Falling from a supersonic bomber, or fired from a cannon or a self-propelled artillery piece, the shell splits open, releasing a cloud of bomblets that explode in bright orange bursts of sharp and molten shrapnel. Indiscriminately, each fragment burns as easily through tank armor as it cuts through clothing and human skin. More often than not, the skin is not covered with a military uniform. Bomblets that fail to explode will remain, perhaps for years, hidden in the soil, hanging from trees, or embedded in roofs and walls until a child or a sudden shift sets them off.
“How do these cluster weapons square with the just war theory?” David Sperry asked the presenters at last Tuesday night’s presentation (October 30, 2007) at Luther Seminary. The criteria of a just war, by which we reassure ourselves of the rightness of our causes and conduct in war, include the stipulation that only the duly appointed soldiers of duly appointed armies are to be targets of other duly appointed soldiers of other duly appointed armies. No answer was given to David’s question, and frankly, I see no good answer to it. The practice and technology of warfare has long left the just war theory in the dust. Some estimates now put the proportion of civilian to military casualties at nine to one.
The presenters included Titus Peachey, U.S. Peace Educator of the Mennonite Central Committee, and four visitors with intimate personal experience with cluster bombs: two from Laos and two from Lebanon. Their stories included:
Ahmad, who, on the day of his fifth birthday, found and played with a cluster bomb dropped or fired by Israeli forces over his home in Lebanon. His father, Raet, travels and speaks in the memory of his son, and in advocacy against these weapons.
Phounsy Phasavaeng, of Laos, who, in childhood played in the forest with her nephew, only to lose him when he found a cluster bomblet, thought it was a toy, threw it against a tree and was killed in the ensuing explosion.
Sida Douangtasivilai, whose Laotian village was bombed during the Vietnam War, and whose husband was killed and whose son was injured when he accidentally struck a hidden cluster bomb with his hoe while farming.
Bassam Chamoun, of Lebanon, who has directly experienced all the conflicts in South Lebanon since he was five years old, and who works with Mennonite Central Committee as country representative.
We learned about the work of these resource persons as educators and advocates in their own countries. But as important as education and de-mining are, the more important thing is that no more cluster bombs be sent and used. Their use has been so extensive in this last decade (Iraq, the former Yugoslavia, to name a few recent places) that demining is not keeping up with “remining.” This year, eighty-one countries agreed to sign a treaty banning cluster bomb use by 2008. The list does not include the United States, but bills are in process in both houses of the U.S. Congress, about which you can write or call your representative http://leahy.senate.gov/press/200709/090707.html
For more information, check out the MCC website at http://www.mcc.org/clusterbombs/
Our thanks for the Tuesday night presentation (and other events around the cluster bomb tour) to Virgil Wiebe, law professor at the University of St. Thomas, and activist and advocate against mines and cluster bombs, as well as the UST students who helped with the resources, maps and logistics, and to all the others at Emmanuel Mennonite Church and Faith Mennonite Church who helped with lodging, food, transportation, etc, during the visit of our friends from MCC.
Mathew Swora, pastor