|In a world that should promote compassion for both man and beast, even the U.S. falls very short of being an upstanding player. Since 1999, 163 countries have signed a treaty banning the production, stockpiling and transfer of land mines. Notably, China, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Russia, and Saudi Arabia have failed to sign the treaty. You can imagine why a few of the bad actors on that list might not sign it. However, the U.S. failed to sign it as well citing the effectiveness of antipersonnel mines to prevent the loss of U.S. soldiers' lives.
Perhaps the most insidious landmine is the "bouncing betty" antipersonnel mine which were deployed extensively by the U.S. during the Vietnam War era. Since the war ended in 1975, over 40,000 Vietnamese have been killed and many more severely maimed by remaining anti-personnel mines. Although the bouncing betty may look benign when implanted, once triggered they jump some three feet in the air, explode, scatter shrapnel, thereby killing or disfiguring those around. Remember the infantry motto on patrol "Do not bunch up."
General Joe, a friend of the author, commanded an artillery division in the Vietnam War. He was the one of toughest guys one would ever meet. His favorite way to monitor his cannon crews' performance was to fly around in his own personal helicopter. One day, chafing from the U.S. infantry body counts at H.Q. press briefings versus no confirmed kills for artillery, he picked up a deceased Viet Cong cannon casualty, personally carried the body over his shoulder into a briefing and said, "artillery 1."
On another occasion, he had the pilot put the helicopter down to take a pit stop. He walked away from the helicopter and then realized he was in a field of bouncing betties. If he could see some, there had to be others he could not see. He had the presence of mind to have the pilot kill the rotor so he could instruct him to take off, hover above from a distance and lower a harness to extract him. Being a rather large fellow, they carefully secured him and off they went. It was one of many great stories about this legend and it showed he had the presence of mind that not everyone might possess. Most people would have paid anything for that image of him dangling from a harness.
Land mines in Cambodia continue to be a major threat. It is estimated that there are four to six million unexploded ordnance in Cambodia that may take 100 years to clear. The preferred mine sweepers of the Khmer Rouge were young children to walk in front of their cadres. When the Khmer Rouge entered the classroom of our friend Boon Thong, shown below, to conscript student advance marchers, he had the presence of mind to jump out of the classroom window and run away. That alone required great courage for a youngster and he did not suffer the fate of many of classmates who lost their lives or limbs.
The landmine exposure of elephants in Cambodia, as well as Myanmar, remains an added threat. Moreover, the loss of a leg of an elephant is life threatening as they must stand and be mobile to breathe normally. Accordingly, prosthetic legs are the solution from the elephant specialists in Thailand. For the younger elephants, it is a periodic replacement process until they reach adulthood.
In the remote Preah Vihear northern province of Cambodia, we have a good friend, Carol Cassidy, who has taken a meaningful role in providing a life purpose and livelihood to Cambodian land mine survivors. Carol extended her reach from her dominant position in silk textile design and weaving in Laos to help out in Cambodia.
Carol's organization employs over eighty farmers, spinners, dyers, weavers and finishers in Cambodia to provide them a sustainable income. As shown below, her products have striking colors that have survived the very dark period of Khmer Rouge rule. Moreover, the fabric is quite supple.
So where do we go with this issue? In 2016, thirty-two donors led by the U.S. contributed some $480 million to land mine and ordinance removal. In return, some 232 thousand landmines were reportedly destroyed and an area nearly the size of Brooklyn was cleared. To put this effort and cost in perspective, it is estimated that over 1,000 years would be required to clear the world of this killing plague. In the same year, there were almost 9,000 ordinance casualties principally in Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine and Yemen though people in some 56 countries suffered a similar fate. Nearly 80 percent of the victims were civilians of which over half of that number were children. Further, as we have seen in Vietnam, antipersonnel mines linger on long after the conflicts may be resolved that prompted their placement.
Although General Joe made it clear that his view of the role of the U.S. Army was to kill people, he would have been most compassionate about children and innocent civilians. Even tough guys who swing from choppers on occasion can evidence compassion.