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Selective Sympathy

The officer rested his arm holding the stock of the assault rifle on the top of a log pile, and aimed directly between the target’s eyes. She was looking directly at him, unblinking, from 30 feet away, and exhibited no fear. “I hate doing this,” he muttered, before finally pulling the trigger.

A sharp “bang!” rang out, her head jerked up and then her whole body sagged to the ground, followed by some muscle jerks, and it was over.

The officer went over and checked the body, decided no second shot was needed to finish the job, and then walked back to his squad car, took out his phone, and called in the serial number of his rifle, reporting his firing of one round, as required by regulations.

Our doe was dead.

She was a beautiful animal, and had adopted our forested 2.3-acre lot in suburban Montgomery County, PA for the past five years. We could always recognize her by a game front leg that she usually held up, bent slightly, above the ground. She would sometimes lower her hoof while grazing, but when she ran or walked, it was always on three legs. The fourth, almost certainly broken by a long-ago run-in with a car, must have hurt to put weight on.

During those five years, she bore six fawns (last year she had twins). This year I saw her new baby only hours after it was born. It was scarcely bigger than a small dog at the time, its fur brightly spotted. Over the summer she had “adopted” an older young animal clearly born the same year, but perhaps a month earlier than her own. The three of them spent most of their time on our lot, which includes a small vernal pond good for watering. In dry years, she would leave during August, no doubt in search of water, but she would always return, sometimes with a grown fawn and a few other deer in tow, sometimes alone.

She knew us, and even if she was only 20 feet from the back door, would often not flee if we left the house to go to the car or the mailbox. If I spoke to her gently, sometimes I could get even closer, though she always remained wild enough that she would not take food from us.  The best I did at approaching her was once when it was bone dry and I ran the hose into a bucket. That time she watched with interest from a distance, listening to the sound of the water, and then let me walk with the full, sloshing bucket to within 10 feet before running away off. She returned quickly to the bucket though, after I had set it down and walked a decent distance away from it.

There was a clear level of trust that had developed.

So it was with a great deal of sadness that my wife and I pulled our car into the driveway one morning last week and saw her lying in the grass in the back yard. She was down on her belly, head up and legs tucked under, as if resting, but the left hind leg didn’t look in the right position, so we knew something was wrong. Somehow, with two bad legs, she had managed to flop and drag herself from the road, where she’d suffered another hit by a car, to the seeming safety of the back yard, but she could go no further.

When I tried to approach her, she tried futilely to stand and then painfully flopped herself into the edge of the woods, where she lay sprawled on her side.

I knew what had to be done.

We called all the area animal rescue outfits, and found only one licensed for caring for injured deer, but even they said they could only take fawns. Injured adults, they explained, usually killed themselves banging against their cages trying to escape, and in any case, with two bad legs, she was an even worse bet for successful treatment. Besides, it was going to be a very cold night that night, and she’d probably end up freezing to death, and she was obviously in pain, so something had to be done right away.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission, which will dispatch injured deer that are in or beside the road, would not come for days for an animal that, like our doe, was posing no road hazard, so we called the local police.

The officer who responded to our call to put her down was a friendly and sympathetic guy. I urged him not to use his pistol, explaining that to get close enough for an accurate shot, he would inevitably frighten her and cause her to suffer more. That’s when he went back into his SUV and pulled out the black, deadly looking M-4, which is the civilian version of the military’s standard-issue M-16 automatic assault rifle.

“That’s a pretty heavy looking weapon for a police car,” I said. “Did you bring that especially for this job, or do you carry that in your car all the time?”

“Police have been carrying these since that shoot-out in Los Angeles Angeles,” he said, referring, I believe, to the famous shootout in that city in 1974 between some 400 officers from the LAPD, the LA Sheriff’s Office and the Highway Patrol and a few members of the Symbionese Liberation Army who had holed up in a house there. That shootout — really more of a “shoot-in” by police, who fired thousands of rounds into the building, along with teargas, which led to a fire that destroyed the house and those in it–ended up with the death of four SLA members (no police were injured). Nonetheless, the fact that the SLA members had stockpiled 19 weapons in the house, and had fired out at police, became the justification for the arming of police all across the country with automatic weapons, which have later become popular with law-enforcement personnel in an increasingly militarized police culture.

After the officer had dispatched our deer with that clean shot to the head, I complimented him on his marksmanship. “Well,” he explained, “I was a Marine.”

I asked him where he had served, and he said “Operation Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom,” referring to the first US war against Iraq back in 1990, and to the nine-year-old Bush/Cheney war that the White House now claims just “ended” in “victory.”

I mentioned that I had grown up with a rifle and was a pretty good shot myself, but added that I had been a war resister back in the Vietnam War. “Well, I was no war resister,” the ex-Marine cop said, with a wry smile.  He added, “I think we had to go in after Saddam Hussein.”

“Yeah, well, there never were any of those weapons of mass destruction,” I said, “and it doesn’t look like the US invasion accomplished much. Iraq is a mess now, headed towards ‘failed state’ status, and Iran has much more influence there now than the US does.”

He replied, as he was climbing into his vehicle to leave, “Well, it doesn’t matter. I think Israel will be taking care of Iran before long.”

As he drove off, even as I was mourning our doe, I was left thinking, too, about that last remark. What was he thinking?

If Israel were to “take care of” Iran, it would be by massively bombing Iran’s military installations, and no doubt much of its industrial infrastructure too, much of which is, of course, located in heavily populated areas. Thousands of innocent Iranian civilians, including children, would inevitably be killed or maimed or orphaned.

And this is apparently all okay with this same officer and former military man who was so quite visibly upset at having to stare down his M-4 gunsight into the eyes of a deer he was going to kill even for a perfectly humane reason!

How strange that we as human beings can be so sensitive and warm-hearted about an animal, and yet can be so detached from reality and so compartmentalized in our emotions and our moral sense that we can simply dismiss as “collateral damage” the lives of tens, hundreds or even thousands of innocent men, women and children who, for cold, calculating geopolitical reasons of dubious merit, will be killed by our or our allies’ actions — or in the case of an attack on Iran by Israel, by weapons and delivery systems which we, as Americans, actually paid for and provided.

DAVE LINDORFF is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new Project-Censored Award-winning independent online alternative newspaper. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).

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