David H. Hackworth
April 2, 1996


Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and 14 other combat-experienced generals want to ban anti-personnel land mines.

This platoon of senior retired brass is so gung-ho for mines to go the way of mustard gas that this week they're running an open letter in The New York Times calling on President Clinton "on an urgent basis" to "lead in efforts to achieve a total and permanent international ban on the production, stockpiling, sale and use of anti-personnel land mines."

Fifty years ago, as a 15-year-old boy soldier, I witnessed my first combat death when an Army captain slopped on a Yugoslav land mine in northern Italy. It ripped off both his legs, mercifully killing him instantly. ,Mines have sharpened my attention span and increased my fears on battlefields ever since.

I saw hundreds of land mine casualties during the Korean War and thousands more in Vietnam. One of the two battalions I commanded in Vietnam., the 4th Battalion, 39th Infantry', took over 1,800 dead and wounded from mines and booby traps over an 18-month period in the Mekong Delta, where every rice paddy and patch of jungle was carpeted with these insidious implements of horror. Believe me, we all stared long and hard at a piece of dirt before putting a foot down, a practice employed by many -- including this writer -- long after leaving Gen. William Westmoreland's killing fields.

Since becoming a writer of war for Newsweek magazine, I've seen thousands of people blasted apart in .Africa. Asia, Latin America and, just two months ago, the Balkans, where the crazies have installed over 3 million manes.

All my experiences have left me with these conclusions:

More friendlies are killed by their own land mines than by enemy soldiers.

Land mines are dumb. They cannot tell a soldier from a civilian, a child from, an adult, a tank from a tricycle.

Mines are not tactically or strategically important weapons and have never won a battle or stopped a determined enemy from penetrating a defensive position.

Mines kill more civilians after the shooting war has ended than soldiers during the war. The International Red Cross estimates that over 20,000 civilians are killed each year by mines left over from previous wars.

The United Nations says there are over 105 million mines deployed in 64 countries around this insane globe and almost a billion more stored in the warehouses of supposedly civilized nations such as the United States, China and Russia.

Land mines leave the cruelest war wounds. Ask a Vietnam-era combat medic or grunt what a mine will do to a human body. It can shred off limbs, blow out eyes and puncture bodies with dozens of ugly, difficult- to-repair injuries.

Mines also play havoc with the human mind. Hiking through a minefield for a day, a week or a year makes young men old and cynical. Many of the Vietnam vets on our streets wear that 1,000-yard stare because they're still haunted by the horror of mines.

Yet it seems that a lot of the active U.S. Army brass can't let mines go. The Army's chief spinmeister Maj. Gen. F.A. Gordon says, 'A ban would severely restrict a commander's ability to conduct successful combat operations.'

This is pure Pentagon-speak. Any soldier who has walked the walk on the battlefield knows this is not true. When Gen. George Patton was getting his tanks together, guys with Gordon's institutional mind-set fought to keep their precious horses. Anyone who's been in combat knows mines have minimum military value.

And besides preserving tradition, there's big dough involved. In the 1996 U.S. Army budget, almost $100 million was for land mine warfare.

If you have any doubts that land mines should be banned, visit the Vietnam black wall in our nation's capital. There you will find 7,423 names of American warriors who died in Vietnam from mine wounds. Most were killed by American munitions recycled by the enemy.

It's well past time that mines, the most inhumane killer on the battlefield, be eliminated. I salute the retired generals for sounding off. This could well be their finest hour.