Weapons Potentially Inhumane: The Case of Cluster Bombs

Pallets of 155 mm artillery shells containing "HD" mustard gas at Pueblo chemical weapons storage facility in Colorado, 2009. U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity

The speaker is a retired colonel in the American army. He has seen three wars at close hand and still limps as the result of an encounter with a German land mine. When he talks about antipersonnel weapons, and about fighting a war in which civilians may be in the line of fire, he can still do so with complete authority and without reservations: "I'd just as soon see a dozen civilians go before one soldier."

The field commander's concern on behalf of his men-a concern shared in armies throughout history-has been transformed into a particularly cruel reality by the nature of modern war. In the Vietnam War, it has been estimated by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Refugees and Escapees that as many as 425,000 civilians lost their lives in South Vietnam alone between 1965 and 1973. Other wars have seen as great a proportionate toll on civilians, but largely because of hardship and deprivation or individual acts of massive destruction. While the final grim bombing of Hanoi reminds us that the Vietnam War was not free of such events, the great bulk of civilian casualties came in the day-to-day conduct of a war from which they could not escape.

No side had a monopoly on generating such massive human suffering. The Vietcong and North Vietnamese certainly were not lacking in the will or ingenuity to cause pain. But they were no match for the Americans in terms of the hardware to do it.

One particular kind of hardware employed in Vietnam is now receiving increasing attention, as it will play an even more important role in future police actions and wars, both conventional and guerrilla. "Area weapons" are so named because of their dispersion characteristics. By virtue of the enormous territory they can cover, such weapons present a strong potential danger to noncombatants. An additional element of controversy stems from their classification as "antipersonnel weapons"-munitions that are effective primarily or solely against human beings.

Both in design and in its practical

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