Studies long stored in the Pentagon’s archives show that tens of thousands of American soldiers were killed or maimed in the Vietnam and Korean wars by American-made land mines, according to a report by groups seeking American support for an international moratorium on the weapons.
The report - based on a review of a 15-volume set of Army documents on mine warfare - suggests that American-made mines often have been as great a threat to American soldiers as to the enemy.
The authors from the Human Rights Watch arms project, a Washington-based arms control group, and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation said the report demonstrates the need for the Clinton administration to abandon its claim that land mines safeguard the lives of American troops.
According to the report, Army research shows that nearly 90 percent of the mines and booby traps used against American troops in Vietnam either were American-made or were manufactured by enemy troops with captured American components.
About 64,000 American troops were killed or injured by mines in the Vietnam War.
The review of the archival documents was praised by a group of prominent retired American military commanders.
“There should be no foundation left for those who want to argue that we should fight to hold on to such weapons,” said one of the former commanders, Lt. Gen. James Hollingsworth, who led all American forces in South Korea in the 1970s.
Lt. Gen. David Palmer, retired from the military after 35 years in uniform and now president of Walden University in Naples, Fla., said the report “should be required reading for any official, in or out of the military, who might have anything to do with shaping American policy on this crucial matter.”
Several retired military commanders have called on the Clinton administration to join the moratorium on production and use of land mines, which is being organized by the Canadian government. More than 100 nations already have committed themselves to a treaty to ban the weapons, which is expected to be signed in December in Ottawa, the Canadian capital.
But the administration has not decided whether to join the treaty negotiations, citing a belief within the Pentagon that land mines are still needed, especially in South Korea, where American mines are seen as a critical defense against an invasion from the North.
The Pentagon said on Monday that it had no immediate comment on the new report, even though the documents cited come from the military’s own files.
The Army archives were obtained from the Pentagon by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who is sponsoring legislation to ban new deployments of land mines by the United States beginning in 2000.
The report found that in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War, American soldiers were often maimed or killed when they were forced to retreat across their own minefields, or when enemy troops captured stockpiles of American mines and used them against American troops.
According to the report, the archives show that the main source of mines for the enemy in both Korea and Vietnam was captured American mines and American-made components. In Korea, the report said, more American soldiers were killed or injured by American-made mines than by mines made by the enemy.
“The Pentagon argument that anti-personnel mines serve as an important defensive weapon that safeguards American lives in combat is undermined by its own archival resources,” the report said. “It was the U.S., and not North Korea or North Vietnam, which introduced mines en masse into Korea and Vietnam.
Leahy said the report was additional proof of the immorality of American policy on land mines, since the Army records seem to show that thousands of American soldiers have been killed or maimed by weapons that were supposed to protect them.
“If land mines are the real key to the defense of South Korea, then we’d better start the surrender planning in Seoul today,” he said in an interview.