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Our rich underground January 27, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news.

Every now and then I read the news of a bomb unearthed during construction work. In Italy we have continued digging out those deadly devices since the end of World War II, and it just seems we will never entirely get rid of them – the removal of a bomb hardly makes the headlines nowadays. One was removed from Piazza del Municipio in Napoli today (see picture below).

If I think at the amount of land mines and bombs on the ground in war zones of today or yesterday, and the tragedies that are waiting to happen, I feel hopeless. Demining these regions will require an enormous amount of resources. Here is a field where technological advancements are needed – effective, large-scale land-mine detectors are direly needed. Squeeze your brains, we need new ideas here.



1. Phil Warnell - January 27, 2008

“Here is a field where technological advancements are needed – effective, large-scale land-mine detectors are direly needed. Squeeze your brains, we need new ideas here.”

I am totally sympathetic and empathetic to your plea. It also demonstrates for all how much we are willing to invest in the potential causes of tragedy while offering so little for its remedy. I would like to remind however that none of this is a result of technology, yet rather solely the human consequence of intent. I know what you are thinking is that I’m going to suggest that we concentrate on the abolition of war. That of course is obvious to all and yet I’m not that ambitious nor am I willing to wait for that day. First it must be recognized that with such weapons that the actual victims are in this case and quite often not the intended ones. Also, in this case it must be considered that the real perpetrators are often no longer with us.

What I then propose in addition to what you rightfully insist on doesn’t require technology but merely limited agreement. So as a recommended addition to amend the Geneva Convention I would propose that no weaponry is to be created or deployed to which it’s intended victim(s) cannot be reasonably be assigned and assured. It has always been questionable that we have even the right to kill our mortal enemies. There however is no argument that can be made that should allow us so callously kill those who are not. These weapons are random in nature and I only suggest that reason cannot be accepted to extend to this.



2. Amara - January 28, 2008

My suggestion is for folks to get involved in one of these nonprofit organizations: Landmine Action, Adopt-a-Minefield, Handicap International, Human Rights Watch, or Clear Path International (and there are more organizations working on this problem).

3. carlbrannen - January 28, 2008

Technology that breaks things is a heck of a lot easier to design than technology that puts things back together again. This has been true at all levels of technology mankind has ever had access to. I would think that it were possible to find large iron objects under the ground in 2008, but that it isn’t done in Italy because buried bombs are sufficiently rare compared to the amount of digging that is done.

I also wonder, how many people are actually killed by old ordnance in Italy say in the last decade? I read about old bomb discoveries all the time, but fatalities must be rarer. I couldn’t find any modern fatalities from WWII bombs at the BBC website, and one of their articles makes it clear that London still has a few hundred UXOs down there that are considered too difficult to remove.

There was one bomb that injured several children, along with a lot of “we were lucky” stories like this one: May 1995 – a 10-year-old girl took a 3ft shell into school as part of VE day anniversary celebrations. Her headmaster called out bomb disposal experts who blew it up. For those who are on the metric system, a “3ft” shell is almost a meter long and highly unlikely to be “girl-portable”.

After WW2, PoWs (mostly German and Italian I would suppose) were used to clear mines in various countries with a fairly high death rate. They must have had the problem largely solved by 1949 because that was when the use of prisoners to demine was declared illegal in the new Geneva Convention

4. dorigo - January 28, 2008

Hi Phil,

although I would subscribe your amendment immediately, I have to say it would be hard to enforce it. And the practice of bombing civilians is a vice hard to lose… Maybe better would be to sanction all makers of land mines. There is a Ottawa treaty which has not been signed by all countries on a ban of those devices…

Amara, as always thank you for the mass of information you make available.

Carl, true – large bombs buried underground almost never kill people nowadays. I was taking a more general view to the problem in the post…


5. carlbrannen - January 28, 2008

Tommaso, I guess what happens is that when an excavator hits metal where he’s not supposed to find it he knows enough to stop digging. If it’s not a bomb, it could be a gas pipeline or who knows what.

I still want to know how a 10-year-old girl carried a meter long shell to school.

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