Is Banning Landmines Sexy?

Only If the Unmaimed Get You Off

Ah, sweet ordnance! Of all the ways to kill a man, is this so wrong? Oh, fair artillery! Oh, sultry fire bomb! Oh, coquettish anti-aircraft missile! Oh, luscious landmine… wait a minute… landmine? Landmines aren’t sexy. Not the smart ones, not the dumb ones, not even the ones that wear glasses (wink-wink).

“Sure they are,” Drunken You might say. But then the image of Princess Diana mincing through a minefield would pop into your head. There she would be, sporting that odd eyes-up-head-down look she always had, maybe wearing a tiara, as she comforted three-fourths of a man or two-thirds of a child in a country that hadn’t been at war for years. Paul McCartney would stroll up next, natty in a black vest, singing googly-googly-wubba-wubba until a blind teenager is forced to deafen himself by covering his ears. And then Archbishop Desmond Tutu would appear, floating slowly down from the sky and shaking his finger at you until suddenly KER-PLOW! Nothing but damning shades are left. “Egad,” says Drunken You, fish-eyeing your glass. “What ill harbinger got into my head?”

Well, my friend, it seems you have stumbled across a reality-based site for the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines, the U.S. branch of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). Basically, it’s a whole bunch of different groups working towards the same thing. It is coordinated by Physicians for Human Rights, which you’d think would be redundant, but you’d be surprised how many doctors are in their profession just for the money. I mean, people bitch about the clout of the Teachers’ Unions, but that ain’t nothin’ compared to what millionaire-doctors can do if they get all hot and bothered over the Hippocratic oath and helping humanity and all.

Now, I understand there’s a lot of blah-blah-blah here, but let’s get to the point as to why there even is a “United States Campaign to Ban Landmines” in the first place. After all, there are no landmines, here*, right? So we should be OK. But then I chuckle in a haughty and indulgent manner: “Ha, ha, ha, my foppish dear, you are so na´ve!” (Don’t take it personally. I’m just like that.)

Anyway, in 1991, after much learning about the horror of landmines, Vermonter Jody Williams began the ICBL. She says one of the things that has made the campaign so successful, and so fascinating to her, is that landmines can be considered from a strictly humanitarian point of view, or from the greater framework of international law, rules of engagement, and war in general. This flexibility culminated in a meeting in Oslo in 1997, where the international Mine Ban Treaty was signed initially by 90 countries, and currently by 140. And of course, the ICBL won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Wow. That’s a lot of international agreement. 140 countries know that landmines are left in the country in which they are dropped until they are exploded out. 140 countries realize that landmines, even the so-called “smart” ones cannot discern between a soldier and a civilian. 140 countries have seen that between 15,000 and 20,000 people are maimed or killed each year by landmines, and that most of these people are civilians. The ones who aren’t? Well, 33% of U.S. casualties in Vietnam were mine-related, and 90% of U.S. mine casualties were from U.S. mines, according to Tun Channareth, legless ambassador for ICBL. That’s not looking good for anybody. And there’s 80 MILLION more where they came from.

“How else can I be horrified?” you might ask. I’ll be happy to help you understand. Dumb mines lie in the ground for decades, but smart mines self-destruct. So, outside of the blowing-up angle, is there a problem with smart mines? Well, here’s the thing: Smart mines are usually dropped in great numbers, quickly, from high altitudes. This means they end up in a random pattern just about anywhere. Fair enough, because they blow up, and we’re talking war here. Except that about 10% of them don’t self-destruct when they’re supposed to. And they’ve got 120 days to sit around not self-destructing before they’re supposed to deactivate themselves. And then, 10% don’t deactivate. So now we’ve got a large amount of land, covered in landmines, which may or may not go off at any time—these are the smart ones. The dumb ones just blow up when you step on them. Remember, after September 11th, how oogly you felt whenever planes flew by? Imagine you freaked out every time, say, you walked on the ground.

That brings us to the 42 countries that still have not signed the Mine Ban Treaty. And the United States, which initially led the fight to ban landmines, is one of them. “Sigh,” you express resignedly, thinking of Kyoto. It seems that at the treaty establishment in 1997, the United States suddenly figured it needed 10 years or more to stop producing, selling, and using landmines. I guess I have a little empathy here, because as anyone who’s ever tried to quit smoking knows, stopping is not always simply a matter of just not doing something. But still.

Then the United States came up with the idea that it needed its landmines to protect Korea. This one’s a little odd, because as we now know, landmines can’t tell Koreans from non-Koreans. And their use there is controversial even among the U.S. military commanders, so that most of the Korean landmines are actually stockpiled here* anyway. Our hero Jody Williams, gentle finder of common ground, thinks that the U.S. military is concerned that giving up landmines will lead to a “slippery-slope” of giving up other horribly indiscriminate weapons, and of having shots called by civilians. She really does put this nicely, lending it the credence it would have if it were a genuine concern of ours rather than an appallingly harsh policy.

So, United States, whazzup? We went from leader to skittery waffler? President Clinton said we’d sign in 2006, just as soon as we found a good replacement. Now, if you’re like me, you’re going to immediately rack your noggin on this one, on account of the common good and all. Let’s see, let’s see… so we need:

Well, all I can come up with is a fleet of Stevie Wonders jacked into Anthrax and armed with rocket launchers. But hey, we do have all that stuff, so as far as I’m concerned, we’re on for 2006. But wait… what is that darkness lurking yonder???

THE GODDAMNED BUSH ADMINISTRATION! Yup, the people who bring you most of the irrational, bigoted, hypocritical, ineffective policies that are endangering the United States and its citizens today have added yet another broken treaty to the pile. It seems that the Bush administration reviewed this whole exploding-people situation in 2001 and finally decided in February 2004 that not only would the United States not sign the treaty banning landmines EVER, but it would continue to use self-destructing “smart” mines as long as it damn well pleases and it would use persistent “dumb mines” until 2010, thank you very much. This means the United States is keeping company with Russia, India, and Pakistan, all of which I presume are imminently invading Korea.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m oversimplifying. But I can’t get over these two basic realities of landmines in the world today:

No matter how you feel about Princess Di’s taste in men or Paul McCartney’s gibberish (sorry, but Paul IS the uncoolest Beatle), they’re absolutely spot-on with regard to their quest to get rid of landmines. And you can be, too, because anyone can help. Simply go to and take a look around. You can do learning, or you can add your name to a letter, or you can sponsor a good ol’ fashioned landmine-clearing. Landmines can take three bucks to make and a thousand to clear, which means there are a lot sitting around in the dirt-poor countries where everybody likes to have their wars ‘cause they don’t get yelled at for breaking the good china. You may not be happy about it, but at least you can be righteous. And there’s nothing better than justified righteousness.

* In case you weren’t sure, this story is made with pride in the U.S.A.

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