Abetted by religious beliefs to think of themselves as created in the image of God, humans stopped regarding themselves as part of nature–as animals–a long time ago. That conceit has been the main fount for a wholesale slaughter and exploitation of nature ever since. Today, we witness the first biotic induced extinction in the history of planet, one directly caused by the activities of the human race.
BY WOLF CLIFTON [print_link]
A L M O S T ANNUALLY people who care about animals are shocked by accounts of how the U.S. military prepares combat medics to work in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Petty Officer Third Class Dustin E. Kirby, for example, described his training to C.J. Chivers of The New York Times in November 2006, almost a year after Kirby himself was severely wounded on Christmas Day 2005.
“The idea is to work with live tissue,” Kirby explained. “You get a pig and you keep it alive. Every time I did something to help him, they would wound him again. So you see what shock does, and what happens when more wounds are received by a wounded creature. My pig? They shot him twice in the face with a 9-millimeter pistol, and then six times with an AK-47, and then twice with a 12-gauge shotgun. Then he was set on fire. I kept him alive for 15 hours.”
In July 2008 a similar exercise conducted at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, by the 25th U.S. Army Infantry Division attracted protest from PETA.
“Shooting and maiming pigs is as outdated as Civil War rifles,” alleged PETA spokesperson Kathy Guillermo.
Responded Major Derrick Cheng, “Alternative methods just can’t replicate what the troops are going to face. What we’re doing is unique to what the soldiers are going to actually experience.”
Nine members of Congress opposed yet another such exercise, undertaken in August 2009 at Valley Center, California, by the U.S. Marine Corps.
“This is kind of the shock-and-awe treatment,” responded Corpsman Mark Litz to Tony Perry of the Los Angeles Times. “A lot of these guys have never really seen blood and could freeze up the first time they do,” Litz explained. “What good is a Marine or corpsman who’s frozen up in combat?”
What the pig training is really all about has very little to do with practicing whatever medical techniques the participants use. Before the trainees ever handle a pig, they will have practiced the procedures many times with realistic mannequins and computer programs. The central purpose of the pig training is to prepare combat medics to cope emotionally with the realities of warfare: to learn to distance themselves from suffering, bloodshed, and death, even when it happens to their buddies.
Schooling medical personnel would seem to have a higher and more benign purpose than the bayonet drills that are still a routine part of military training worldwide. Yet the underlying goal is similar.
U.S. armed forces last mounted a battalion-sized bayonet charge on February 2, 1951. U.S. military officers recognized as early as the Civil War that modern firearms had made the bayonet charge an obsolete tactic. U.S. Army and Marine Corps recruits nonetheless still practice bayonet charges in basic training and boot camp, because the exercise of repeatedly ramming a bayonet into a mannequin, screaming “Spirit of the bayonet–kill!”, is believed to be of enduring value in enabling troops to take human lives, despite using much more sophisticated and distant methods. A soldier may sit safely at a desk in California while guiding a Predator drone to strike a suspected Taliban hideout in Pakistan, but killing even an avowed enemy nonetheless tends to trouble most people–until they have learned to suppress inhibition while following orders.
Killing animals in preparation for combat is no longer part of the training of most U.S. soldiers, but exceptions have surfaced. Pilots, for example, whose rockets and bombs tend to kill the most people in modern warfare, may be taught to dispatch tame rabbits and poultry with their bare hands, ostensibly as part of “survival training” in case they are shot down over enemy territory. Reality is that U.S. military pilots have not had occasion to use such “survival training” in living off the land until rescue since World War II. But the advent of rapid transmission of photographs of dead and wounded civilians hit by misdirected airstrikes may have exponentially increased the awareness of pilots of what their weapons do.
Killing animals is occasionally exposed as a part of military training abroad. Some Peruvian recruits were taught to bayonet dogs as recently as 2000. This training was apparently introduced years earlier to prepare troops for counter-insurgency work during a grisly civil war, in which the enemy was almost indistinguishable from themselves.
Within Western ideology, as distinct from the Hindu/Buddhist tradition, animals have typically been regarded as qualitatively different from humans. Standards for the treatment of humans exist in all cultures, but moral consideration of animals is usually a non-issue. Even where there are rules governing how animals may be killed, as in slaughter and sacrifice, few people–especially in the West–have ever questioned whether animals may be killed.
Thus animals may be used to desensitize soldiers to killing. More than that, excluding animals from ethical consideration may be a first step toward a society rationalizing persecution of any people it might relegate to “sub-human” status.
ANIMAL PEOPLE readers will be keenly aware of the ever-expanding body of research demonstrating the association between criminal animal abuse and violent crimes against humans. Among the landmarks, a 1983 study by E. DeViney, J. Dickhert, and Randy Lockwood found that in 88% of families where children are physically abused, animal abuse is also present. A 1999 study by Arnold Arluke, Jack Levin, Carter Luke, and Frank Ascione found that animal abusers were 5.3 times more likely to have a violent criminal record than non-abusers.
The association of violence against animals with violence against humans is scarcely limited to illegal forms of violence. ANIMAL PEOPLE in 1994-1995 discovered a positive correlation between the numbers of licensed hunters and rates of family violence at the county level in New York, Ohio, and Michigan.
None of these studies prove that animal abuse causes human-to-human violence. Yet they do show the two to be inextricably related and fundamentally similar in nature.
Cruelty to animals and human rights violations have mostly been viewed as separate subjects. However, they may be seen as part of a continuity if one considers the process of dehumanization, by which a victim or enemy comes to be exempted from ethical consideration.
Human rights violations may also be understood as the collective practice of acts that are considered criminal when inflicted on people other than the dehumanized class of victims.
