Animals and Warfare
NPR’s recent report on animals in the military has me thinking about our responsibility to our nonhuman companions, especially in situations of heightened risk. The US military now trains sea mammals in support of its navel operations: dolphins are taught to identify underwater mines or human invaders, while sea lions are taught to actually cuff swimming terrorists (question: what happens to the animals after locating a mine or terror-bent swimmer?). Both species will be deployed in Washington state by next year and Russian military officials are eager to mimic the strategy. Though I’ve read about military dogs in books (Ivan the dog in Frank McCourt’s ‘Tis and the bomb-laden sheep dogs in David Benioff’s City of Thieves), I haven’t really thought seriously about the consequences of using so many species as tools in warfare. The idea is sort of romantic, recalling the dæmons of Phillip Pullman’s imagination. But real animals are not extensions of human consciousness nor sympathetic participants in human military causes. So what sort of regulatory limitations exist to guide human-nonhuman military relationships?
An article from last March’s Orion anticipates this question. Kathleen Yale notes that horses, camels, and elephants have long served as military tools. Soon, however, the Department of Defense will realize its HI-MEM project and revolutionize the animal world as a military resource. Micromechnical implants in insects, specifically moths, “could eventually carry miniature implanted equipment, such as microphones, video cameras, or gas sensors, to relay information collected from target destinations.” Moth bodies grow with these mechanisms enmeshed in their flesh as catepillers: when they transform into adult moths, they become tiny, flying cyborgs. Military bases will be able to steer hybrid insects via remote control and literally become “flies on the wall” in enemy territory. No discussion of animal protection or regulation appears on their project site. It seems that a panel reviewing the military justice system recently recommended that the Uniform Code of Military Justice should include the ethical treatment of animals; no news is yet available on where the recommendation stands in Congress.
Once HI-MEM technology is commonplace, however, isn’t the most logical defense strategy the liberal use of pesticide? I imagine future war zones could look like Bhopal: all life, human and nonhuman, endangered by chemicals used to protect military intelligence from enemy insect spies. It seems that the simplest solution to neutralizing threats posed by military animals is to kill off all potentially military animals. In Benioff’s City of Thieves, the fictional German invaders shoot all sheepdogs on sight because the dogs might be carrying bombs. Is there potential for non-military animal populations to suffer the same fate if the military threat of a species is established?