Peace Time: The Curse Of Okinawa

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October 25,2008:  Yet another unexploded World War II warhead was recently found inside the U.S. Kadena air base on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Bomb disposal experts removed the five inch (127mm) aircraft rocket to where it could be destroyed. Okinawa was the scene of a major battle during World War II, where millions of shells, rockets and bombs were used as invading Americans fought Japanese defenders. Most of the of the buildings on the island were destroyed by these explosive devices. But many of those explosives did not go off, and were buried in the rubble and earth. Since then, every few years, more are uncovered. The recent find was near one of the base entry gates, a hundred meters from a residential neighborhood. Everything in the area was shut down for half a day, as bomb disposal teams came in to disarm the weapon and haul it away.

World War II era munitions continue to show up throughout Europe and Asia. Although most of the millions of land mines were removed from combat zones within a few years of the war ending in 1945, there are still a huge number 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 (over ten percent, for some manufacturers) bombs, artillery and mortar shells 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 were left in bunkers, or elsewhere on the battlefield, and get buried and lost. During the World War II battle for Okinawa, the Japanese troops used hundreds of caves, and many may never be found. Many other lost munitions eventually get found by farmers, or anyone digging up the ground for construction. London, Tokyo and Berlin, three of the most heavily bombed cities during World War II, still suffer from construction crews unearthing unexploded bombs.

The problem goes back farther than World War II. Unexploded munitions from the World War I (which ended in 1918), and 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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