Frequently human rights violations take the form of societally condoned serial killing, by secret police “death squads,” mobs, or private militias. To understand how this occurs, one might examine dehumanization as practiced by criminally prosecuted serial killers.
From the beginning of systematic study of serial killers, criminologists have recognized that the overwhelming majority kill and torture animals as well as people–sometimes as a prelude to killing humans, sometimes between killing human victims. ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed out in 2006 that there is a visible association between the gender of human victims and the species of animal victims targeted by serial killers. Specifically, while serial killers who target women also tend to persecute cats, those who target males (such as John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer) display a clear preference for persecuting dogs. This suggests that in the minds of the perpetrators there is an equation of the human victims with the animal victims, and that this equation contributes to the ability and motivation of the serial killer to kill.
Dehumanization occurs quite openly and ubiquitously in comparisons of human enemies to animals. To call someone a dog is an insult in many languages, and in societies with traditional taboos against dogs the term is considered especially hateful. Thus Iraqi journalist Muntader al-Zaidi on February 14, 2008 threw his shoes at then-U.S. President George W. Bush while screaming in Arabic, “This is your kick in the butt, you son of a bitch!” And thus Chinese propagandists under the notoriously dog-hating dictator Mao tse Tung made frequent reference to American allies as “capitalist running dogs.”
Terms such as “pig” and “snake” are used similarly.
Theodore Roosevelt offered a more visceral example of dehumanizing an enemy when he reportedly boasted that he had “killed a Spaniard with my bare hands like a jackrabbit” during the Spanish/American War.
As dehumanization progresses from insult to homicide to genocide, the victims are not only compared to animals, or treated in the same manner as animals, but are considered animals. The very word “human” can come to have a highly selective and subjective context. Slavery in the U.S., for example, was often rationalized by maintaining that Africans constituted a separate species from Europeans. Many quasi-scientific efforts were made to try to prove this. The 19th century physician Samuel Morton is remembered for ranking human races in terms of moral and intellectual endowment on the basis of skull shape, with Caucasians predictably at the top of the list. Other scientists of the time, such as Josiah Nott and Louis Agassiz, proposed that blacks were not only an inferior race, but had in fact evolved from different ancestors than Europeans.
Dehumanization progressed to perhaps the best-documented extreme under the Third Reich. The Nazis literally categorized Jews, gypsies, dark-skinned Africans, and other non-Aryans as “untermenschen,” meaning sub-human, and took dehumanization to the extent of experimentally attempting to hybridize some “untermenschen” with great apes. Jews in particular were commonly described as “vermin,” “parasites,” and “microbes.” Regarded not only as animals but as parasites, Jews were killed by the millions with the insecticide Zyclon B.
The Nazi concentration camps, gas chambers, assembly lines for dismembering the dead in order to recycle their hair, fat, and gold teeth, and crematories that reduced the remnants to bone ash fertilizer were directly modeled on mechanized slaughterhouses, introduced to Europe just as the Nazis came to power.
The World War II Japanese military performed comparable atrocities, with similar pretexts. Chinese captives were used in experiments including vivisection, deliberate infection with disease, and exposure to all manner of extreme conditions. The extent of dehumanization practiced by Japanese researchers in China and Korea was so extreme that comparing the victims to animals gave way to calling the subjects “maruta,” literally meaning “logs of wood.”
Americans were also dehumanized in Japanese wartime propaganda. “Let us kill these animals who have lost the human spirit,” suggested one widely distributed cartoon.
Americans in turn dehumanized the Japanese. Merely “Japs” early in the war, the Japanese became “zips” later. This was short for “zipperheads,” but the word “zip” is also a slang synonym for “zero.”
In post-war pretense Americans who spoke of killing “zips” were said to have been referring to the top Japanese warplane, the Mitsubishi Zero–but the context of “zips” tended to be “persons who may be killed with moral impunity,” including with atomic bombs that killed hundreds of thousands of unarmed civilians.
Dehumanization requires sharply differentiating between “humans” and “animals,” in order to remove the victims from moral consideration. This was much more easily done when much less was known–or recognized–about human and animal nature. Charles Darwin, however, was troubled by moral constructs that place humanity at the apex of creation with more than just the theory of evolution. As well as demonstrating that humans are kin, though distant, with the “lowest” of life forms, Darwin concluded that “the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not kind.”
Science has increasingly revealed this to be true. Traits once believed unique to humans, such as tool use, self-awareness, expressions of empathy and mourning, and even the invention and use of language are not only ubiquitous among humans, even the dehumanized, but have also all now been identified in multiple other animal species. Conversely, human infants, sociopaths, and those with mental disabilities may lack some or all of these traits. Thus definitions of “humanity” based on behavior are defining tendencies, not absolutes.
Yet even a firm and inflexible definition of “humanity,” if one could be found, would undercut only conscious dehumanization. The propensity of animal abusers to also commit human rights violations would remain unchanged: defining terms does not destroy the basic nature of violence, or the inclination of violent people to inflict mayhem on all vulnerable forms of life.
Eliminating the contributions of dehumanization to crimes against humanity therefore requires that moral consideration not be restricted solely to humans. Extending compassion to animals can have only beneficial effects for society.
Mohandas Gandhi is often quoted as stating that, “The moral progress of a nation may be judged by the way it treats its animals.” Though Gandhian scholars have been unable to find any such explicit statement in his writings, this was among his evident insights. If animals may not be mistreated, cruelty to humans is also categorically condemned, and dehumanization may no longer be used as a pretext or rationalization for cruelty.
WOLF CLIFTON is studying comparative religion and film animation at Vanderbilt University. His mother is Kim Bartlett, a leading animal defense activist. His father, Merritt Clifton, is a veteran journalist who covers animal issues. They publish and edit the international journal ANIMAL PEOPLE, with headquarters in Clinton, WA.
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