This week when most Americans are breathing a sigh of relief because it looks as though the Syrian crisis may be ended without bombs, it’s a good time to think of some of the other peacemakers who have worked to remove some of the worst weapons from the world. Jody Williams and the people who worked with her to ban the use of landmines is one of the most prominent.
Just over twenty years ago, in 1992, Williams started the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) which worked tirelessly to convince countries and international organizations to join together to outlaw the use of landmines. These mines have been used for several centuries in wars in Asia, Europe and the Americas, but their use increased toward the end of the twentieth century. Television brought sickening pictures of the victims, many of them children, into the world’s living rooms.
Landmines are shocking weapons when they are used to kill and maim soldiers, but their use goes far beyond that. Anti-personnel landmines stay buried in the earth for years—for generations—and the damage they do can be seen in the number of people with only one leg, or no hands, or other body parts missing. Small children hobble around on crutches because a seemingly harmless walk through a field led to a devastating explosion that brought pain and misery. No number of free crutches or doctor services can undo the lasting harm.
When Jody Williams decided to start the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, it must have looked like an overwhelming job. Slowly and painfully through collecting enough money to raise the issue publicly and finally shame most governments into signing the ban, the organization made headway. 161 states have signed the Ottawa Treaty banning the use of anti-personnel landmines although neither Russia nor the U.S. has done so. The U.S. has said that it needs to have the freedom to use landmines in the DMZ between North and South Korea. Americans still need to push our legislators into finding other ways to fight wars—methods that don’t involve the killing and maiming of innocent civilians.
But this week Russia and the U.S. are working together to find a way to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria. It’s not a perfect solution to the violence in Syria; the civil war continues there, but it is an important effort. If Syria can be persuaded to give up chemical weapons and destroy them, the world will have moved one small step toward greater peace.Perhaps someday John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov will join the roll of peacekeepers. If Jody Williams and her colleagues can persuade countries to ban landmines, surely two powerful government officials can work together to eradicate another one of the world’s devastating war tools—chemical weapons. That would surely be a blessing for all of us.