For the past six years, the U.S. Air Force has been compiling an exhaustive list of every bomb their planes have dropped since World War I.
The database, which is part of a project called THOR (Theater History of Operations Reports), was put together by Lieutenant Colonel Jenns Robertson using thousands of historical documents. And while the effort might seem like a ridiculous make-work project, the database is actually intended to save lives.
This news comes to us via Bryan Bender of The Boston Globe, who describes how Robertson combed through a mind-boggling amount of paperwork — including 1,000 original World War I handwritten raid reports. The chronicling of the Air Force's bomb-dropping efforts during World War II was similarly labor intensive, involving 10,000 handwitten and typed pages of records.
But it's the Vietnam War that was — and still is — taking up most of Robertson's time. Writing for Yahoo! News, Eric Pfeiffer explains:
For the Vietnam War alone, Robertson has examined records showing that from October 1965 to May 1975 at least 456,365 cluster bombs were dropped on Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. And since not all of the bombs actually exploded, the governments of these countries are working with the U.S. to examine the database in order to prevent civilian accidents and deaths.
Overall, Robertson says he is still combing through more than a million records from Vietnam alone.
And that's the main practical point of the project: these bombing records could help alert regions of potential threats stemming from unexploded bombs. And this isn't just idle worry; it was only this past December that a massive 1.8 ton bomb from WWII was discovered in Germany's Rhine river.
The database is also being used for current conflicts, including investigations into civilian deaths in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Image via USAF and BBC.