On Wednesday, March 27th, half a dozen landmine advocates representing four different organizations gathered in Lafayette Park in Washington, DC to participate in a Lend Your Leg event.
The “Lend Your Leg” concept, asking individuals to roll up their pants leg in solidarity with landmine victims, was launched by the Colombian NGO Fundación Arcángeles in 2011 to call attention to the issue of landmines and their devastating effect on communities in Colombia and throughout the world.
“Lending Your Leg” on April 4th shows global solidarity for the survivors of landmine accidents—and all prosthesis wearers—while stripping away the shame and social stigmas that may accompany the injury.
Lend Your Leg is a call to action for all states to 1) Join the Mine Ban Treaty if they have not yet done so, and 2) Implement the Treaty by destroying landmine stockpiles, clearing mine contaminated land and assisting victims. More information about Lend Your Leg, including events near you, is available at www.lendyourleg.org.
Now, a few words about Washington: there is always something else going on and getting attention on a particular issue – in our case landmines – can be very difficult. As we were getting set up, two of our number, Jose Arteaga and Zach Hudson told the rest of us about how they had been at the Supreme Court earlier in day, Zach actually inside the courtroom to hear oral arguments and Jose outside to rally on behalf of marriage equality. So for a third of our party, this was not the first bit of activism they had participated in that day.
When we got to Lafayette Park, the large open square just north of the White House, we noticed that we were not the only demonstration happening outside the White House at lunchtime on a Wednesday in March. There was the permanent encampment of nuclear-free world activists and a protest against genetically modified (GMO) foods (in the background of Figures 1 and 2 with the yellow banners) and as soon as the GMP protesters cleared, a group demonstrating against arbitrary detention at Guantanamo Bay rolled in (in Figure 3 with the orange banners). I’m sure if we stayed longer, another group with their issue would have come along. (Side note: it’s not just national and international issues that draw out groups: yesterday evening at dusk half a dozen people protested the National Park Service’s plan to cull deer from Rock Creek Park in the middle of the city [Washington Post]. Yes, deer in Washington, DC could garner as much support as landmine victims around the world. That’s how many issues abound in this town. Ah well.)
We chose Lafayette Park for the iconic images of the White House in the background and the opportunity to interact with others. Nora kindly provided the “legs” and banners we held. The legs were made by art class students and members of Proud Students Against Landmines and Cluster Munitions (PSALM) and the West Virginia Campaign to Ban Landmines (WVCBL, www.wvcbl.org). The legs and banners will feature in the Landmine Awareness Day activities at St. Francis de Sales School on April 5th, sponsored by PSALM and WVCBL.
In addition to the group shot, we took some individual photos. The brother and sister featured in Figure 6 were tourists visiting Washington with the family. They asked us what we were advocating for and when we told them, “landmine survivors,” they asked if they could participate. I never got their names, but I loved that they were interested and wanted to “lend” their legs. That photo alone was reason enough to host the event in Lafayette Park.
In the end, we had a very simple message, expressed in Figure 10. On April 4th, remember the victims of landmines and believe that something can be done to end the use of this terrible weapon and ensure that every father’s daughter can walk freely and safely.
Michael P. Moore
March 28, 2013
Sometimes writing this blog I feel like a bit of a scold: constantly reminding the Ether of the threat of landmines and their impact upon the lives of individuals. I also get deeply offended when I see people casually toss of the words “minefield” or “landmine” for dramatic effect. Two weeks ago I saw a story from Forbes entitled, “Traversing Personal Brand Management While Avoiding Company Brand Landmines” and thought company brand landmines must surely be the least dangerous form of landmines and by using the word “landmines” in this context the author really cheapened the lives of people killed or injured by real landmines. But I held my tongue. Over the following weekend, I resolved not to. I decided that every story I came across during the week of March 17 to 22 that used the words “minefield” or “landmine(s)” would get the following response:
Every day, a dozen people are killed or injured by landmines around the world. Your casual use of the word “minefield / landmine(s)” is disrespectful of their fate. If you want to learn more about the impact of real landmines, please visit www.the-monitor.org or www.LandminesinAfrica.org.
