The land mine - one of history's cruelest inventions
September 15, 2006 One of the most effective and cost-efficient inventions in history, the anti-personnel or land-mine came into its own in the 20th century. Though its first recorded use was by the Chinese against the invading Mongols of Ghenghis Khan eight hundred years ago, the landmine’s ability to extend and multiply the casualties of war for many subsequent decades has seen it become the most feared of all military weapons. The advent of the tank during WW1 precipitated the development of the anti-tank mine, a clumsy, cumbersome device which was easily dug up and re-deployed by opposing forces. To prevent this redeployment, the anti-personnel mine was developed and used extensively, targeting military personnel. Today, there are more than 100 million landmines buried and active. Another 100 million are stockpiled and ten million are produced annually. Landmines from WW2 still today claim large tracts of land in France and Holland, though the world-wide proliferation of land-mines and their indiscriminate use against civilian populations did not begin until the Vietnam War.
Prior to the recent war in Afghanistan, and the subsequent military build-up between India and Pakistan, more than a million people had been killed or maimed by landmines since 1975.
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Half of all adults who stand on a mine die before they reach hospital. Children, being smaller, are more likely to die from their injuries, though there are still more than 300,000 children alive who have been severely disabled by landmines. Clearing mines is a dangerous and very costly job. Mines can cost as little as $3 to produce yet the necessary care involved in clearing a landmine costs more than US$2000 a mine.
Even then, one accident occurs for every 1800-2000 mines cleared. For every one hour spent in sowing mines, over 100 hours are spent de-mining to achieve the same figure. If we stopped laying mines NOW and continued clearing at current rates, the world would be free of mines in the year 3100. One estimate of the cost of clearing the world’ landmines is US$33 Billion.
Unfortunately, mines are being laid 25 times faster than they are being cleared. One of the web’s best military authorities, FAS.ORG, states on landmines, "Approximately 50 countries have produced and exported anti-personnel mines. Some 350 different models are currently available, and innovations in mine warfare demonstrate a truly perverse application of technology. Bounding fragmentation mines pop up before exploding, in order to disperse shrapnel over widest possible area. Mines with little or no metal content have been designed to evade detection.
Further impeding demining, some are equipped with "anti-handling" devices, exploding when an effort is made to disable the mine. Most fiendishly, mines masquerading as toys have been developed particularly to appeal to children.
In addition to the enormous human toll, the social and economic costs of mine fields are enormous. Farming, commerce, development, travel and play are hindered where landmines are present, as is the return of refugees.
The United States has pioneered so called "safe mines," which contain a self-destruct/self-deactivation mechanism. The mine blows itself up after a set period, shortening the lifetime of the mine, but not its lethality. Nor is a "safe mine" able to discriminate between the footfall of a soldier and a child.