Peace Time: The Curse That Keeps on Giving

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March 6, 2007: Last month, a woman in southern Italy bought a sack of potatoes at a local market. When she got home, she found one of the potatoes was actually a hand grenade. And a World War II era grenade at that. The police were called, and were not terribly surprised. The bomb squad removed the grenade to a nearby park and blew it up. World War II era munitions continue to show up throughout Europe. Although most of the millions of land mines were removed from Europe within a few years of the war ending in 1945, there are still a huge number of of unexploded of grenades, shells and bombs buried all over the place. At least the mine fields were easy to find, although dangerous to clear. But the remaining munitions were left behind, in unrecorded locations, for some pretty simple reasons. First of all, many bombs, artillery and mortar shells (over ten percent, for some manufacturers) do not explode when they are supposed to, but just buried themselves into the ground. These shells are still full of explosives, and often have a fuze that, while defective, is often still capable of going off if disturbed. Other munitions are left in bunkers, or elsewhere on the battlefield, and get buried and lost. Most of these lost munitions eventually get found by farmers, or anyone digging up the ground for construction. The Italian woman got a grenade in a sack of potatoes that came from France, where farm automation and absent minded farm workers, can let things like this happen.

The World War II munitions will be showing up like this for a while yet. Unexploded munitions from the American Civil War, which ended in 1865, are still showing up, and some of them are still deadly. Currently, over a thousand World War II munitions are discovered each year in Europe.

 


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