Michael P. Moore
And after posting, I would track the responses and provide additional details to anyone who sought them and avoid internet firestorms and trolls. I commented or emailed the authors of the following articles, retrieved by Google news searches. Any responses I received are in italics:
No disrespect intended. I really only meant to use the term in the second sense listed here [from www.Merriam-Webster.com: Minefield, Definition 2: something resembling a minefield especially in having many dangers or requiring extreme caution].
I apologize for sounding cavalier. I only meant that supervisors are proceeding into “something resembling a minefield especially in having many dangers or requiring extreme caution.”
Where Obama’s visiting in Israel, where he isn’t, and why: Why is the president spending hours at the Israel Museum but not going near the Western Wall? What’s he doing in Bethlehem? A primer on a tour through a diplomatic minefield
Land Mine Attachement: OPT13 (the mis-spelling is in the original; I was tempted, but did not mention it)
I sincerely apologize to amyone who found the title offensive in any way. That was not my intent.
In the event, not much changed. Two authors (out of 21) will hopefully think twice before using terms like “landmine” and “minefield” in their writing, so I’ll call those wins, but the vast majority of comments went either unanswered or were not even posted by the moderator. I did register new accounts with BDLive, the Huffington Post, the Yorkshire Post, Sunshine Coast Daily and Forbes. I still feel like a scold, but I will embrace that role in the future.
Michael P. Moore
March 25, 2013
Since May 20, 1996, when US President Bill Clinton announced in a White House briefing that “the United States will seek a worldwide ban as soon as possible to end the use of all anti-personnel land mines” (Department of Defense) an estimated 172,000 people have been killed or injured by landmines. That’s as many people as were killed at Hiroshima. That’s three times as many Americans as have been killed or injured in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. That’s four times as many casualties as at Gettysburg. Every day, another dozen people are added to the list of people killed by landmines.
Since announcing the plan to ban landmines, the US government has reviewed its policy three times: once under Clinton (when the US withdrew from negotiations that led to the Ottawa Treaty which has since banned landmines in 161 countries), once under George W. Bush (State Department) and most recently under Barack Obama. The results of the Obama Administration’s review have not been released, but if the Administration were to support the Ottawa Treaty, the US might reclaim the position it once held, in the Spring of 1996, when the US was a leader in the movement to ban landmines.
Michael P. Moore
March 18, 2013
Television has been accused of eroding our society’s morals ever since it first appeared and pushed aside radio (which also had been accused of eroding society’s morals). And maybe I am simply paying attention more than I did previously, but I feel as though landmines are being used as weapons and plot devices more often in movies and on television in the last couple of years than in the early part of the century. If one of the great achievements of the Mine Ban Treaty was the stigmatization of the use of the weapon, then the repeated exposure to landmines in mass media may just erode that stigma. In the 1990s, Westerners were faced with their first images of the results of landmines as the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and other activists sought to demonstrate the impact of weapons. We saw landmine victims and their injuries for the first time since the end of the Vietnam War 20 years earlier. In the fifteen years since the Mine Ban Treaty was signed, those images have faded but the visceral reaction to landmines remains. And some lazy television and movie writers take advantage of that visceral reaction and thereby reduce its impact over time.
A few introductory points…
First, American audiences are lucky that for all but a handful of soldiers landmines are only found on television and in the movies.
