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Tim Blagg

Blagg: This doesn’t click with me

It’s another one of those movie/TV cliches, one we’ve come to expect to see over and over again in various plots — and it’s totally false.

Like the old exploding car riff or the “all sprinklers go off when I trip one” — baloney I’ve complained about before — it’s hard to see where this started or why it became so ingrained in scriptwriters’ minds.

I’m talking about the “I stepped on a mine, and I heard it click, and if I step off, it will explode” situation.

It’s been used again and again for years.

For example, we just saw it in “The Monument Men.” Matt Damon’s character steps on an anti-tank mine in, oddly enough, a salt mine and has to be rescued by his friends, who pile bricks and stones on the mine’s pressure plate until they equal Damon’s weight.

The same idea was used, less comedically, in “Behind Enemy Lines” and again in the made-for-television movie “Redemption” based on the series “24.”

The fact is that mines don’t work that way. Step on one and it goes off — immediately. There’s no click, no time to contemplate whether to step away ... nothing.

Just a very big bang.

And if you think about it, why should there be any warning? The whole idea is to prevent soldiers from moving through an area and to wound or kill those who try.

The Hollywood myth may have started during World War II, when Allied soldiers first encountered the Germans’ “bouncing Betty” mine, which springs into the air before exploding. That gives a soldier about 3 to 4 seconds to contemplate his fate, but the fact that the mine is waist-high when it goes off makes those seconds pretty futile. There’s nowhere to hide.

Mines, of course, are brutal. They kill indiscriminately, and stay lethal for decades after they are laid. Millions upon millions have been put into the ground during and since World War II, and they continue to maim and kill every day.

About 75,000 people have been killed or injured by mines in the last 10 years around the world. Some were soldiers targeted by their enemies, but most were civilians — many of them children — who just happened to step in the wrong place.

“Smart” mines, which deactivate themselves after a preset time, have been developed, but most of those in place are dumb — and deadly.

There are various de-mining operations under way in many countries — the U.N. has a big role in this — but it’s a long and arduous task. And dangerous. Mine disposal experts predict that for every 5,000 mines cleared, one worker will be killed and two workers will be injured by accidental explosions.

The “improvised explosive device” — or IED — that is such a threat to our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan is, of course, a mine. Many of them are designed to destroy vehicles, rather than individual soldiers, and some are quite sophisticated — not “improvised” at all.

More than 2,500 Americans have been killed by IEDs over there, and they are so prevalent that an entirely new type of battle injury — traumatic brain injury — has been identified as a result. Efforts are under way to find ways to treat soldiers who come home impaired by their close proximity to an IED explosion.

Mines are dangerous, hard to find and defuse and indiscriminate in their killing.

But they NEVER obligingly click and allow you time to think about what to do.

Hollywood — are you listening?

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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