Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bombs that don't tick

Donald Sensing points to one of the dangers that infect what passes for "peace" following almost any military conflict, unexploded ordnance. This post jumped off the screen at me because it brought back a memory from my own military experience in Korea. During my on-the-job training to become an x-ray technician one of the cases I saw was that of a little boy who was injured when something left over from the Korean conflict exploded. This was in 1966, several years after the armistice was concluded.

It was commonplace in Korea at that time to see people we would call junk collectors gathering up scrap metal for income. More than a decade after the war there was still plenty of valuable scrap to be had. I don't know the details, but for some reason the metal was being fired in a village over an open flame and something exploded, taking off part of this child's hand and leaving him covered with places that looked like sparks may have burned his skin. Fortunately, nothing hit his eyes.

Far more serious battlefield casualties in Vietnam at the time made this child's injuries less dramatic, but to me (and to him and his family as well, I'm sure) what happened to him was bad enough.

It is easy to disconnect one's self from the realities of war. Video games, movies and the stories that returning soldiers relate often have the effect of diminishing the tragedy of those whose lives are forever marked by what happened to them and by them during a war. Just yesterday I was speaking with a man who just returned from a trip to Israel. We spoke of many things, but he recalled how his father, a World War II veteran now deceased, had never spoken about his experiences in Germany during the war. His dad caught him playing one day with some relic of the war and asked him what he was doing.
"Killing Germans," the child replied.
His father was not pleased. He told the child, "Don't you ever forget that this belonged to someone's child." He put the relic away and never spoke of it again.

Poignant reminder, this, that the impact of war is generational. I recall seeing pictures a few years ago of children who didn't get killed during the Rwanda massacres. Missing arms, legs, hands and feet were commonplace because the weapon of choice was the machette. By now and continuing after I have died those children will grow to be adults, carrying with them a lifetime reminder of the horrors that happened during their childhood.

The report from Israel, incidentally, includes a few pieces of information not generally written about. It's not newsy, because it is widely known, that the rockets hitting Israel originate in North Korea and get to Southern Lebanon via Ian and Syria. (Rather like the high-tech tank busters used by Hezbollah that I hear are of French origin.) From what I can tell the ones that detonate are primitive but very damaging, the rocket equivalent of a shotgun.

It is instructive to read Sensing's comments about the bombs and "bomblets" being used in today's combat situations. More advanced (expensive?) weapons have features intended to minimize post-combat dangers.

Since 1991's Gulf War, when the US first identified the severe problems unexploded DPICM causes for postwar activities, US DPICM bomblets have been manufactured with a failsafe mechanism that explodes duds after an short interval has passed. Whether the IDF's munitions include this failsafe I do not know.
But the point of his post is well-made.
Even with the best dud rates of bomblets, there will be a signficant hazard for people after they move back to their homes in southern Lebanon. Particularly dangerous are the DPICM bomblets because they may be covered by a thin layer of soil from wind or rain runoff. They are small and difficult to see even lying on top of the ground. This will indeed be a serious postwar issue.

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