Second, the Manitoba Campaign to Ban Landmines (MBCBL) has compiled a partial list of movies in which landmines are used. It’s not comprehensive (e.g., “Predator” is missing) but it is a very good start and definitely offers a flavor for how landmines have been used (Manitoba Campaign to Ban Landmines). Some of the uses that MBCBL identifies show the true nature of mines in terms of the harm they cause (see “Charlie Wilson’s War” and the impact of landmines on refugees), while others are intended as humorous (see “Thank You for Smoking” which ironically asks us to take pity upon the makers of landmines, just as we would take pity on tobacco companies), and others are plot points (see “No Man’s Land” which uses a landmine to address the ethnic violence that was pervasive in the wars of former Yugoslavia). Many of the uses of landmines are in historical contexts, showing them as part of World War II conflict and not a menace in the modern world.
Third, TV Tropes points out the way that landmines are used in television. If the main character steps on a landmine, he will hear a “click” and be able to defuse the mine; if an expendable character steps on a mine, either the mines goes off instantly or after a beat in which the camera zooms in on the mine and then the character’s face so we see the moment of realization before the blast (TV Tropes). This is lazy writing. Mines don’t go “click” and you never have the chance to defuse them after activating them. If you did, they would not be the terrible weapons they are. I have heard stories about soldiers who – after seeing movies like “Behind Enemy Lines” in which one of the villains defuses a mine after stepping on it – actually went out and stepped on a mine with the intent to demonstrate how they could defuse a mine. The results are unfortunately very predictable and horrific.
Finally, the movie “Predators” does a pretty good job of explaining of one of the reasons anti-personnel landmines were viewed as having “military utility” while also reinforcing their insidiousness and inhumanity. In the scene, three characters – Edwin, Isabelle and Royce – are walking when Edwin sets off what the script calls an “alien bear trap” which either breaks Edwin’s lower leg or severs his Achilles tendon; either way, he can’t walk. Isabelle picks Edwin up, but Royce tells her not to. Royce says, “That trap wasn’t meant to kill. Just to maim.” Then Royce says of the person (the titular Predator) who placed the trap, “Don’t you get it? This is a trick… [The Predator] wants your compassion. Your pity. To feel something for this man. To be human.” (“Predators,” pdf). People who used anti-personnel landmines counted on the fact that soldiers would “leave no man behind” and in addition to the person who was permanently maimed by the mine, two or more other soldiers would help the maimed individual away from the battle-line. The military math was simple: kill one person, and you have one fewer enemies to face; maim one person and you have several fewer enemies to face.
So, on to the recent examples. I blame Jersey Shore for a lot of this. The constant reference to “unfortunate looking girls” as “landmines” has put the term in common parlance for viewers of the show (E Online). There is also a popular drinking game called landmines (The College Survival Handbook). Between these two uses of the word, landmines have started to lose their association with the weapon.
In the last month, landmines have been on Top Gear (BBC America) and Psych (USA Networks). On Top Gear (which has used featured mine-clearing vehicles and mine-resistant vehicles in the past), Jeremy Clarkson asked the question, “what’s worse than stepping on an upturned plug;” to which James May responded “A landmine” only to have Clarkson over-rule him and say that feces would be worse. They meant this in a joking manner, but for the presenters of Top Gear, dog feces and up-turned plugs are more likely threats than landmines. If only the same were true all over the world.
On Psych, well, I’ll let USA Networks explain the plot of “SantaBarbaraTown” because I simply could not make this up:
Shawn and Gus sit down to discuss their next move. But before they can get a word out, their lives are threatened by a landmine that has been planted under their couch — a special landmine that will trigger when they stand up. Shawn and Gus realize that Carp had a cache of these same landmines in the weapons closet at his beach house. Shawn and Gus manage to call the SBPD to come in and freeze the device before it blows. The SBPD are able to disarm the bomb and Shawn and Gus are saved.
Shawn and Gus’ next move is to find Vest, so they head to the headquarters of “Feed Everyone.” There, Shawn realizes that “Feed Everyone” is a scam organization and that Drake’s “non-profit” is supplying weapons to Africa, not food.
