Dear Mr. President,
I voted for you in 2008 and I will most probably vote for you in 2012.
I don’t live in the United States any more. In 2009 my wife and I moved to Cambodia. I work with a group of ex-child soldiers, widows, villagers and university graduates who are working in small villages around the country to clear landmines. With nearly 5,000,000 left I can spend the rest of my life here. My wife teaches English in a small school to kids who are landmine victims, were born without limbs, were abandoned, contracted polio, are orphans and come from families too poor to care for them.
My social security check pays the mortgage on my home in the US. I closed my business a few years ago when my friend asked for my help. I never went back and haven’t regretted it for a moment.
I wore my country’s uniform, albeit for a short time, and I proudly fly the flag of my country from my home in Cambodia. I am no apologist for the horrible and continuing damage America did over here, but I do make sure that people understand that my country is the largest contributor to humanitarian de-mining in the world, has not used landmines in over 20 years, has ceased their manufacture, outlawed their exportation, and began destroying our stockpiles.
Even though we have refused to sign the Mine Ban Treaty, to which 157 nations have affixed their signatures. We are, again, in the company of countries who do not share our stated values. Countries like China, Russia, Cuba, Iran, Myanmar, Libya, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Somalia, to name but a few. Not a pleasant group of neighbors.
Many of the people I speak to about landmines, Americans and others, tell me it is not their problem. But it is our problem. John Donne said “No man is an island.....any man’s death diminishes me for I am involved in mankind. Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”
You inspired us when you told us “I am my brothers keeper.” Don’t forget that. We haven’t.
- My brother is a 42 year Cambodian man who cleared 50,000 landmines by hand.
- · My brother is a 20 year old Cambodian man who lost both his arms when he picked up a cluster bomb from his uncle’s field.
- · My sister is a 24 year old woman who is building programs to empower Cambodian women – rather than pursuing a graduate degree.
- · My brother is a 55 year old Englishman who has been clearing landmines around the world for nearly 30 years.
- · Our brothers and sisters are dying every day around the world because there is not enough money to clear the aftermath of wars they never knew. Wars we waged in their name, on their soil.
I believe in the dream that all men, and women, are created equal and we all have the right to a life without the fear of war. While my country has not always left the world a better place, we mostly recognize our responsibility.
The work my friends do here is numbing. It is tedious, strenuous, and far more rewarding than anything I have ever done before. It is also partly funded by my government, my fellow Americans, and I thank them from the depths of my soul. Every mine we clear, every unexploded shell we destroy is a life changed for the better.
This month, (my Christmas) our de-mining team built a school for 150 kids who had nowhere else to go. There are now nearly 200 kids waiting for us to finish the building so they can have classes, and a life they never thought available. This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of people around the world, who came together when they saw a need. Helping their brothers and sisters.
In 2012, Mr. President, our country, to whom millions still look for leadership and inspiration, can step up and join over 150 other nations who have sworn to never again plant, or manufacture landmines; weapons that kill indiscriminately and for decades. Please, sign the mine ban treaty. These horrible weapons kill more innocents than enemies, more friendly soldiers than foe, and they last for generations.
I wish you peace and prosperity in the New Year. I do not envy your position or responsibility. But I admire your fortitude and dedication.
And I remain your fellow American.
Siem Reap, Cambodia