Saturday, February 21, 2009

Minding the Mines (and Cluster Bombs)

Whenever I begin to think this world is doomed, I often encounter something that makes me doubt that apocalyptic conclusion. Last night was one of those times. I attended the "Night of 1,000 Desserts" landmine awareness event sponsored by the Capitol High School Minesweepers Club. I'd seen a notice about the event and pretty much decided to attend even if it meant sitting under that roof.

The Minesweepers are a school club that speaks out against the use of land mines and cluster bombs. It supports programs to identify and remove unexploded ordnance, educate populations at risk and provide assistance to victims. The evening's program included several displays about land mines and other unexploded ordnance around the world, a 20 or so minute presentation about land mine use, lethality and longevity in parts of the world and a showing of the documentary "Bombies". The evening was well-organized, informative and thought-provoking. (One map showed that Finland is among the many nations that stock cluster bombs. Finland!!) That high school students in the safety and comfortable ignorance of contemporary America are aware of this issue completely floored me; it notched my hope meter up a few points.

I know about mines and ordnance but the young woman making the presentation was equally conversant about the various types of mines and cluster bombs in use during the past half century. She described how a bounding mine works and what it does and what it does to a human body. She knew that the ratio of casualties from these weapons has dramatically shifted to civilians. She even had a picture of my old companion, the claymore anti-personnel mine and knew that although it is usually command-detonated, it can be rigged with a trip wire. During the break I not only thank her and fellow club members for their knowledge and interest but also verified for them that my unit did set claymores out as "automatic ambushes" which we were told were somehow not illegal booby traps under the laws of war(*). I did not tell them that those automatic ambushes caused two deaths and other casualties in my company during my first two weeks in Vietnam. They know enough already.

The Minesweepers took donations at the door with proceeds to support Adopt-A-Minefield. About 30 people attended, mostly students but a few parents, the club adviser, another Veteran For Peace and myself. In addition, to the information tables, the club also had two tables of sugar bombs of all sorts. I don't think the count of desserts actually reached 1,000 but it was more than ample. Not part of the presentation but obvious were the two 4x4 timbers shoring up the roof and drywall and baseboard repair from the flooding that followed December's roof collapse.

My high school did not have a Minesweepers Club. It probably could have supported a Ku Klux Klan student auxiliary if true local feelings were expressed but mostly our clubs were the social and junior networking organizations typical of the pre-revolutionary 60's. Nothing nearly as worthwhile as what I saw last night at Capitol High School.

(*) Update 02.21.09:

Later in the day, I remembered why our automatic ambushes were "not" illegal booby trap: we did not leave them in place. We set them up along roads and trails near our night defensive perimeters and retrieved them in the mornings before we moved on.

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Blogger Patrick said...

For a moment I thought that the "Minesweepers" was the name of the school's athletic teams.

I'm relieved that this wasn't the case.

1:19 PM  

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