Dogs of War
Posted by lisagbrown on February 19, 2009
Dogs have played an unexpectedly prominent role in media coverage of the Iraq war. It began with a horrendous video: a U.S. soldier threw a tiny puppy off a cliff. This video (which I have chosen not to re-post because I find it too upsetting) captures the havoc of war in a new and startling way. That tiny runt of a puppy is innocence personified, and I will never forget the sound of his scream as he was tossed over the rocky crag. I wondered if that soldier had always been capable of such an act, or if this war had changed him into someone without compassion or concern. Had he been so numbed by the horrors of daily life in Iraq that his act did not seem to him deranged? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I do know that that soldier was America’s worst fears realized — he was meant to be representing our country, and instead he perpetuated a cycle of violence and rage that this war was (supposedly) trying to prevent.
Eventually, stories began to trickle out of Iraq about U.S. soldiers who are smuggling dogs back into the U.S. These are not horror stories, but tales of love and compassion. The stray dogs lift the spirits of the soldiers who adopt them, and give the soldiers a reason to wake up each morning. If the man in the video was America’s worst fear about who represents our country abroad, then this other kind of soldier is the antidote. These soldiers see profundity in every single life. They are soldiers that Americans can believe in and relate to; soldiers who witness horror, decay, and the hell of war, yet still see a life worth saving amongst the discarded strays.
And now a different kind of story is coming out of Iraq. Baghdad has established a program to deal with their rampant strays, and that program is enforced with poison and a shotgun. These strays are part of the aftermath of our war. They are innocents who no one knows what to do with, so the dogs are simply and brutally killed.
When I write about controversial animals issues — like the geese that were struck by an airplane, or the personhood rights of apes, or the suffering of dogs in wartime — I sometimes get e-mails from people who accuse me of putting animal welfare before human welfare. They wonder, with all the human suffering in the world, how I could focus on animal issues instead. They see this question as black and white: either humans or animals. We must chose between them, and I have chosen wrong. But in response, I must quote the words of Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
I believe that animals deserve to live free from pain and suffering, simply because they can experience these feelings. But if that is not a good enough reason, then I encourage people to look at the ways that the health of animals is inextricably linked to the well-being of humans. We are mirrors of each other, animals and humans. Our choice should not be one of who show concern for, but howwe do. It is possible to build an understanding of suffering that integrates compassion for both humans and animals, because we cannot achieve the well-being of one, without the other. These dogs of war are examples of this. Each story — the discarded puppy, the adopted dogs, the slaughtered strays — demonstrates how we channel our own frustrations, hope and despair into another species. We look to them to save us from our pain, whether by hurting them or helping them. The way we treat animals tells us how well we are doing to maintain our own standards of well-being. It is through them, and with them, that we strive to be better people.
For more information on how to help soldiers bring their dogs back from war, visit Operation Baghdad Pups