of Paper: It should be at least 8-10 pages, double-spaced, with 12 point, Times New Roman font and one inch margin on all sides, printed on plain paper using a laser-jet or ink-jet printer, stapled at the upper-left corner.  Put your name, class, title of the paper on a plain-paper cover-sheet separate from the body of the paper (no plastic cover or binding please).  For general advice on how to write a history paper, consult the Marius/Page book.  We will discuss various aspects of writing in class as well.  All writings are graded for both grammar and content and there will be presentations and discussions of paper drafts later in the quarter.


Criteria for Paper: A good paper will have a captivating introduction (1-2 pp), a brief (1 page) but incisive historiographical discussion (what other scholars have said about your topic broadly?), a clear thesis statement (1 paragraph; what’s your main argument—not your topic—and how does it relate to other scholars’ points of view as summarized in the historiography?), a narrative built on a variety of evidence such as scholarly books and articles, but especially primary sources, such as reports in newspapers or magazines, or oral history interviews.  It can describe an event or individual, but should explain how that event or individual does or does not fit in the general themes of this class.


Reading Worksheets and Discussion: Complete the reading assignments before the start of each session.  To help you manage the reading assignments, you will turn in a one-page work sheet (typed) which covers the main points of the reading, what's new and striking to you, a question you want to be discussed in class, and one news item that you can use to illustrate how the present is related to the past.  We will also use these worksheets to facilitate in-class discussions.


Book Reviews: Please select two books (or one book and two articles) from the list of supplemental readings and write a two-page (double-spaced) review of each book or pair of articles which are due on the day that topic is discussed.  Also be prepared to give a short (2-3 minutes) oral report on the book on the same day.


Video Reviews: We will be watching a number of videos, mainly documentaries, related to nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.  You will write a short review on what’s most striking to you to facilitate discussions afterwards.

Required Books Available at Bronco (or online bookstores):

Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman, A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Biological and Chemical Warfare (New York: Random House, 2002).

Gerard J. DeGroot, The Bomb: A Life (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004).

Scott D. Sagan and Kenneth N. Waltz, The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: A Debate Renewed (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003).

Richard Marius and Melvin Page, A Short Guide to Writing about History, 6th edition (New York: Longman, 2006).


Additional Readings and Resources:

Los Angeles Times (

New York Times (

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (


Classroom Ground Rules (for the benefit of all of us):

1.      Late works will be penalized by 1/3 letter grade per day, e.g. B to B- if one day late.

2.      Please turn off cell phones and other electronic device during class period.

3.      Avoid late entry or early exit without instructor's prior authorization.

4.      Newspaper-reading, chatting, and other activities not directly related to the class are prohibited once the class starts.

5.      Plagiarism: See Cal Poly Pomona Catalog regarding university policy against plagiarism (presenting writing and ideas of others as one's own without proper citation).


Grades (general guidelines):

Attendance, Participation in Discussion, Presentations:                 25%

Weekly Worksheets, Video/Book/Article Reviews:                       25%

Term Paper:                                                                                       50%


Topics and Reading List (subject to change):


Week 1:  

3/26     Introduction

Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky, “A Damaging Designation: The Deadly Semantics of ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction,’” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 63, no. 1 (January/February 2007): 37-39.


3/28     Chemical Warfare during WWI and WWII      

Video: Clouds of Death (1999). 50 minutes.  UG447.8 .C56 1999 

Harris and Paxman, chapters 1-5.


Week 2:

4/2       The Making of the Atomic Bomb during World War II

Video: Birth of the Bomb

DeGroot, chapters 1-4.


4/4       The Use of the Atomic Bomb

            Video: Hiroshima

            DeGroot, chapters 5-7.


Week 3

4/9       German Nuclear Projects during WWII

Video: Copenhagen

Rainer Karlsch and Mark Walker, “New Light on Hitler’s Bomb,” Physical World  (June 2005).


4/11     Session on Research and Writings

            Marius/Page, whole book.


Week 4

4/16     The Soviet Bomb, the H-Bomb, and the Arms Race

            Video: Sputnik

            DeGroot, chapters 8-11.


4/18     The Cuban Missile Crisis

            Video: Cuba

            DeGroot, chapter 12-14.


Week 5

4/23     The Development of the China’s Atomic Bomb

            Video: The Genius That Was China

John Wilson Lewis and Xue Litai, “Strategic Weapons and Chinese Power: The Formative Years,” The China Quarterly, no. 112 (December 1987): 541-554.         


4/25     Chemical and Biological Weapons during Korean War and the Cold War

Video: Bioterror         

Harris and Paxman, chapter 6-11.


Week 6

4/30     The Bomb and American Popular Culture

            Video: Atomic Café

            DeGroot, chapter 15.



5/2       Star Wars

            Video: Star Wars

DeGroot, chapter 16.


Week 7

5/7       Post Cold War Loose Nukes

            Video: Avoiding Armageddon (Part 1 of Episode 2)

            DeGroot, chapter 17.

            Sagan and Waltz, chapters 1-2.


5/9       The Case of India and Pakistan

Video: Avoiding Armageddon (Part 2 of Episode 2)

Sagan and Waltz, chapter 3-4.


Week 8

5/14     Work on Term Paper—No Class Meeting

5/16     Work on Term Paper—No Class Meeting


Week 9

5/21     WMD and Terrorism

            Video: Avoiding Armageddon (Part 1 of Episode 3)

Group Peer Review of Paper Drafts

            Bring Paper Drafts to Class


5/23     WMD in the 21st Century: 9/11, Iraq War, North Korea, and Iran

            Video: Avoiding Armageddon (Part 2 of Episode 3)

            The 9/11 Commission Report Executive Summary

            Joseph C. Wilson 4th, “What I Didn’t Find in Africa,” New York Times, July 6, 2003.

            David Kay, “Weapons of Mass Destruction [in Iraq]: What’s There, What’s Not, and What Does It All Mean?Talk at the US Institute of Peace, February 10, 2004.

            Federation of American Scientists websites on North Korean and Iranian Nuclear Programs


Week 10

5/28     Holiday

5/30     Presentations of Term Papers