In Metro, 14 February, 2017
Animals are the hidden victims of war and violence, a fact often conveniently overlooked. Throughout the history of human conflict, animals have been used as military tools for war. As far back as 3 B.C., Hannibal famously used elephants to help him in his campaigns. Since then there has been a continual use of animals such as horses, dogs, cats, pigeons, elephants and chickens in warfare. In World War One, horses were used to transport goods, cats were kept in trenches to hunt for mice, and pigeons were employed to carry messages between ships at sea. (Animal Aid, 2017).
Today, the use of animals continues, but the purposes to which they are put are ever more diverse. In an article in Metro titled: Explosive Tail of Bomb Dog Forced to Retire, Vidar is a bomb-sniffing dog who becomes so terrified of explosions, he is not longer useful to the army and therefore forced to retire, as the title indicated. It is reported he “was cowering in his kennel in Helmand [UK army base in Afghanistan, TL] when found by reserve medic Angie McDonnell.” The verbs in this clause, cowering and found are very telling of the dog’s emotional and physical well-being.
The present continuous of was cowering indicated both an action that was taking place at the moment in which McDonnell was walking past and could possibly point to a state that started earlier. Indeed, the online version reveals that Vidar was suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and was about to be euthanized. This his leads us to the analysis of the second verb, found. The emotional anxiety Vidar was experiencing affected his ability to perform what humans forced him to do. Discarded and abandoned in his kennel, Vidar cried in fear and loneliness until he was ‘found’ by the medic.
While the paper version of the story does not expand on the attitudes of McDonnell, the online version does:
‘The dogs out there are heroes,’ she explained. ‘I knew from the first moment I saw him that he was a one in a million.’
‘Working animals’ used for police or army work drug-sniffing, control, or bomb-sniffing, are imprisoned animals who, through the human-supremacist hegemonic world views, are seen as a resource. Even though the evaluation of dogs above is positive, i.e., heroes, the dogs have no choice and no legal standing. Qualifying them as heroes, it could be argued, strengthens the so-called ‘moral’ obligation animals have towards supporting and sustaining humans. Additionally, ‘one in a million’ singles him out from fellow oppressed animals and reinforces that some animals deserve to be saved while others do not.
‘He’s just the perfect dog and I’m so happy I can repay him for saving my life while we served together,’ she says.
This is another example of seemingly positive evaluative language, but notice the dependent clause underlined in red. The dog is conveniently given equal status, implying he enlisted, and therefore, had a choice. It also raises the question that if McDonnell and Vidar served together, why is he reported to be ‘found’ by her? Why is her responsibility shed?
The future for animals in warfare does not appear to be brighter.
In BBC Focus’ February 2017 issue, a report on ‘Killer mouse Bill’ reveals that that dreaded future where animals are turned into hybrid ‘cyborgs’is already here. This is done by implanting electrodes into the brain. Scientists can then control them through these electrodes, in a manner similar to a remote control car. Regardless of the amount that the animals will suffer, they will be helpless to resist the commands. This is no science fiction fantasy. US scientists have already created what they call ‘Roborat’ – a creature they describe as ‘a radio-controlled automaton’. They have suggested that the Roborats could be used to clear landmines in the future.
According to the article in BBC Focus, researchers at Yale University have isolated the brain circuity that coordinates predatory hunting in mice. They were then able to selectively fire up neurons, using a laser, to stimulate the neck and jaw muscles to bite, kill, and catch prey. When the laser was off, the mice “behaved normally”, but when the laser was turned on, the scientists were in full control.
Unless those responsible are resisted, research will lead to more elaborate ways of manipulating animals’ bodies for use as tools in human warfare. This will cause even more suffering to helpless animals in the name of war.