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Landmines, Cluster Bombs and Unexploded Ordnance

A Vietnam Veteran’s View: What We Leave Behind

by Tom Baxter

“Landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) will continue to maim and kill Vietnamese for another 30 to 50 years despite recent efforts to tackle the problem, a prominent U.S. veteran of the Vietnam War said Monday. Jan Scruggs, president of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, said the war-ravaged country faces a “huge” task in clearing valuable arable land of landmines and UXO that still injure or kill about 2,000 people each year.”

When I saw this, I thought, “Jan Scruggs is wrong, UXOs are going to be killing kids in Vietnam well into the 22nd century.” I decided not call him on it. Scruggs is a good guy. He’s not that far off. I’m not going to be around 50 years from now, I probably won’t be around 30 years from now. Maybe they’ll clean them up. I doubt it, France hadn’t and they’ve been working on it for most of a century.

I haven’t heard of any Franco-Prussian War leftovers killing anyone lately, but a colonel in the elite French Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment, made a mistake with a WWI UXO last year and left little for his widow to bury. It was remarkable that a colonel died, generally just a couple of sergeants and lower rank officers die each year.

What brought this to mind was I heard some war criminal, Runsfeld? Stufflebem? explaining that our killing civilian Afghans was ok, because the war would be over quicker. There is no problem no matter how many civilians die, as long we did not deliberately aim at them. In the words of Timothy McVeigh, they would be merely collateral damage.

Utilizing precision? smart? cluster bombs, where almost always, at least 100-150 of every 200 bombies explode on impact while spreading out over an acre or so shows our goodwill. The bombies are yellow, like the food packets we drop. But since they have explicit instructions in French, English and Spanish and we broadcast warning, drop leaflets about the difference, No Problem. Bombies are what they are called in Laos and a couple of dozen Laotian, Cambodia and Vietnamese kids die every year from them.

When year 2100 rolls around and some Panamanian, Nicaraguan, Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, Jugoslav, Iraqi or Afghan hears a boom and goes out finds some hamburger that used to be their child, the thought that some ancient terrorist enemy of humanity, peace, truth, justice and freedom was overthrown early, replaced by the latest choice of the United States government will provide cold comfort. This is especially true if wrong choices are again made, and client/enemies like the Taliban, Noriegia, Saddam Hussein, Diem and their replacements have to overthrown again and again, until we get it right.

I admit the few thousand UXOs we’re scattering over Afghanistan, probably won’t be visible above the background of millions left over from our proxy’s war against the Russians. But why do we have to add to a horrible problem? Tom Baxter served in the USArmy from 1966-69 and was in Vietnam from 1967-69.

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