FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security

When it was realised that a police Belgian Shepherd by the name of Diesel had perished at the end of a last act of defiance in St. Denis by suspected ISIS militants, social media, allied to the sentimental industrial complex, took over. Extensive coverage scrolled across the screens, powered by such hashtags as #JeSuisChien. According to Jean-Michel Fauvergue, who led the assault, there was “little doubt that she saved the lives of police officers.”

The political chance to exploit this death was too good to miss, and canine solidarity was met in kind by a Russian gesture from the Interior Ministry to provide a puppy in turn. Dobrynya was duly described as the dog that melted French hearts.

Such animals duly suffered the indignity of anthropomorphic depiction. “Diesel,” it is noted, “had a distinguished career with the police and had been decorated with service medals.” Headlines featured the rather cynical suggestion that dogs “around the world” were paying their “own tribute to hero police canine killed in siege.”

Various dog owners, without a second thought, posted pictures on various media platforms featuring dogs on hind legs, sporting a French flag. One beagle was given to chewing on a sheet with Diesel’s name written on it, covered in tricolour love hearts. Other “dogs of war,” also made their photographic, and photogenic appearance across the media. They, it is suggested, must have known what this was all about.

Such behaviour sent sparks of rage through areas of the world where the focus on such animal feats was seen as less important as human fates. Boko Haram had been heavily involved in a campaign, replete with suicide attacks, on civilian targets. As the fate of Diesel was reaching Twitter pitch, Nigeria was still recovering from attacks which left some 2000 dead were registering a relative murmur.

Some critics saw this as a disturbing revelation. Regular RT pundit Catherine Shakdam suggested that, “Much can be said about a society when it cries over a police dog more than its own on account of geography and ethnicity.” Ben Norton, writing in a similar vein for Salon, felt that the appreciation for a French police dog’s life said more about a pressing loss of humanity than anything else.

Empathy and proportionate grief are never equally distributed. Horrors are a matter of unequal parcelling out, and reflection. The human conscience is never capable of focusing on more than a few matters at a time, and such a focus is culturally and contextually limited. Your neighbour’s fate is probably more relevant than a suffering African child, though an illusion is often given that African lives matter. As suffering victims, perhaps; as full human beings, less so.

In canine friendly societies, dog lives count. The domestication of the animal eventually saw it becoming unquestioning companion and servant. In literature and art, the dog would come to represent steadfast fidelity to often brutish masters.

Former President of France, Charles de Gaulle, would remark that, as he got to know men better, the more he found himself loving dogs. Sigmund Freud, bringing his sometimes skewed psycho-analytic eyes to bear upon the issue, saw dogs as unconditional in love to friends while biting enemies, “quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate.”

The fate of a police dog, aligned with security forces, was bound to deliver a few throbbing heart aches to a situation that had already been saturated with Parisian reflection. It may seem callous and even misdirected, but such historical acts of commemoration for animals caught in the line of fire have caused bouts of fixation.

Leaving aside the seeming geographical and ethnic selectiveness in Dieselmania, a thought should be spared for countless millions of animals who have served in the folly of humanity’s wars and conflicts. They were hardly asked to be bombed, shelled, or killed in conflicts even their human counterparts can barely understand. In a sense, the other side of this saccharine episode serves to cloak the enormous, untold casualties that are suffered by other members of the animal kingdom when their biped masters get busy killing each other.

A genuine concern about the reaction to Diesel’s fate should centre on the way his life has been used to serve a patriotic end. This commemorative instinct has found form before, supposedly to overcome the insensitivity shown by humans to their fellow warrior species in conflict. But this tendency provides its own dangers, sanctifying conflict even as it appropriates animals to that end.

“Patriotism,” argues Steven Johnson in a rather neat piece in the Political Research Quarterly (2012), “poses a threat, not just to democracy, but also to life itself.” Turning his thoughts to discussing the sacrifices of the animal kingdom, Johnson notes that such a threat “finds expression in a new species of civic memorial dedicated to animals.”

Johnson poses a reversal that needs to be taken seriously. Animals are enlisted to die for patriotic human ends, not theirs. Massacred, maimed and consumed, they are the silent sufferers who end up being revered in sentimental tributes. In this case, they are made to pose as conscious agents in the name of their own species. “In wartime, the animal world, including dogs, horses, elephants, and mules, is forced to serve.” That service reduces them to disposable servants in the name of country “not despite the patriotic love professed for them, but precisely because of it.”

For the dog Diesel, pity the war, and pity his fate. He was not a sentient human, with all those faults, sent to war in the service of a nationalistic or patriotic creed of which he had no understanding. It might be argued, convincingly, that he was its most exalted victim. There may well be plaques – and a statue. But dogs, as former veterinarian and war veteran William W. Putney noted, do not build monuments to their dead.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail