A brief glimpse at Aldo’s workbench.
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My friends have found it difficult to understand what I do within the Global Landmine Survey.In Vietnam, during my third trip (May 2004), a succession of encounters and half-products offered an opportunity to make this more graphic.This trip exposed both cognitive and emotional parts of my involvement in this survey.It was conducted jointly by the Vietnamese army and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation.
I had visited two communes in central Vietnam before, for a pre-test of the questionnaire. In May 2004, I worked chiefly on statistics of the contamination - to aid the selection of communes to survey.
The army canvassed provincial administrations for contamination ratings of over 550 communes in our survey region. I was anxious to see how these administrative opinions were validated by the historical record and by conditions on the ground.
With map shapes, US Air Force bombing data and recent population data that a colleague supplied, I set out to build maps and statistical models.Here is the map of one province:
What is “heavily contaminated”? • In the map, you can easily discern clusters of communes that the provincial administration rated as “heavily contaminated”. • These clusters lie along one of the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply lines in North – South direction. • They were continuously attacked. On one of the communes, US war planes dropped 143,000 bombs.
My colleague, Mrs. Hien, was decidedly lighter than any of the cluster bomb canisters piled up at the scrap metal dealer we visited.On a serious note: what mixture of data should we then use for selecting communes for the survey?
Expert opinion, history, and the census • I reasoned that local administrations must have formed their assessments on the basis of a number of factors: • They would certainly be influenced by the magnitude of the bombardments before 1975. • The more densely populated a commune, the more serious the problems that a given number of unexploded bombs creates. • Unknown local factors would enter, too.
Remembering how I watched a local guide explain a pattern in the B-52 bombing craters, .. .. I built this model:
You should be able to easily see two things: As we move from “None” to “Light” to “Heavy”, the average magnitude of the bombing too goes up. Let me shows this with animated arrows:
The second conspicuous pattern is the directed cloud that increasingly forms as we move from the left to the center and to the right panel. In fact, in the “Heavy” panel, there is a clear negative correlation visible. In other words, as predicted, the historic bombing intensity and the contemporary population density compensate for each other in prompting the official rating. The red line indicates this:
Based on this analysis, we went back to the military to propose criteria for the selection of districts and communes to survey in central Vietnam.
What shocked me at the time, was not the monstrosity of the violence, but how cold I felt when I did these analyses.Neither did I feel any sorrow for the victims, nor any anger toward the perpetrators. I suspected myself capable of the same absence of emotion if I had been a B-52 mission planner.Only once did I crack. This was when ..
.. we were asking elderly men who had spent the war years in the town under survey, to confirm the bombing zones on a map that we brought to them. And they said:
“Your map is wrong.We know this, because the bombs fell on the neighboring village, not us.They killed every one – men, women and children. We had one burial ceremony for all the following morning.”
Who can know the tragedies hidden in a statistic?Only a few reveal themselves, in non-statistical moments.And yet, a measure is needed of the terror inflicted, and of the work remaining.This is what we try to do in the Landmine Survey.