Reading The Rotarian magazine this month I was mesmerized reading the article Living with Landmines, and especially about anti-personnel mines. Landmines are essentially broken down into two types. One are mines to blow up vehicles, in particular to blow up tanks. The other type is to injure and maim people, in theory enemy soldiers, but in reality anyone who steps on or triggers the mines, often years after their intended use.
In war it is just not possible to retrieve mines that have been laid as battlegrounds can be fluid and evacuations of positions can be necessarily rapid and unplanned. Mines from many long past wars remain in the ground and a danger to residents of these countries. As a consequence of this worldwide an estimated 15,000-20,000 people (UN data) are killed or maimed by mines annually. Many anti-personnel mines are triggered by pressure of as little as 11 pounds, less than the weight of a toddler running across the ground. In 2008 over 60% of casualties form landmines were civilians, and of these about a third were children.
I am not a dove, anti-military, or totally naïve about the facts of war. I was in the Army for 7 years, admittedly as a physician, but have a general understanding that in war people get hurt and killed, and that there are incredibly effective tools to accomplish these tasks in warfare today. I also consider myself a proud American. I understand there are times when military force is needed to maintain our republic. Given this, I am not proud that the United States is one of the 37 countries that have not signed the Ottawa Treaty (156 countries have signed the treaty) that bars the use, production, stockpiling or production of anti-personnel mines. We join countries including China, Iran, Russia and Pakistan in the minority of countries not agreeing to the Ottawa Treaty terms. These are not countries with whom I like believe the US shares values on human rights and the value of life. Admittedly the US abides with most of the provisions of the treaty. Still we continue to stockpile approximately 10 million mines. There may be some military explanation for this position, but as far as I’m concerned it is lame.
Mine clearing remains a huge worldwide problem. There are an estimated 10 million land mines in both Cambodia and Afghanistan, and apathy to the issue is one of the major obstacles to faster progress in the search for and removal of mines. Princess Diana was a vocal supporter of anti-mine programs, and is credited with posthumous influence in getting the Ottawa Treaty signed. Her death left supporters of mine eradication without a glamorous supporter. In a bizarre comment a prominent candidate for congress from New Mexico recently discussed using land mines to protect the US – Mexico border. Thankfully he was not elected, but just the idea that an educated US citizen running for public office would of placing anti-personnel mines on US land is so horrifying that this issues clearly lacks the level of public awareness it deserves.
If enough American citizens express outrage this could be easily corrected. Let’s stop the apathy and demand that our government do the right thing. I find it impossible to believe that our country can justify the use of anti-personnel mines in warfare today. The US has not used landmines since 1991. If we are not considering use they there is no reason not to sign the treaty and get rid of the stockpiles. For a haunting video photo collection check out this You Tube.
Contact your congressman today, talk about this with your friends, and make it clear that you consider the US not getting rid of our anti-personnel mines as unacceptable. I just sent letters to Senators Murray, Maria Cantwell and Congressman Adam Smith. You can easily do this too.
Let me know what you think by leaving a comment.