Animal Aid

PREFACE FOR 'Animals and War: Confronting the Military-Animal Industrial Complex' (Lexington Press) - By Andrew Tyler, Director of Animal Aid

Posted 6 November 2013

‘War is hell’, said the American Civil War general William Sherman. For many years I thought this was a remarkably trite statement and wondered why it is recited so often, so approvingly. But war, I came to understand, really does let loose the devil (or whatever we might wish to call it) in human beings. Sherman also said: ‘War is at best barbarism. Its glory is all moonshine.’ That’s true too.

Most people are familiar with the varied and peculiarly savage treatment humans are capable of meting out to each other during even ‘low-level’ wars: the use of systematic rape and amputations; the burning of villages; parents forced to watch or even participate in the slaughter of their own children….

Until recent years, the suffering of animals as a consequence of human conflict attracted scant consideration, and rarely the kind of systematic analysis to be found in the pages of this important volume.

We can point to, at least, five distinct war-related categories of harm that befall animals.

Collateral damage: Some of the most indelible images of the 1991 Gulf War showed the scorched and bloated bodies of camels abandoned in the shadow of burning oil wells. Photographer Steve McCurry describes ‘driving through the oilfields for several weeks after the hostilities ended and often [coming] across cattle, camels and horses wandering around like zombies. I guess most died eventually – all the water holes and vegetation were covered in oil‘. (Blood in the Sand, The
 Guardian newspaper, G2 section February 14, 2003).

Willful assaults: During the Serbian conflict – also in the early 1990s – bored or hyped-up soldiers amused themselves by taking shots at wild animals. Zoo inmates were starved, beaten, fired upon and even attacked with grenades.

The deserted ones: These include the farmed animals abandoned in their sheds or in fields once the shooting starts. And dogs, cats, fish, guinea pigs and birds left alone in people’s houses after those people take off to escape the mayhem. The animals starve and cry out for water, while the terrifying din of gunfire and explosions sound around them.

Front line victims: We can go back to the ancient Greeks and their use in pitched battles of Indian elephants – or consider the recent deployment of German Shepherd dogs, parachuted into Taliban strongholds in Afghanistan to search buildings for the enemy. A new generation of animal conscripts is even more expertly controlled and manipulated than those in the past – dolphins trained under extreme psychological and physical duress; and rats with gadgets implanted into their brains so that they can be directed, punished and rewarded at the tap of a keyboard.

Animals in weapons research: In Britain, most war-related vivisection is conducted by the Ministry of Defence in Porton Down, Wiltshire. Animals have been poisoned by chemical warfare agents, subjected to blast injuries, force-fed sensory irritants and deliberately wounded and killed by bacterial toxins. Porton scientists have described how monkeys, dosed with the nerve agent soman, became prostrate with violent convulsions, made attempts to crawl about the cage and then lost consciousness.

The impulses that draw people into war are deeply embedded. They are a product of weakness, greed, ambition, fear, stupidity, a lack of empathy and imagination, and much else. But while the impulses are raw, the project of warfare is often propelled by ‘sophisticated’ ideology. We see at work a doctrine that requires enemies and heroes, as well as a mission of necessity. Within this framework, animals are many things. They are simultaneously expendable and heroic. They might be killed with impunity or awarded medals. Or both. Often, they are not thought about at all but are simply invisible.

In industrialised economies, where the populations manifest a high level of individual autonomy, those who orchestrate war have an increasingly difficult task in gaining majority consent. Most people no longer want to march off to battle. They are also more reluctant to sanction large numbers of home-bred professional warriors being killed in protracted campaigns. True progress would be if they also rejected the killing and suffering of ‘others’ – the enemy across the hill, and members of kindred species.

As far as non-human animals are concerned, there are hopeful signs. Animal Aid has been pressing for a wider recognition of the suffering of animals in war for some 15 years. In 2005, we introduced the purple poppy and encouraged people to wear it on November 11, Armistice Day. Uncertain as to the reception it would receive, that first year we produced 1,000. In 2011, we distributed 50,000. Together with our purple poppy wreaths, they have been displayed at sites of First and Second World War Battlefields in France and Belgium. They are worn in Canada, the US and other countries. Many people do now recognise the suffering of animals in wartime. The monumental Portland stone and bronze Animals In War memorial in London’s up-market Park Lane is testimony to that fact.

What we are determined to guard against, however, is perpetuating the idea of animals as fallen heroes.

A British national newspaper ran a feature in 2011 on what eight million horses had to endure during the insane bloodbath that was the First World War. One million were sent from Britain alone to the Western Front. Just 60,000 survived – and even those would have ended up in French and Belgian abattoirs if not for compassionate people who fought for them to be brought home.

Among the photographs published in that newspaper feature was one of a cavalry horse standing over the body of his rider. The caption spoke of a –poignant vigil for his dead master–. But this wasn’t a vigil. The rider had fallen with the horse’s reins still clasped in his dead hands. The horse could go nowhere. Stoic and long-suffering these animals were, but we should never pretend that they volunteered to their fate. They were conscripts. They didn’t volunteer their lives; their lives were taken from them. And, no matter how many medals are handed out, they are not heroes but victims.

The suffering of animals and of vulnerable humans too will end only when the glorification and justification of war ends. Will that ever happen? The track record of human beings suggests it won’t come about any time soon. But we must, in any case, do everything in our power to make it happen. People of conscience must reject war and we must refuse to be part of its glorification. We owe at least that to the animal victims… and we owe it to ourselves.

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