Explosive content

To opponents of land mines, the image of a single impoverished child scrounging in a minefield should be enough to sway any proponent of buried ordnance.

But that’s hardly a realistic scenario, says Bruce Cockburn.

“Multiply that image by millions of children like that,” he suggests.

“Land mines in the modern world are a plague, really, comparable to AIDS and to the other strange, mysterious evils we’ve inflicted on ourselves in the 20th century,” Cockburn declares.

In our part of the world, where land mines aren’t a day-to-day reality, we have no real conception of the nightmare they entail, he adds.

To help spread the word, Cockburn has signed on as a recurring performer in the yearly Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation’s Concerts for a Landmine Free World.

Fellow musician Emmylou Harris launched the series in 1998, following an eye-opening trip to land-mine-littered parts of Cambodia and Vietnam with foundation President Bobby Muller, co-founder of the Nobel Prize-winning global campaign to ban buried explosives.

Cockburn and Harris are joined on this tour — five dates only, with stops in Raleigh; Asheville; Atlanta; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Birmingham, Ala. — by Mary Chapin Carpenter and Patty Griffin.

The concerts commemorate the Sept. 18, 1997, signing of the Ottawa Treaty banning the use of land mines. The nearly 150 countries that have signed it declare that under no circumstances will they use, make, stockpile or transfer anti-personnel mines.

Land-mine opponents see two ways to deal with the deadly devices: remove the ones now in the ground, and stop putting in new ones.

“The only way to ensure that we won’t put any more in is to have a treaty banning them,” Cockburn declares, “and to have nobody making them and nobody buying them.”

Among the countries that haven’t signed are China, Russia, India, Pakistan — and the United States.

“The holdouts are pretty big,” Cockburn admits. “But the fact that 146 countries have undertaken not to use land mines means that the market for them has shrunk by that much.”

It could shrink a lot more, he adds.

“The U.S. is a role model for much of the rest of the world, so whatever America does, other people will be encouraged to do,” Cockburn posits.

U.S. resistance hinges on the Pentagon’s belief that land mines are still a peacekeeping necessity. The Korean situation is often cited as an example, the idea being that “the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas is dependent entirely on its success on the basis of land mines,” Cockburn explains. “Which is basically bulls••t.

“My own personal take on it is that the old generals are so used to the idea of having land mines that giving them up just seems completely heretical,” he continues. “But there are other high-ranking officers and ex-officers — and certainly lots of rank-and-file soldiers — in the world who will tell you that they’d be happy to see the end of land mines.”

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