I AM A GREAT fan of the television series ''The West Wing.'' Besides being entertaining, it thoughtfully presents both sides of serious and controversial issues, sometimes uncannily current ones, which is the case in this week's episode.
Tonight's show contains a subplot pertaining to US policy on banning land mines, which is now under review by the Bush administration. It happens to be an issue that I have been actively involved in through the prodigious efforts of Bobby Muller and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation since 1997.
Like most Americans, I was unaware of the proliferation of land mines around the globe and unaware of the devastation caused by these hideous weapons. There are an estimated 60 million to 85 million land mines in more than 60 countries around the world. Most of these countries are poor, and they struggle to support their citizens on agrarian economies, which are crippled when the land is littered with mines.
The horrific statistics speak for themselves: Land mines claim a new victim every 22 minutes. They are designed to maim rather than kill their victims, and their victims are almost always innocent civilians - a woman gathering firewood or a child tending a herd. And because land mines remain in the ground years after conflict has officially ended, they continue to hold the land and the people hostage. Refugee populations cannot be safely returned to fields that can no longer be safely farmed. There is no peace for countries littered with the evil of land mines.
The humanitarian side of the issue will, I'm sure, be addressed by President Bartlet's staff. But they might also take into consideration that land mines in today's warfare are not only obsolete but, in the opinion of many experienced and highly respected military minds, militarily irresponsible. They limit mobility and kill or maim indiscriminately. Our own US forces are already suffering casualties from land mines in Afghanistan.
In 1997 the campaign to ban land mines was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, largely in recognition of its efforts leading up to the Ottawa Treaty banning land mines, which has been signed by 142 nations (including our NATO allies). Most Americans assume that the United States has already officially given its support to this worldwide effort, especially since we led the way by being the first nation to enact a one-year ban on the export of land mines in 1992 and have since contributed millions of dollars to humanitarian demining programs around the world. Unfortunately, we have not signed the Ottawa Treaty, making it more acceptable for countries like Iraq, China, Russia, India, and Pakistan to refuse a seat at this most historic and unprecedented table.
So for an hour tonight, the policy debate around land mines will be dramatized for the American people, at least in a fictional context. And I will be watching with interest to see what President Bartlet will do. When the hour has ended, the tragedy of land mines - this plague of terrorism in slow motion - will still loom heavy in a very real world, and the question will still remain: Will President Bush do the right thing and ban land mines now?
Emmylou Harris is a Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter. In 1998, she launched Concerts for a Landmine Free World to raise money for the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation's work with land mine survivors.
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