Ha ha. Isn’t that funny? And since USA Networks is trying to use its “Characters Unite” platform to raise awareness about various social issues and one of the stars of Psych, Dulé Hill has done outreach to combat discrimination, shame on them for using landmines and the arms trade as a lazy plot device. Dulé Hill should also know better (I’m starting to feel like a scold) since he was in the cast of the West Wing which devoted an entire episode during Season 3 to landmines and their impact in the former Yugoslavia.
In November 2011, an episode of the FX Networks’s show “Sons of Anarchy” featured a fight between rival gangs. While for most gang conflicts on television, a gunfight would have been enough, Sons of Anarchy decided to up the stakes and had one of the characters, Kozik (good guy? Bad guy? Did it matter?), step on a landmine and die; “blown to pieces” according to the episode recap. Now, here’s where I get upset: the same re-capper says, “You gotta give it to the ‘Sons of Anarchy’ writers: they always find new and creative ways to find spectacular ways for their characters to die” (Buddy TV). So landmines are now “creative” and “spectacular” and not inhumane and cruel. And unfortunately landmines are not a “new” way to die; landmines have been killing people for over 150 years.
The NBC comedy “Parks and Recreation” has used landmines several times. In the episode, “Road Trip,” the character Ron Swanson demonstrates his “libertarian” credentials by giving a 9 year-old girl a Claymore landmine to “protect her property” and then only takes it back after being accosted by the girl’s mother (HuffPost TV). In a later episode, around the election campaign of the main character, Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, an anti-landmine advocate is referred to as a “floozy” but at least the “pro-landmine” position is depicted as negative (The Vulture).
Last, the now-cancelled FOX program “Alcatraz” focused its sixth episode on a landmine specialist from the Korean War who is brought to the present-day and places landmines around San Francisco, including a park, a playground and a beach. Sam Neill’s Hauser steps on a landmine at the beach location, hears the “click” and then has to wait for someone to try and defuse the mine. Someone does defuse the mine, but dies in the process whilst saving Neill’s hero. Lazy, crass, tear-jerking mumbo-jumbo with a villain who uses landmines being Evil with a capital “E” and a child-killer, but at least the show asked the question of how would we (Americans) feel if landmines were present in our country and did not shy away from showing the true damage they can cause (Screen Rant; Wikipedia).
Landmines are a very real threat to hundreds of thousands of people around the world. These television programs had an opportunity to educate people about that threat, but too often went for the cheap gag or the lazy plot device. Do better television.
Michael P. Moore
March 12, 2013
Let’s be honest, Mali dominated the headlines on landmine-related news in February, but it was not the only story. Mine action continued elsewhere in Africa and new tragedies were reported in several locations. However, Mali was the main story despite some interesting twists which we will get to. First, let’s cover the rest of the continent.
Namibia has previously declared itself to be mine-free, despite incidents that suggest otherwise (The Monitor). In January and February, three landmines (along with other explosive remnants of war [ERW]) were cleared from an area near the Angolan border. These items were left over from Namibia’s liberation war against the Apartheid era government of South Africa (All Africa). At a future meeting of the Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, Namibia’s mine-free status should be challenged and Namibia should report on its recent and on-going demining activities.
In one of the oldest, continuously inhabited refugee camps in the world, the Mayukwayukwa settlement in Zambia, landmine survivors and persons with disabilities face severe challenges to even life itself. In addition to sexual assault and other forms of physical violence, persons with disabilities are unable to access necessary services for rehabilitation and reintegration. Available prosthetics for amputees include “crudely fashioned peg legs [and] a boot packed with mud” (All Africa). Last year, Zambia flew several landmine survivors from rural villages to Lusaka for treatment and fittings with new, high-quality prosthetics. Zambia should continue to pursue this high standard of treatment for its most vulnerable residents.
