Thursday, August 02, 2012

The Things We Leave Behind

Back in November of 2009 I wrote a post titled The Ways We'll Be Remembered, in which I ruminated on the depressing thought that most of us will eventually disappear into the dim and distant past, leaving nothing of ourselves behind. My point was that it's important for us to keep up with skills like journal-keeping and letter-writing that will let people looking back from the future to know something about who we were and why our lives were, on some level, important ... if only to a small number of people. There are other ways to look at this, too. One of them is by considering the things we leave behind ... the things we once owned and have bequeathed to those who come after us. Things like books we owned (or wrote), pieces of art or knick-knacks we kept that somehow reflected our personalities, photographs and videos of us doing whatever it is we were doing, and so on.

Not all of the things we leave behind are benign, though.

The other day I found this fascinating article by Bryan Bender that originally appeared in The Boston Globe: Bomb Database Useful for Present, Future Wars. The article discusses the work of an Air Force officer named Jenns Robertson who is engaged in a long-term project to document every bomb dropped by the United States and its allies in war.

This is not a trivial, meaningless geek project. Since the invention of explosive ordnance, countless millions of bombs, rockets, missiles, grenades, mines, and booby traps of all kinds have been dropped, launched, fired, thrown, or planted in efforts to kill people wearing the wrong uniforms. Large parts of the world are saturated with unexploded bombs of all sorts that are a deadly and hidden threat, killing and maiming hundreds of people each year. The database Lieutenant Colonel Robertson is building will help identify the location (and type) of these devices, helping officials to find, remove, and destroy them before they can be accidentally - tragically - detonated. It will also help historians clarify what actually happened in the course of history's great battles.

A few years ago I read a fascinating book by Donovan Webster on this topic titled Aftermath: The Remnants of War, which documents the activities of brave (some might say, crazy) people whose job it is to scour old battlefields in search of unexploded ordnance - corroded, unstable, fragile, but still deadly - and remove it to safe locations where it can be destroyed. Each year, farmers in Vietnam and northern France, construction crews in Germany and Japan, and home renovators and gardeners all over Europe and Asia plow up, dig up, or otherwise discover deadly weapons, long buried or hidden and forgotten, that are patiently waiting to kill the unwary.

The US State Department even has an Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement dedicated to "... curbing the illicit proliferation of conventional weapons of war such as light automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades, and removing and destroying others, such as persistent landmines and abandoned stocks of munitions, that remain and pose hazards after the cessation of armed conflict."

It's bad enough that we have to worry about being safe from weapons legally owned and illegally employed here at home ... but is also a terrible shame that we need to spend time, resources, and lives making ourselves safe from weapons fired and forgotten many decades ago.

There are good things we can leave behind ...

and there are bad things we can leave behind ...

We need to write more and bomb less.

Have a good day, and write down what you did*. Someone, someday, will remember you.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* And don't touch any unexploded things.


eViL pOp TaRt said...

How true! I read that there are still cannon shells from the Battle of Verdun that explode. The present-day pictures of that battlefield still look tortured.

Sometimes newly discovered letters can reveal a metaphorically explosive secret.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

I love letters.
I still have love letters from my first love. I keep everything like that.
I still send written thank yous and letters and cards in the mail. I think I am the person keeping snail mail alive. :-)

The Bastard King of England said...

Some of leave boxes of old National Geographic magazines.

Big Sky Heidi said...

It sounds like a good idea, but considering the quantity of ordance, a impossible job. How old does a bomb have to be to be old enough to no longer be a threat?

Big Sky Heidi said...

Old love letters can, in some cases, serve as unexploded bombs.

Mike said...

Speaking of letters. When I was in DC I brought your letter with me. I was going to bring it to dinner and show you I still had it but FORGOT!

Bilbo said...

Angelique - good point about the explosive letters!

Peg - write to me! I'll write back!

King - they're nice, but way too heavy.

Heidi - there are bombs dating back at least to World War I that are still deadly, nearly 100 years after they were fired/dropped. And yes, the letters can be explosive in their own way, as Angelique pointed out, too.

Mike - blah, blah, blah...