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Ever since I was a kid, up until now that I'm middle-aged, I've always wondered why, in wars or otherwise, they bother digging down mines which explode when humans tramp on/near them. This seems like such an insanely inaccurate, indirect, devilish and, most of all, stupid way of going about things.

The obvious main problem is that not all the mines will be stepped on/explode during the war. Another obvious problem is that your own soldiers, or civilians, will accidentally step on them, during or long after the war.

It just seems stupid to me. If you are going to put them down, at least limit them to a specific place and in front of an important stronghold that you suspect will be attacked, to stop the enemy. Preferably mark it as a mine field very clearly, and make sure to sweep it after the war, or at least leave records of where the they were put down, so that others can do it later.

It seems like a ton of work and risk for very little reward. Those mines aren't free to invent/improve/manufacture/dig down/keep track of/deal with later, either.

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    You might want to refine your question after having a look at Wikipedia's Land mine and the links therein. – Lars Bosteen Apr 4 at 5:17
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    Almost everything you say is true about all explosive ordnance. You might like to read about the Iron Harvest of munitions from the First World War, and take a little time to research the reports of people still being killed / maimed by those munitions a century after the end of the conflict. – sempaiscuba Apr 4 at 10:56
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    Welcome to History.SE NeriahGarchow! Could you edit your question to clarify where you've searched and what you found already, complete with links and references, and context if applicable? In particular, please let us know what you find missing or unclear about the Wikipedia entry on the topic, if one exists. This allows those who might want to answer to do so without needing to redo the work you've already done. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and help center and, in particular, How to Ask. – Mark C. Wallace Apr 4 at 13:39
  • Mines are cheap, even in great numbers. Statistically, mines were more cost effective, in both money and lives, to sink enemy vessels in WWII than submarines or surface raiders. i.e. More enemy ships sank for the same amount of money and lives spent. (although this is for sea mines, not land ones) – Luiz Apr 6 at 20:15
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Things might be clarified if you think of sea mines. There are command-detonated mines in your own ports, mines laid on enemy coasts, moored mines which might break free, and mines that were drift mines to start with.

The same princles apply to land mines:

  • In defensive use, mines will slow or block the enemy in just the right place for your weapon fire. Much like a field of concertina wire, except that mines are harder to clear. While the enemy tries to clear the mines, shoot him.

  • The other defensive use is for dead ground around your defensive positions. If you are on a hilltop, and there is a ravine where an enemy might place mortars, mine the ravine.

Those two sound halfway legitimate to me, provided the forces which emplaces the mines keeps accurate records of the minefields.

  • Mines can also be scattered on important roads and crossroads to cover a retreat. That's called FASCAM by the US.

Slightly more iffy, because there can't be any accurate maps. Still, if it is done defensively on your own territory against an invader, it sounds somewhat justified. A big problem is that these systems are unreliable, some have self-destructs which might not work, some might be scattered off course.

  • Offensively, mines can be placed in random places in the countryside, without any recognizable fields. That denies the use of that countryside to the population.

This bullet point is somewhere between immoral or a war crime, if you ask me.

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  • If you think the use of land mines comes anywhere close to being a war crime, perhaps you could specify which of the laws of war you think their use might violate? – sempaiscuba Apr 4 at 10:08
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    @sempaiscuba, I was talking about the random, unmapped scattering of land mines in enemy rear areas. That would be indisciminate attacks as per Art 51 of the first 1977 protocol. Which has been signed by many but not all countries. – o.m. Apr 4 at 10:14
  • Then it is worth making that clear in your answer, particularly since you cite the US FASCAM system as an example, and the 1st 1977 protocol has not been ratified by the US (also, since FASCAM mines have a built in self-destruct capability, that would probably not actually be classified as 'indiscriminate' in any case). – sempaiscuba Apr 4 at 10:26
  • @sempaiscuba, my answer shades from a clear yes to hand-laid, marked, mapped minefields around the own base to a clear no to terror mines. FASCAM falls in between because of the dud rate of the self-destruct and the lack of exact maps. I see it as problematic. – o.m. Apr 4 at 10:44
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    I'm aware of that. I'm also aware that the term war crime is used rather indiscriminately and inaccurately. Working on the assumption that the OP is genuinely looking for an answer, rather than just low-level trolling the site, we should try to make sure that answers provided are accurate. – sempaiscuba Apr 4 at 10:53
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I think one important point you didn't consider is that mines work long-term, without binding personnel. You spread them across as many access areas as you like, and walk away, and you are protected from attacks through there.
Any other such protection would bind personnel near the places, for an attack that might never happen.

So they are an indirect but significant 'increase' of available soldier count. Having double the soldiers obviously is a major advantage, for the cost of some cheap mines that do their work.

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