Adult Ed
Science of War



War is a complex institution that involves history, economics and science. Changes created as the result of conflict between opposing groups often influence those groups for a long period of time. Socio-cultural, socio-economic and socio-political perspectives are commonly argued in debates for and against war, especially those involving industrial societies. The scientific ramifications are even more confounding. The disparity in resources among industrial societies and less developed countries has created a den of bellicose exchange conditions between many nations that influence world trade and the global market. This disparity is at the heart of the debate over oil, gold and weapons of mass destruction.

Through the activities presented in this lesson, students will begin to analyze the consequences and trade-offs associated with war from an environmental perspective. The student will investigate the mechanism for nuclear war and the geographic characteristics of the world that have predisposed some lesser-developed countries to the conquest of more-developed countries.

Subject Matter

  • Science (Environmental, Chemistry), Geography

Learning objectives:

Students will be able to:
  • Recognize the interrelatedness of science research to foreign policy throughout history
  • Distinguish resource characteristics of geographic regions and countries
  • Identify factors that support economic growth and development throughout the world


From the New York State Learning Standards

Standard 4: Science
Students will understand and apply scientific concepts, principles, and theories pertaining to the physical setting and living environment and recognize the historical development of ideas in science.

Standard 3: Geography
Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the geography of the interdependent world in which we live -- local, national, and global -- including the distribution of people, places, and environments over the Earth's surface.

Standard 4: Economics
Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of how the United States and other societies develop economic systems and associated institutions to allocate scarce resources, how major decision-making units function in the United States and other national economies, and how an economy solves the scarcity problem through market and non-market mechanisms.


Media Components

The World of Chemistry, Episode #16: Chemistry of the Earth (Also available online at; requires registration. If using the Annenberg site, this episode is #18. Real Media Player is required. Best viewed with a high-speed connection.)

Web sites
CBS Interactive: Biological and chemical threat

This interactive site allows students to explore the different types of chemical and biological threats often used in times of conflict. Links are provided to several sources of information about these threats. For this lesson, students will investigate the history of chemical and biological weapon use using the timeline link., 1930's timeline
This site is a resource for biographical and primary source information regarding the Nuclear Age: the era in which the atomic bomb was conceptualized and developed. Albert Einstein's letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt,
. This primary source document provides many references to the life and work of scientists principally responsible for modern day nuclear physics. In the letter, Einstein warns of the power of atomic research.

Chernobyl Information, Basic information about the disaster is provided on this site. Links to other sites are provided.

Demographic Trends in the Twentieth Century: Census 2000 Special Report (PDF). This 222-page document provides a wealth of data on human populations in the United States and the World. Page 18 will be used for this lesson.


For each student: World map template, 2 copies per student
Pencil and paper

For each group: Printout of Figure 1-2, Population Increase by Decade 1900-2000 from the U.S. Census Bureau site

For each class: TV, VCR
Internet access

Prep for teachers:

Bookmark each of the Web sites used in the lesson prior to the activity. Load all necessary plug-ins; Adobe Reader is required to view PDF files used in the lesson. Make copies of the World Map template. Cue tape to the beginning.

When using media, provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing video segments and Web sites. These FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION questions should be prepared in advance of the lesson in order to keep students on task.