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The Waiting Devastation of Landmines
By Paul Nichols
I read with dismay, but not surprise, about President Trump's advocacy for renewed production and use of landmines, as described by an LA Times article which appeared in the Concord Monitor last month. Like every other position taken during Trump's presidency, this policy reversal is misguided and unconscionable.
In December 1997, a multinational treaty signing conference held in Ottawa, Canada brought about the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). Government leaders of many countries signed and ratified the treaty on the spot. The agreement prohibited the use, development and production of anti-personnel mines and called for the destruction of stockpiled mines.
Princess Diana energetically promoted the ban. Jody Williams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in conjunction with the ICBL organization for setting the ban in motion. By March 2018, there were 164 signatories to the Ottawa Treaty and more than 100 had ratified it. Among countries not signing on are China, Russia and the United States, though the Obama Administration took significant steps toward joining the ban.
Fortunately, landmines, booby traps, cluster bombs, artillery rounds and other unexploded ordnance (UXO) are not life-altering threats inside the US, so such menaces dwell in the back reaches of our consciousness.
This is not the case in many countries which often have predominately agrarian economies and where large population segments live scattered throughout the countryside. Also scattered throughout the countryside are latent indiscriminate explosives from current or past wars.
These merciless devices are usually hidden beneath the soil or in thick vegetation. They have no conscience, uncaring whether to explode in the hand of a playful child, under the foot of a caring parent or grandparent, or in the hands of peasants collecting leftover scrap metal as a source of income. In fact, most casualties are suffered by innocent civilians. Impoverished families are left to survive with legless, armless or blind financial mainstays. Life-sustaining livestock sometimes haplessly trigger UXO blasts and die riddled with shrapnel.
A considerable percentage of explosives disseminated by all sides during wartime are duds, while others detonate at the slightest nudge. They lay hidden as sleeping monsters ready to awaken with a vengeance to kill or maim. Intact mines, bombs and artillery shells are occasionally discovered left over from both theaters of World War II, and rarely even World War I. They've been found in several European, Asian and African countries. UXO from more recent wars liter the ground in Central and South America, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
It's realistically too much to expect that major military powers will agree to cease production, store and use heavy weaponry. Signing on to the antipersonnel mines ban, rather than upending it, is a reasonable step toward a more humane world.
Shrapnel and limb loss hurt far more than Trump's bone spurs and last for a lifetime.
Paul Nichols is a long-time member of VVAW, seriously wounded by a landmine during America's War in Vietnam while serving in the Marines in I Corps.
1995 photo by Paul Nichols—Remnants at former Marine firebase near Con Thien