Retired Generals Renew Call for Total Antipersonnel Mine Ban

Human Rights Watch and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation today challenged President Clinton’s reluctance to join more than 100 other nations in signing a landmine ban treaty in December because of his stated belief that antipersonnel mines are essential to fighting a war in Korea. Drawing on a never-before-publicized fifteen volume set of U.S. Army documents on landmine warfare, the two organizations released a new report, In its Own Words, that seriously undermines the Pentagon’s current contention that any landmine ban must have exceptions for Korea and for so-called smart mines.

The U.S. is in the midst of an internal review of its landmines policy aimed at deciding whether or not to join the diplomatic initiative known as the Ottawa Process, with negotiations on a comprehensive ban treaty in Oslo in September and the treaty signing in Ottawa in December. Among the more than 100 nations already committed are key NATO allies such as Canada, France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, as well as many of the nations where mines have been used the most extensively, such as Angola and Bosnia.

The Army documents recently obtained by the Human Rights Watch Arms Project reveal that dissent within the U.S. military about the utility of antipersonnel mines dates back to at least the Korean War. The documents, prepared in 1972, include U.S. casualty statistics, unit records, monthly action reports, field manuals and operational plans for the Korean and Vietnam wars.

“After the release of In its Own Words there should be no foundation left for those who want to argue that we should fight to hold on to such weapons,” retired Lieutenant General James Hollingsworth declared. Hollingsworth, who commanded U.S. forces in South Korea from 1973 to 1976, renewed his call first made with fourteen other retired U.S. military commanders in April 1996 for President Clinton to ban the use, manufacture, stockpiling and export of antipersonnel mines.

Others echoing the call for a ban include retired generals Henry Emerson, Robert Gard, Douglas Kinnard, and David Palmer.

Pentagon and Clinton Administration officials have consistently said that antipersonnel mines save the lives of U.S. troops and are essential to the defense of South Korea. But the Army’s own archival material and the assessments of numerous former military commanders published in In Its Own Words seriously call into question these two assumptions. The report reveals that:

One-third of all U.S. Army casualties in Vietnam were caused by mines.

More U.S. Army mine casualties in Korea were caused by U.S. defensive minefields than by the enemy’s mines.

The main source of landmines for the enemy in both Korea and Vietnam was captured U.S. mines and mine components.

By 1969, ninety percent of all component parts in mines used against U.S. troops in Vietnam were U.S.-made.

In Vietnam, the enemy lifted 10,000 of 30,000 U.S. antipersonnel mines in one minefield.

In Korea, 100,000 U.S. mines out of a shipment of 120,000 were lost to the enemy.

It was the U.S., and not North Korea or North Vietnam, which introduced mines en masse into Korea and Vietnam and the U.S. lost control of the weapon shortly thereafter. U.S. minefields were easily breached during the Korean War, sending U.S. troops retreating through their own unmarked minefields.

I have always been convinced that landmines caused more harm than good in Korea,” charged retired Lieutenant General Henry (Hank) Emerson, recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross (two occasions), five Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts. “I know a significant number of the landmines we encountered in Vietnam were of U.S. origin. They are a horrible weapon and they caused a very high proportion of our casualties in Vietnam.” In fact the first U.S. soldier to die in Vietnam perished in an antipersonnel mine blast.

[This report] should be required reading for any official, in or out of the military, who might have anything to do with shaping American policy on this crucial matter,” said retired Lieutenant General David R. Palmer, President, Walden University. “I never saw a situation where I thought the use of antipersonnel landmines would be wise militarily for American forces; nor can I envision one in theory.”

In Its Own Words provides powerful reinforcement to the compelling case to ban antipersonnel landmines-not only for humanitarian reasons, but also to serve the best interests of the military forces of the United States,” said retired Lt. General Robert Gard, President, Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Human Rights Watch and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation urge the Clinton Administration to drop its insistence that any ban on antipersonnel mines must include exceptions for the use of both long-lasting “dumb” mines and self-destructing “smart” mines on the Korean peninsula, and for the use of “smart” mines everywhere else. The U.S. military’s own archival resources presented in this report indicate that antipersonnel mines do not play an essential role in defending Korea or protecting the lives of U.S. soldiers.

Human Rights Watch and VVAF also call on the Clinton Administration to declare its support for the Ottawa Treaty process, to participate in the treaty negotiations in Oslo in September, and to go to Ottawa in December 1997 to sign an international mine ban treaty without exceptions. The U.S. should also undertake immediately unilateral steps toward a ban, including renunciation of the production of antipersonnel mines, and the development of a timetable for the destruction of both “dumb” and “smart” mines, as opposed to current policy which only calls for destruction of three-fourths of its four million “dumb” mines and none of its ten million “smart” mines.

Copies of In its Own Words: The U.S. Army and Antipersonnel Mines in the Korean and Vietnam Wars are available from the Publications Department, Human Rights Watch, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6104, for $7.50 (North America) and $11.00 (International). Visa/MasterCard accepted.

Share This:

Leave a Reply