by Jonathan Wallace

In October, the Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines. Williams and her organization were instrumental in obtaining passage of the Ottawa Treaty, signed in December by more than 100 countries. Each signator to the treaty promises never to "use" or "develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer to anyone, directly or indirectly, anti-personnel mines."

There are an estimated 100 million AP mines buried around the world and they kill about 26,000 people a year, eighty percent of them civilians, many of them children. People who survive a landmine explosion frequently lose limbs or are crippled for life and require prosthetics and sophisticated medical care. A landmine is a weapon indiscriminately used against a civilian population and tends to remain lethal for many decades after being deployed.

The United States declined to sign the Ottawa treaty. Last August, administration officials announced that the U.S. would only agree if the treaty contained exceptions for the use of all land mines on the border between North and South Korea and for the use of certain so-called "smart" mines globally. In addition, the U.S. called for postponement of the treaty's effective date for nearly a decade. These conditions were unacceptable. One hundred other nations proceeded to sign the treaty and once again, the United States found itself left out of the mainstream of global moral and political leadership.

A recent study on behalf of the international Red Cross by more than 50 active and retired military personnel from around the world concluded that there was no evidence that AP mines have ever played a major role in determining the outcome of a conflict. An acerb FAQ maintained by the Canadian government disposes of the "smart" mines favored by the U.S. as follows: "There are only two kinds of anti-personnel mines, 'dumb' and 'dumber.' So called 'smart' mines are just dumb mines that do not last as long. No mine is smart enough to tell the difference between a soldier and a child...."

A stand in support of the use of land mines is in favor of the continued murder and maiming of civilians. The exceptions requested by the United States are tantamount to saying, "We reserve the right to continue committing a little murder, around the edges." Mines are not laid in places where wealthy, comfortable people live. They harm poor people, people who don't look like us, the kind of people who General William Westmoreland once claimed don't value life the way we do. The United States stand on land mines is morally unaceptable and contemptuous of human life.

I am emailing a copy of this message to the President at Please join me in contacting him and other elected officials and otherwise making your views known on American signature of the Ottawa treaty. For more information, visit the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation site.