As the country gains increasingly levels of security, Somalia and Somalia-watchers are starting to think beyond emergency interventions and think about the development needs of the country. First, it is still important to realize that Al Shabaab remains very much a threat so while the security situation is improving, there are still regular reports of assassinations and Al Shabaab activity. Second, the humanitarian crisis is also still very relevant as many people need access to food, clean water and basic medical services. Recognizing those two caveats, the coverage received from a report by the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) regarding the need for landmine clearance to facilitate long term development in Somalia is admirable. IRIN News, the Catholic Information Service for Africa and NATO’s Civil-Military Fusion Centre all reported on the problem, describing its origins and noting that with the right amount of funding and political will, Somalia could be mine-free in ten years as required by its accession to the Mine Ban Treaty.
In a follow-up to the story reported last month of an anti-tank landmine detonating during a magical ceremony intended to enrich its quantity of non-existent “red mercury,” the families who lost houses in the blast are reportedly in need of shelter. Four houses, including the one in which the ceremony took place, were destroyed in the blast and the families who lived in those houses are currently in tents and similar temporary shelters. The local government has promised to help re-build the houses but with the rainy season in full swing the need is acute (All Africa).
Another Zimbabwean, who suffered severe damage to his face in a mine blast five years ago, has practically hit the victim assistance lottery. Operation of Hope, an NGO in Southern California, has sponsored Blessing Makwera to travel to San Diego where he will receive a series of three surgeries at Sharp Healthcare over the next six months to repair his jaw and mouth. After the procedures, Blessing will be able to eat and speak with little or no difficulty. The surgical teams have donated their services and Operation of Hope is covering all of Blessings travel costs, post-operative care costs and costs associated with his stay in the United States (KFMB Radio). Such care would not be possible for a 20 year old landmine survivor in Zimbabwe and the long term value in terms of Blessing’s ability to reintegrate into society is incalculable. But let me say this, money aside, this is the kind of care every landmine survivor should have access to, no matter where they are or what their circumstances have been. Blessing (an apt name) should not be an anomaly.
In the world’s newest state, services for landmine victims and other persons with disabilities are almost nonexistent. With an estimate 50,000 disabled persons in the country, South Sudan has an enormous challenge ahead of it, a challenge made worse by a culture of discrimination against persons with disabilities and a near-caste system within the disabled community between those who were disabled fighting against the Sudanese government and those disabled from other causes. As the oil conflict with Sudan continues, the South Sudanese government is forfeiting 98% of its revenue making any service provision impossible. What few services are available are limited to small stipends for wounded ex-combatants and those stipends are not enough to support a family. The International Committee of the Red Cross has provided prosthetics to hundreds of people, but the number of people in need continues to grow. Since independence in July 2011, more than 100 people have been killed or injured by landmines, a figure that is likely underestimating the true extent of the problem (All Africa).
Two people, a woman and a child, were killed when the cart they were riding on passed over a landmine in the Casamance region. The road used was a well-traveled one north of the main city in Casamance, Ziguinchor. The woman was killed instantly, but the child survived just long enough to be brought to a hospital where he succumbed (Agence France Presse).
The nearly 4,000 Acholi landmine survivors in Northern Uganda are claiming that promised support from the government has not been forthcoming. After drives to register all landmine survivors in the region, the government ministers have disappeared, along with significant amounts of foreign aid funds that had been intended for reconstruction programs in the region. Survivors say that “the government had promised to pay those who lost both the arms and legs five million shillings (~US $1,800) and three million shillings (~US $1,100) to those who lost either a leg or arm.” Compensation could have been used to respond to pressing needs like shelter as hundreds of thousands of formerly displaced Ugandans return to their homes (Ssalongo News).
During a tour of landmine-affected regions, the US Ambassador to Angola, Christopher J. McMullen, re-affirmed the partnership between the US and Angola to overcoming development challenges in Angola. Amb. McMullen reported that each year, the United States provides US $80 million in aid to combat malaria, polio, HIV / AIDS and other diseases and $20 million for demining to be conducted by Norwegian Peoples Aid (Angola Press Agency).
