The Men Who Prune Goats

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Kathleen Stachowski Other Nations

The Coast Guard motto is Sempre Paratus, “always ready.” We can rest assured that, when the need arises, they will indeed be ready to clip the legs off living goats using tree branch trimmers. They’ve apparently undergone rigorous training in Virginia to perform this very act.

A whistleblower caught the heinous deed on video and PETA released it. The Coast Guard is defending the use of live animals in combat medical training, saying,

“Animals used in trauma training are supported and monitored by well-trained, experienced veterinary staff to ensure that appropriate anesthesia and analgesia prevent them from experiencing pain or distress.”

Oh, whew! No legs, no pain, no problem.

Dr. Michael P.Murphy, associate professor of surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine (and an Iraq war veteran) said,

“Learning how to apply a tourniquet on a severed goat’s leg does not help prepare medical providers to treat an anatomically different human being wounded on the battlefield.”

According to the Huffington Post, Dr. Murphy “was among the medical professionals who signed PETA’s letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta seeking an end to the practice.”

Remember the movie, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” ? I can’t help but connect that to this. Both propositions–psychic soldiers who stare at goats to kill them with paranormal powers on the one hand, and mutilating goats to ostensibly save humans on war zone battlefields on the other–are beyond ludicrous. Happily, one is fiction, stars the Most Handsome Man in the World, and features music from one of the Best Classic Rock Bands ever. The other, sadly, is true, funded by taxpayers, and features the extremity of hubris, a human flaw with a very long history.

According to Wikipedia,

In ancient Greek, hubris…referred to actions that shamed and humiliated the victim for the pleasure or gratification of the abuser… and the shame reflected on the perpetrator as well. It was most evident in the public and private actions of the powerful and rich. The word was also used to describe actions of those who challenged the gods or their laws, especially in Greek tragedy, resulting in the protagonist’s fall.

…As for the pleasure in hubris, its cause is this: men think that by ill-treating others they make their own superiority the greater.

What can be more shaming than for one’s body and life to be considered entirely disposable? We need not search far to explain how goats end up mutilated on crude operating tables–it is the tyranny of human exceptionalism. Pity the nonhuman animal, born so far below our exalted station in the universe. Beings of no moral consequence, they are ours to use and squander in the pursuit of our own species’ self-serving goals.

At this point it would be easy to go all high flown and quote Michel Montaigne (1533-1592), French Renaissance essayist and Skeptic, and I think I will:

“The most calamitous and fragile of all creatures is man, and yet the most arrogant. (…) Is it possible to imagine anything so ridiculous as that this pitiful, miserable creature, who is not even master of himself, should call himself master and lord of the universe? It is apparent that it is not by a true judgment, but by foolish pride and stubbornness, that we set ourselves before other animals and sequester ourselves from their condition and society.” Quoted in “Minding the Animals…” by Dr. Steven Best

I imagine the Coast Guard goat pruners looking down at the anesthetized creature and seeing a thing of little consequence, one with no investment in living, one with no connection to nor any moral claim upon “its” captors. Merely a means to a noble (read: speciesist) end. Others of us would see a different vision: a fellow sentient animal, one as much like us as different from us, a relative in the deeply-rooted, widely-branched family tree of the Animal Kingdom.

Having grown up in a Great Lakes port town with its own Coast Guard station, I’ve always had a soft spot for that branch of the service. These were the public servants who were always ready–Sempre Paratus–to rescue stranded boaters, to pull struggling swimmers (and sometimes their bodies) from the lake, to protect the marine environment. But that benevolent image has been replaced with a sinister one, though it’s possible that many a Coast Guardsman and woman are as horrified as I.

If humans were really so exceptional, we’d find a way to use our considerable talents not to wage war on our own and other species, but to benefit all. But no. We mutilate “lesser” beings as a patriotic exercise, failing to recognize that the shame is reflected on the perpetrator; refusing to accept the most likely denouement for the human drama–that the protagonist is surely headed for a fall.

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6 Responses

  1. You grew up in a Great Lakes port town with its own Coast Guard station, Kathleen. I grew up one town over from New London, Conn., where this branch of the military trains its upstanding cadets — at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. And like you, I respected these servicemen and servicewomen; one was in my Sunday School class and stopped by at my college for a visit once. I hope 99% of them are, as you put it, “as horrified as” we both are.

    I’m going to put this hyperlink on an Eating Plants blog, because your description of hubris (and Wikipedia’s and Montaigne’s) is just what I want to get across there…. Your last graph is priceless.

    Oh, those poor little goats. :(

  2. The attempt to defend and minimize the atrocities by saying that the victims were prevented from feeling pain and distress is simply stupid. It is remarkable how often human animals do something stupid and horrific and somehow believe more stupidity will somehow ameliorate the situation.

    Invoking the definition of hubris is timely and accurate as an attempt to describe frequent human behavior.

    I would encourage readers to become more familiar with Michel Montaigne…he seemed to be someone that struggled with the conventional “wisdom” of his times. For instance another source of information about him points out that he opposed the “conquering” of the New World because of the suffering that imposed on the Native Americans. (http://www.knowledgerush.com/kr/encyclopedia/Michel_Montaigne/)

  3. It could not be worse!

  4. [...] Stachowski verweist im Animal Blawg auf einen Artikel der Huffington Post, der das sog. “Trauma-Training” von Mitgliedern der U.S. [...]

  5. I’d like a follow up report on what kind of psychological trauma these “goat pruners” end up with… If “none” – Then perhaps we can volunteer them on the next demonstration as their minds and hearts are quite dead already.

    This is a wretched story.

  6. [...] Full story Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

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