Lost Weapons Can Still Kill You

I was scooping handfuls of dirt out of my yard to make room for a fence post when my fingers touched something curved and hard. Country topsoil is usually full of rocks, but this was different. The mystery object could have been a drain pipe or a coffee can. It turned out to be concrete from the original fence on my property—a reminder that humans leave many things behind. Then I realized how lucky I was to find concrete instead of something else. . . in other parts of the world, people still come across unexploded ordnance from terrible conflicts that ended years before.

At the close of ancient battles, archers would trek across a field of dead soldiers to retrieve their arrows. Their counterparts in the 20th Century had no need to collect their projectiles. They relied on artillery, bombs and mines to destroy their enemies. But some of that ordnance never hit a thing. Shells landed in muddy fields. Bombs fell into ditches by the road. Mines drifted into riverbeds and soggy inlets. There they remained for decades under a veil of terrain. Sometimes, years later, an unsuspecting child or farmer would discover them the hard way. The effect can be quite tragic.

The International Campaign to Band Landmines notes that landmines and cluster munitions won’t “recognize ceasefires and claim victims long after the end of conflicts. They instill fear in communities and are a lethal barrier to development.”

A 2000 report from the Journal of Mine Action paints a dismal picture about unexploded ordnance (UXO) in Belgium, a peaceful nation turned into a slaughterhouse by 1918:

In Belgium and neighboring countries, 80 years after WWI, the Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU) of the Belgium Armed Forces finds about 10 WWI UXO every day. Bombs Away, a private hazardous material firm specializing in UXO removal in the Asia-Pacific Rim, unearths UXO daily from WWII. According to Manfred Schubert, chief of Hamburg, Germany’s UXO department, Germany has enough UXO littering its landscape to keep the department busy into the 21st Century. This UXO includes everything from hand grenades to 500 pound chemical long delay bombs. Even after the guns of these wars have fallen silent and hobbyists and antique dealers trade on their history, battles are still being fought. Ordnance contamination continues to plague these countries.

This should be a lesson for every nation and military, that the horrors of war can still transfer into peacetime, and innocents still pay the price for conflicts we would rather forget.

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