Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Damn Shame

Vietnamese officials are reporting that two people have been killed and two more injured when a Vietnam-war era artillery shell exploded.  Apparently, one of the deceased was trying to collect it so that it could be sold as scrap when it went off.

This is one of the sad byproducts of warfare - unexploded ordnance or UXO.  Places like Angola, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Vietnam are going to be reporting similar tragedies for a long time.  Heck, every so often we hear of a farmer in France digging up a shell from World War I, and some German and British cities are still finding large aerial bombs from World War II.  There's no telling how long the millions of more modern American and Soviet munitions that have been fired around the world in the past 60 years will remain dangerous.

This is one of the reasons that I truly believe that the revolution in more precise munitions is a wonderful thing.  Not only is collateral damage minimized by dropping fewer, more precise bombs and artillery shells, but fewer rounds means fewer duds, which means less UXO left behind to kill the grandchildren of the people fighting the war.

It's much better to fire one or two terminally guided artillery shells at a target than it is to have an entire battery drop multiple shells in order to make sure you hit the same target.  First, it's safer for those close to the target, and second it's less likely that a dud will be fired and forgotten.  If you're observing an enemy, have a couple of bombs or shells lobbed at them, and one of them hits and sticks, you're going to report it.  If you drop 25 on them, you probably won't notice.

And a special prayer goes out every night for the souls who volunteer to go into former war zones to try to find and destroy the forgotten bombs, shells, and mines.  One of the bravest people I ever met was a young Swede who worked with others to clear mine fields with nothing but a flak vest, steel helmet, and a piece of plastic rod in her hand.  Imagine spending days on your knees, poking holes in the earth trying to find something designed to kill someone doing exactly what you are trying to do. Poke the rod down as far as you can reach, pull it out, move over two inches, and do it again.  If you hit something, dig down from an area you've already cleared, and see if it's a rock, a piece of old scrap metal, or a mine.  If it's a mine, mark it so that the guy with the gun or the explosives can take care of it, and move on.  Makes me stop complaining about having to do TPS reports when I think of that.

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