Within the anti-war movement, we often hear from the various vocal organisations opposed to the practice of humans killing each other humans. These range from the likes of CND, Peace Pledge Union, Movement for the Abolition of War, Consciences Objectors, Quakers and our very own Veterans For Peace. But there is one group of Veterans always written out of the story, they are voiceless conscripts with no pressure group, no regimental association, no pension and no voting rights. If you haven’t worked out who they are yet. They are our fellow Earthlings, those animals that we share this planet with. We exploit their nature and cause them untold sufferings, just so we can carry on killing and maiming each other for some fleeting moment of perceived glory. Man has been exploiting and using animals in wars for centuries. But there is a particular pathos about the plight of horses conscripted to suffer in conflicts which they, unlike their riders, lack any means of understanding.
Many photographs and paintings depict warriors charging into battle with swords held high, wild-eyed mounts stretching out their necks as they surge full-tilt towards the enemy. Yet few pictures show the consequences: battlefields on which abandoned, maimed, traumatized and eviscerated animals wander in agony and bewilderment, lacking even a kindly bullet to free them from their misery. A million horses were sent to France during WW1 but only 62000 returned.
Many were killed or mutilated in some vainglorious cavalry charge, some were worked to death hauling overladen ammunition carts through energy sapping mud. Most of those that survived received the ungrateful act of a bullet through the brain, in order to feed troops and the local population, as the war ground to its miserable conclusion. Today it is search dogs that pay the price of human folly, as they stumble across IEDs wagging their tales, desperate to please their handlers. In recent times we have shot live pigs to study the impact of bullet wounds on ripped flesh, trained dolphins to attach limpet mines to hulls of ships, and poisoned monkeys at Porton Down, to gauge the effects that various battlefield chemicals have on we civilized humans.
Following the success of Jilly Coopers book ‘Animals in War’ a substantial memorial was erected in Hyde Park, by public subscription, to remember and mark the contribution made by these voiceless veterans. If Veterans for Peace is to come of age, we should set aside time and visit this memorial as a group, to pay homage and recognize all veterans, including those
that had no choice in dying for their country, our country. “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” Mahatma Gandhi. Animals in War Memorial, Hyde Park
Less explored issues in the world of animal welfare are brought to the foreground during periods of war. Neglect, injuries and death in places such as abandoned zoos are also a concern – at least to those who care about animals amongst the carnage of human war victims. In fact, millions more animals die from the causes of war than humans. For example, in the Afghan war during the 1990’s, more than 75,000 animals were lost due to mines – that’s over half of all animal livestock in Afghanistan.
We often hear of landmines causing death and severe injury to innocent people, but animals are suffering the same fate … In fact ten or twenty times more animals are killed and maimed from landmines every single day. Hundreds of millions of these hidden killers lay usually invisible just underneath earth or foliage – on roadsides, paths fields and scattered around woodlands. People of war torn countries are unable to plant their fields or even walk to the clinics or visit friends. Children can’t walk to school or play in their neighbourhood. Animals, both wild and farmed roam free across the danger areas under the constant threat of being blown up.
On leaving the Army I began employment as an RSPCA Inspector. During one particular task, I remember spending eight hours at the rescue of an emaciated ewe, stranded 100ft up on a craggy rock-face of the Pembrokeshire Coast. The sheep was chased over the cliff edge by a loose running dog, two other sheep fell to the sea rocks below and died in the fall. For my efforts, I was awarded the Bronze Medal of the Society, for humanity and courage in the rescue of the sheep. On that medal ribbon are the words ‘FOR HUMANITY’, something no medal awarded to me by the military has ever said or could say. I am extremely proud of that award and I feel it was a time in my life when I became fully human. When I was able to summon up enough compassion to extend my common humanity to what many people see as a vacuous joint of meat, totally void of feelings and intelligence.
We call animals dumb, but for anyone who has spent any time around these fellow sentient creatures, it quickly becomes evident that they are thinking feeling beings with needs of their own. When was the last time any of us saw a sheep with an AK47 in its possession, determined to cause carnage in order to dominate the corner of the field it lives in. What gives us the right to use and abuse them in our inane acts of violence, then cast them aside and forget them as if they form no part of the narrative? Surely that makes us the dumb ones. Humans cause these crazy wars, so why create even more layers of suffering for other species
Who can be the voice of these silent veterans if not Veterans For Peace? When it comes to war and the merciless violence doled out to anyone in its path, then we must never forget those other victims, those faithful and loyal animals so often used and abused by us to further our violent ambitions. ‘For man who is kind unto beasts is kind unto himself.
Gus Hales is a member of Veterans For Peace UK