Walking Through A Minefield In NYC

Marco Grob's photos of landmine victims are on display for a one-day exhibit at the New Museum.
Marco Grob’s photos of landmine victims are on display for a one-day exhibit at the New Museum.

HOST INTRO: Landmines continue to be used all over the world – and continue to kill as many civilians than soldiers. The United States is the only Western nation who hasn’t signed the 1997 Mine Treaty Ban, committing to prohibiting the use of mines around the world. The United Nations Mine Action Service today gave New Yorkers a chance to experience what walking through a minefield is like. Eleanor Stanford took a walk.

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STANFORD: This morning, POST ROOM AMBI the top of the New Museum was turned into a minefield. At least – a virtual minefield. Behind gigantic windows with a view of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, I put on headphones and this is what I heard.

APP: Landmines: they are the ghosts of war, haunting millions decades after the conflicts that produced them have died.

This is Sweeper app, created by CriticalMass. It uses bluetooth technology to plant virtual landmines around the room.

APP: And right now, you are surrounded by landmines. Take your first step and see how far you make it. 0:13

I didn’t realize how close I was to a mine until it was too late.

APP: Explosion sound. The explosion has send countless fragments and debris shooting through your body.

This reproduces the way landmines claim their victims at random in Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan and many other countries.

I jumped – but remained unscathed. Student Erin Hines didn’t expect to step on a mine either.

HINES: It was kinda scary. Or, at least surprising.

She said the experience had definitely put landmines on her mind, but wasn’t sure how much good that would do.

The Director of the UN Mine Action Service Agnès Marcaillou (MARKAYOO) explained that raising awareness among people like Hines was the aim of the event. She says many people consider landmines to be a problem of the 1990’s. In fact, today landmines are providing ammunition for terrorists.

MARCAILLOU: When we think of suicide bombers, we do not think about where the explosives are coming from. And most of them are just lying on the ground.

It is extremely expensive to find and dismantle these landmines safely – which kill or maim 10 people around the world every day. Marcaillou estimates that the US has spent $2.2 billion on destroying landmines. But human rights organizations are putting pressure on the Obama administration to sign the 1997 Mine Treaty Ban. For, Marcaillou their reluctance to sign is not evidence of aggressive international policies

MARCAILLOU: The US is abiding by the treaty, the rest is a complicated internal process, where the government may have the will and the parliamentarians have a different way of looking at it. 0:13

So Obama might be willing, but Congress is opposing the policy review.

Ambassador Lincoln Bloomfield was a United States Defense Department official under George W. Bush. He says one of the reasons the US is reluctant to sign the treaty is the vulnerability of the US’s long-time ally South Korea. South Korea has placed landmines on the Korean border, a practice the treaty forbids. Bloomfield thinks the US’s signature on the treaty isn’t going to change anything.

BLOOMFIELD: It doesn’t take the landmines out of the ground. It doesn’t change any risk from the landmines. It’s more of an artificial way to do it and it’s not really the way a superpower treats allies. 0:13

Back on the seventh floor of Manhattan’s New Museum, POST AMBY 30 or 40 New Yorkers are milling around and getting a small taste of the fear and uncertainty of living among mines.

APP: Sound of explosion. You’ve just triggered a Prone One, Bouncing Betty device. Without cause or care, this callous weapon has made you a victim of a conflict you had nothing to do with. 0:13

For real victims of landmines there is no app to explain which type of device just blew off one of their limbs. There are no headphones to take off.

Eleanor Stanford, Columbia Radio News.

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