Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Another Cost Of War

Caption: An unexploded cluster bomb somewhere in Laos, another reminder of an industrial war gone by. It was dropped in the 1970s during the Vietnam War either by U.S. forces or those of one of our allies.

Image credit: Project Pineapple

There's been only one true industrial war in America - the Civil War. It was one of the first, and in many ways we were lucky we got it out of our systems when we did. In an industrial war, it's not fun being the home team. Most Americans, I suspect, have no idea what that means. They should ask Cambodia, or they can ask most of the countries of Europe.

A couple of recent articles in Der Spiegel help explain why:

After the end of World War II the Baltic became a dumping ground for unused munitions. After decades of rust and decay in its grey waters, old mines, bombs and torpedoes pose a threat to the sea and the people who cross it, fish in it and live on its shores. Fishermen inadvertently net up to 3 tons of ordnance each year, says environmental expert Stefan Nehring.

Earthquake measuring devices regularly detect explosions in the sea, environmental engineer Marc Koch told an international conference on munitions in the Baltic in Berlin last weekend.

Toxic munitions are expected to wash up on Germany's coast in increasing quantities, warned Robert Zellermann, formerly in charge of bomb disposal in the northern German state of Lower Saxony. Most bombs have rusted and been spread by currents he said, adding that around one-third of the Baltic seabed was now strewn with munitions.

A Rusting Timebomb in the Baltic

As the article goes on to emphasize, much of that explosive hazardous waste was dumped there after the war, including a substantial stockpile of nerve agent left there by the United States. A planned natural gas pipeline may be presented with additional dangers, thanks to various bombs strewn on the ocean floor. It looks as though that stuff will be washing up on Baltic shores for decades to come.

What happens when it washes ashore? Here's a recent example:

Two women combing a beach on the German Baltic coast were taken to the hospital with serious burns to their hands and legs after accidentally touching pieces of phosphorus that had washed ashore and are believed to have come from World War II incendiary bombs, police said.

Phosphorus ignites when exposed to oxygen and burns at a heat of 1,300 degrees Celsius. The flames can only be extinguished with sand. Running into the water accelerates the fire.

Two Hurt by WWII Phosphorus on German Shoreline

There are lots of hidden costs to modern war - broken minds, lost opportunity, and delayed karma being just some. This is another hazard - the near-certainty that long after the last shot is fired, people will still be engaged in the dangerous business of cleaning up the mess.

It's hard to believe that we need more reasons to not start wars, but there's another one.

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