Since mankind first warred over territory, resources, or dogma, those responsible for outfitting their troops have sought to develop the fighting technology to give the strategic edge over the enemy, often regardless of how horrific the newest weapons can be. Consequently, military technology has been developed for millennia that can take as many lives as possible, often with awe-inspiring effect and terrifying efficiency. Many of the newest weapons rely on terror itself — the psychological effects inflicted on the enemy — to win battles. (also read: modern warfare’s 20 most lethal weapons.)
To identify history’s deadliest weapons, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a report called “Quantification Related to Weapon Lethality,” originally issued in 1964 by the Historical Evaluation and Research Organization for the U.S. Army Combat Developments Command. It rates the lethal potential of various weapons on such quantifiable measures as number of potential targets per strike, relative effect, effective range, accuracy, reliability, and mobility. (Also see: the 50 most popular guns in world history.) It should be noted that this list is meant to be a sample of some of the deadliest weapons — there are, for example, other highly-deadly nuclear weapons besides those listed here.
Some weapons on the list also point to the rapid evolution of technology since the Industrial Revolution. The sword, for example, was used for thousands of years in numerous different forms and cultures, and still has a ceremonial place in military life. On the other hand, many of the weapons used in World War I were already obsolete by the start of World War II.
Many military advancements have come from scientific breakthroughs in other areas. For example, the airplane, initially conceived simply as a means of rapid transportation, was quickly adapted for use in warfare. It works the other way, too: Gunpowder was used in warfare as early as the 10th century in China — but it can also be used to blast tunnels or even to entertain us (in the form of fireworks). (Here are some examples of commercial products invented by the military.)
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