At first glance, we may have seen Princess Diana as one of the world’s most beautiful women who became iconic by dying young in a car crash in Paris in 1997. But equally, and more importantly, she should be remembered for her tireless campaign against the manufacture, sale, stockpiling, and placement of landmines.
Diana being filmed entering mine fields with mine clearance experts and comforting scarred and limbless victims contributed significantly to the 1999 Ottawa Convention banning landmines. The convention has been ratified by 161 nations, including every country in Europe. Noticeable by its omission is the United States, as well as Russia, China, India, and Pakistan.
The United Nations reports that up to 20,000 people a year are killed or maimed by mines, the majority women, children, and old people. It is believed that 100 million explosive devices are stored worldwide, almost 10% of them in the U.S., according to the Washington Post.
The U.S. has always defended its reluctance to sign the Ottawa Convention by making a distinction between their ‘intelligent’ mines, that are laid to protect troops and can be deactivated automatically, and the ‘lunatic’ mines that blow the legs off little girls collecting wood, children who weren’t even born when the conflicts were ongoing and the mines were planted. At the conference against landmines in Maputo, Mozambique (June 23 -27, 2014), a White House spokesman announced that the process of eliminating the nation’s arsenal of mines had begun and the country was moving closer to subscribing to the convention.
This is good news. But the fact that the United States was out of sync with its allies on landmines was perceived in Europe as a peculiarity equivalent to the anomaly that the richest, most powerful country in the world did not have universal health care.
With a Kenyan father and experience growing up in the poor villages of Indonesia, President Barack Obama at first glance is the least European President than any in that long procession of tall men with white faces and lineages they were happy to trace back to the old continent.
With his prolonged battle to introduce health care, dubbed Obamacare, and the first steps towards joining the 161 nations who, like Princess Diana, want to see a world free of landmines, the protracted, if spurious, polemic over Obama’s roots can finally be laid to rest. It appears that Obama is more European than any of his predecessors and first glances are often misleading.
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