The Men Who Prune Goats

PETA – click image

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,

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,

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,

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:

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 benign 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. Instead, 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.

This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

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