A student at Tripoli’s Higher Institute of Technology has won a 50,000 Libyan Dinar (~US $40,000) prize for his design of a smart phone application to warn people of possible landmine dangers. By linking the phone’s GPS system with existing maps and reports of landmine and ERW contamination (from sources like www.MineActionMap.org), travelers would receive an alert on their phone as soon as they entered dangerous areas. Mohamed Elbishti had used a similar system to locate restaurants in Tripoli and his new application would automatically update as minefields are cleared. The idea came to him as he thought about the mines along the roads between his home and Misrata and his own inability to remember exactly where the danger spots were (Libya Herald).
In the compilation of stories that make up this segment, more than twice as many words have been written about Mali and Mali’s landmine contamination in February than for all of countries in Africa combined. I think this demonstrates how the threat of landmines is so often greater than the immediate impact of landmines. Based upon my research in January and February, there have been at most four landmine incidents in Mali (two in January, two in February) which led to the deaths of 12 individuals and the injury of at least five others. For those individuals, their families and their communities, the losses are tragic, but the landmine issue in Mali is also about the threat of landmines and how that threat plays out.
Have landmines been used by the Islamist members of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO)? Yes, and they have proudly admitted as much (Agence France Presse). But MUJAO’s spokesmen also recognize the value of the threat. By claiming to have laid landmines along the roads throughout northern Mali, they hoped to slow the rapid advance of the French forces. Because some mines have been used (and frankly once the threat was made, only one needed to be used), the French army has had to clear every road as they move against the Al Qaeda-linked Islamists. In addition to the claims of MUJAO, it is in the interest of the community fighting against MUJAO to broadcast the threat. Mali’s foreign minister called MUJAO’s members “barbarians” and “criminals” and said that landmines demonstrate “the large extent to which we need help” from the international community (The Associated Press). Mali’s foreign minister used the landmine threat to call for foreign aid and to clearly demarcate MUJAO as the enemy and not remind the international community that Mali’s current government is the result of a coup against a democratically-elected government and that aid to Mali was frozen after the coup.
In addition to slowing down the advance of French forces and the political uses of landmines, the threat of landmines impacted the delivery of humanitarian aid to Northern Mali. Doctors with Borders, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNICEF, World Food Programme and the International Committee of the Red Cross all put out press releases or comments referencing the threat of landmines and describing the work they did on behalf conflict-affected Malians in February (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; All Africa; All Africa). The reports described the difficulties that the threat of landmines posed to relief provision and how the various agencies were working to overcome the threat.
As mentioned above two landmine incidents were reported in Northern Mali in February. Two civilians were killed on or about February 4th on the road from Kidal. Four other civilians were killed on the road between Douentza and Gao on February 6th near where two Malian soldiers had been killed by a landmine on January 31st (Agence France Presse). The road between Douentza and Gao (really the only road between the two) was cleared by French forces who reported finding additional mines (The Associated Press; Agence France Presse).
In response to the new landmine use, the UN’s Mine Action Service has begun training Malian soldiers and police in mine clearance techniques. The landmine threat in Mali actually predates the current conflict with historic contamination along the border with Algeria and unexploded ordnance from previous Tuareg uprisings. The goal of the training is to ensure that persons who are currently displaced are able to return to mine-free land when the security situation improves enough for their return (All Africa).
Michael P. Moore
March 7, 2013
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Today marks the 14th anniversary of the entry into force of the treaty which banned the production and use of anti-personnel landmines. Despite being an early leader in the process, the United States has never signed or ratified the Treaty or made any official statements to indicate that it would do so. So, to celebrate those that have, the following is a list of the African countries, who despite not having the resources of the United States and several of which have been severely contaminated by mines, have for the last 14 years been committed to banning landmines, clearing minefields and helping landmine survivors to reintegrate into their societies. Thank you all, you are an inspiration to others.
Michael P. Moore
March 1, 2013