Landmine Nobel Sweet Irony

Article excerpt

CAMPAIGNERS AGAINST landmines, who recently received the Nobel Peace Prize, hailed a new ban treaty as a gift to future generations. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, some 60 to 100 million mines are still scattered throughout 69 countries. These weapons kill or maim more than 25,000 people a year. Due to the tragic death of Princess Diana, the evil effects of landmines are finally getting centre stage.

It is ironic that the most recent Nobel Peace Prize has gone to campaigners against landmines. A Nobel Peace Prize is worth more than $1 million, and is one of the world's top awards. Yet the founder of the prize, Alfred Nobel, earned millions by selling armaments and explosives throughout the world. Nobel has been described as the Lord of Dynamite, because he invented and named the explosive, taking its name from the Greek "dynamos," meaning power.

The First and Second World Wars devoured millions of lives, indirectly due to the technological advances in Nobel's laboratories. In the past, the gunsmoke from cannons used to stop battles, because massive clouds of smoke blocked the view of the generals. Nobel, however, invented smokeless gunpowder, enabling the slaughter at Flanders Fields to go on hour after hour, without ceasing.

In many ways, Alfred was following in his father Immanuel's footsteps. Immanuel Nobel invented land and sea mines as a cost-effective means of protecting Sweden's roads and beaches. The Swedish government, however, showed no interest; so he moved to Russia, where he helped the Russians beat back the English and French fleets with the use of mines. English Admiral Napier recorded in his diary: "The Gulf of Finland is full of infernal machines."

The Nobel family made millions by manufacturing nitroglycerine, an unstable explosive. After Alfred's 20-year-old brother Emil was killed in a nitroglycerine explosion, their father Immanuel had a crippling stroke. In response, Alfred devoted himself to discovering a new safe explosive. By combining nitroglycerine with kieselguhr clay, Alfred created dynamite. …

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