Land Mines

When I was serving with the Marines in Viet Nam in 1968, a fellow infantryman related what I would now consider a rather gruesome story. I say now because then it was spoken of with the voice of those who have simply seen too much carnage to worry about a life or two here and there.

He told me of guarding the SeaBees while they left an area near the DMZ where the Navy unit had been stationed for some time, to a more secure area just a few miles further up the road. His unit was positioned atop a hill approximately a half a mile outside the perimeter that had protected the base. The SeaBees had taken down all of the concertina wire (a wicked form of barbed wire with razor edges) and were in the process of moving the last of their equipment onto trucks. The men had piled up the stuff that was considered junk in the middle of the barren remains of the camp and had probably already forgotten it existed as they prepared to depart.

Not so the twenty or thirty Vietnamese civilians who were clustered in the surrounding countryside, waiting for the opportunity to sift through what we thought of as junk but they thought of as needed material for the betterment of life. Discarded c-ration cans still held valuable food, cardboard boxes could become walls in their houses, scrap wood could become either building material or firewood and everything else available could be used for some purpose or other that was unimaginable to the military.

As the last military truck slowly began its exodus, the first of the civilians began their unhurried move towards the vacated space. My story teller related how he watched a mother, with her infant child on her back, move towards the outer perimeter of the camp. He wondered if, since the concertina wire was gone, had they removed the hundreds of land mines as well? His question had very nearly not enough time to form before a puff of smoke and the delayed sound of the explosion reached him. The mother had, indeed, found one of the many land mines that the military chose to leave rather than risk American lives finding and disarming. With tears in his eyes, a rare enough sight that near the DMZ but particularly surprising from such a war toughened grunt, he told of watching the infant fly from its mother's arms, up through the smoke and destruction, only to land a few feet away from its mother. There, as it met the ground, its small body found another of the land mines beneath it and another explosion of smoke and noise erupted. In an instant, both were gone forever.

I share this story for one simple and compelling reason; every 22 minutes a man, woman or child is killed or maimed by forgotten land mines around the world. As Patrick Leahy, Senator from Vermont, puts it, "In 71 nations, 110 million of these hidden killers are being cleared an arm, a leg and a life at a time, mostly by innocent civilians".

Canada has proposed a treaty of all nations immediately banning the production, transfer and use of anti-personnel land mines. Our leaders' answer? To urge a U.N. resolution to "vigorously pursue" negotiations to end the use of these killers. Nothing was mentioned of the movement originating in Canada to do so immediately, only to eventually look into the problem.

Now, a very easy question: What country produces and exports nearly 68% of all land mines used on earth?

Give up? The answer is the good old US of A. Yes sir, the land mine dealer to the world is us. Doesn't that just make you patriotic as all get out?

Why can't we stop producing these miserable weapons? Want to bet the reason is money? You win!!! The hundreds of millions in bloody lucre our so-called defense industry receives for the export of American made land mines is the only justification anyone can make. Ah, it just gives me the warm fuzzies thinking about all that great wealth these corporations suck up in exchange for years and years of hidden death for the unsuspecting children of the world.

Even though the American military has stated that they truly do not need these weapons, they continue their use through inertia. It's a weapon and it's available so into the ground they go! Until America becomes a leader in something more moral than arms production and export and ceases the use of anti-personnel mines by its own military, Third World countries will continue to line up for these great gadgets of destruction. They're cheap, they're deadly and they can be left in place without much monetary consequence. The perfect weapon for the perfect idiot, which describes the majority of leaders in the world.

President Clinton has already stated that "the world's children deserve to walk the Earth in safety". Now he must back up his high minded rhetoric with real action. Canada has presented the world with that opportunity. Clinton must turn away from the defense corporations who wave fistfuls of campaign cash in his face and look to the world's children, instead. They absolutely deserve much better than we give.

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