We all know that war is a nasty, messy, vicious event. Nevertheless, sometimes war is necessary. Unfortunately, in our world, evil exists, and sometimes the evil is in the form of a dictator, a nation, or a religious group. Wars might be fought differently, but the end result is the same…death and destruction. Still, most wars have an ending point. One side surrenders, and admits defeat. That might seem like the end of the story, but it isn’t. All too often the process of cleaning up the mess after the war, takes far longer than the war itself. In fact, sometimes the cleanup never really happens at all. Such was the case with landmines in Angola. These mines are a legacy of over four decades of fighting during a 14 year war of independence against its former colonial ruler of Portugal and another 30 years of civil war. Like people who put signs up to advertise a garage sale, sometimes they don’t remember where all the landmines were, or maybe they did, and simply didn’t care. Either way, the landmines were killing and maiming people…innocent people. That was the mission my 16th cousin once removed, Princess Diana took upon herself. She wanted an international ban on landmines. Her comments, which were made during a January 15, 1997 visit to Angola to see for herself some of the victims of landmines, were seen as out of step with government policy by the Junior Defense Minister, Earl Howe, who described the princess as a “loose cannon”, ill-informed on the issue of anti-personnel landmines. Nevertheless, Diana was right about the weapons of war that were left behind. The task of cleaning up the mess may have been a daunting one, but the result of leaving them behind was gruesome.
Of course, these weren’t the only messes that needed to be cleaned up after a war. There were buildings to be rebuilt, the dead to bury, the economy to build up, and the government often had to be restructured. The country might have been the enemy, but if things weren’t handled right after the surrender, the same evil people might move right back into power. Of course, cleaning up the mess…often known as policing the nation that has now surrendered, is no easy task either. Most people don’t want the winning army there. Their country is nothing like it used to be. Some believe that is a good thing, but it was still their home, and now everything feels…wrong. Their homes are destroyed, food is can be scarce…water too. Everything they have known for their whole life is gone. No wonder they don’t want the army there…or maybe they secretly do, because their home has become just a very scary place. I suppose that is why a part of the surrender agreements include restoration of the country, and the new government and police.
One more part of cleaning up the mess is the task of trying the perpetrators for their war crimes. That was the main reason that Hitler took his own life. He knew that he would be tried and convicted of the crimes he had committed, and he couldn’t face what would follow. He would have been left to the mercy of his countrymen, and he would have ended up being hung, like Saddam Hussein was for his war crimes. A dictator can’t brutally kill the people who he is in power over and not be hated…truly hated, no matter what the people act like when they are forced to act loyal. The trials for war crimes in many ways seems to the world, as if one nation is trying to be the world police. The United States has been accused of this before, but the reality remains, that someone has to try these evil criminals, and someone has to clean up the mess. In the absence of another nation to step up, the job usually falls to the United States.
After Bob and I had the opportunity to view the old minesweeper, now located off Picnic Park near Edmonds, Washington, I have been curious about mines and minesweepers, in general. That said, I did a little research on them, and was surprised at what I found. Landmines have been in existence since the early Ming Dynasty in the 1400s. It seems such a strange thing to me to set explosives in areas where they could not only trigger an explosion when an enemy crosses paths with them, but they could also trigger explosions when their own citizens crossed paths with them. I suppose those accidental friendly hits would be considered collateral damage, and were acceptable losses in the grand scheme of things, but it still seems like a horrible way to guard an area. Still, it was definitely an effective way to guard and area, border, or waterway.
Nevertheless, I can understand why countries such as England, who is surrounded by water, and therefore vulnerable to certain types of attacks, especially during the earlier wars, like World War I and World War II, might have decided as they did in World War II, to lay mine traps to guard against movement by the German U-Boats in World War II. The U-Boats were feared by all their enemies, and considered one of the biggest dangers in the war by Winston Spencer Churchill. They made it almost impossible to have any prior knowledge of their presence, until it was too late to get away from them. Still, putting mines in the English Channel, where your own ships had to maneuver too, almost seems like taking a risk that would be greater than the benefit that it provided. Nevertheless, submarine traps were laid in the English Channel, and they served a purpose.
When considering a minesweeper in World War II, when ships were made of metal, I was curious as to why there would be a wooden hulled minesweeper in World War II. It has come to my attention that the minesweeper in Edmonds, may not have seen action at all. There seems to be a bit of confusion as to when it was built, and when it came to it’s final resting place in the Edmonds area. If it was indeed built for World War II, and never saw action, then my thought was why was it a wooden hull. I found the answer to that in my research on mines. There are several types of mines, as I mentioned earlier. Landmines were the earliest, but when it came to floating mines, they were mostly magnetic. Now when you put a metal minesweeper, or any other metal ship or submarine, near a magnetic mine…well, I’m sure you can get a picture of the seriousness of the problem they would have. A wooden hulled minesweeper on the other hand would have to actually come into contact with the mine to have that problem. Perhaps this was the reason for mines laid under the surface of the water and held in place by a cable. They were more invisible to the eye, and so created the ability to trigger the explosion when an unsuspecting ship or submarine found themselves in the wrong place. These mines blew a hole in the hull, rendering the ship or submarine helpless, as it took on water and quickly sunk.
There have been stories in the news over the years, of mines showing up on the shore years after they were laid. It was a big problem, as were the landmines that were left after the wars. No clear record were kept apparently, and so removal of the mines was never made a priority. I remember when Princess Diana made it one of her priorities to find a way to get those landmines removed. The injuries to so many people who wandered into a minefield just tore at her heart. In hearing about the stories of tragedies resulting from those minefields, my mind cringed at the thought of those injuries. I found myself thinking that her quest to remove them was such an important one. Because I love to hike, I can see how easy it could be to create a trail that would cross paths with a minefield that has been around for decades. Sometimes, the necessary weapons of our warfare bring such destruction, that you find yourself wondering why people and nations can’t just get along, but we all know that is not to be. As long as there has been life on Earth, there have been wars of one kind or another, and I don’t expect that to change now, so these weapons will continue to exist and to be a big problem.