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Minority report.

Here I sit on Inauguration Day, my ball ticket for this evening looking at me reproachfully from the mantelpiece and my tuxedo gleaming on its hanger. The opening of Ronald Reagan's second term provides the ideal occasion to discuss where we are, where we have come from and where we are going. The changes in White House and Cabinet personnel, the looming deficit, the sorry charade impending at Geneva, the mounting aggression in Central America--all these provide ideal themes for the columnist. So I thought I would consider animal rights.

From 1916 to 1917, Rosa Luxembourg was imprisoned by the Imperial German authorities at the fortress of Wronke in what is now Poznan, Poland. From there, she kept up an active correspondence with her friend and comrade Sonia Liebknecht. On one occasion she wrote as follow: Sonichka, dear, I had such a pang recently. In the courtyard where I walk army lorries often arrive, laden with haversacks or old tunics and shirts from the front; something they're stained with blood. They are sent to the women's cells to be mended, and then go back to the army for use. The other day one of these lorries was drawn by a team of buffaloes instead of horses. I had never seen the creatures close at hand before. They are much more powerfully built than our oxen, with flattened heads, and horns strongly curved back so that their skulls are shaped something like a sheep's skull. They are black and have huge, soft eyes. The buffaloes are war booty from Rumania. The soldier drivers said that it was very difficult to catch these animals who had always run wild, and still more difficult to break them into harness. They had been unmercifully flogged--on the principle of vae victis. . . . The other day a lorry came laden with sacks, so overladen indeed that the buffaloes were unable to drag it across the threshold of the gates. The soldier driver, a brute of a fellow, belabored the poor beasts so savagely with the butt end of his whip that the wardress at the gate, indignant at the sight, asked hif he had no compassion for animals. "No more than anyone has compassion for us men," he answered with an evil smile, and redouble dhis blows. At length the buffaloes succeeded in drawing the load over the obstacle, but on of them was bleeding. You know their hide is proverbial for its thickness and toughness, but it had been torn.

White this was happening in some dank, obscure prison yard, the whole of Europe had been turned into a killing field. Poison gas, human-wave assaults, the use of starvation as a weapon against civilians, aerial bombardment of undefended towns-almost every one of our contemporary horrors was being rehearsed and refined. Rose Luxembourg had been among the first to see it coming, and she was certainly the first to call for opposition to it, which was why she was--not for the first time--in prison. Her speeches and pamphlets were almost physical in their effect. Her incisive and analytic message was matched, but never obscured or diluted, by her humanistic outrage. Her party--the pride of European socialism and democracy--had been gelded after defiling itself with "patriotic" compromises. Her friends were dead or in jail. The newspapers had no more room for the casualty lists on the western or eastern fronts. Yet she could still spare some emotional energy for a team of wretched Rumanian buffaloes.

I have always thought that this example supplied the answer to a certain kind of sneer. Those who worry about the treatment of animals are often accused of sentimentality or of putting the plight of beasts before the immense problems of humanity. But it is quite rare to find a humanitarian who is indifferent to animals and suprisingly common to find that those who belittle animal rights are the same ones who find the pain of humans easy to bear. Bot rules are qualified by the very lonely or, in some famous cases, the extremely inhumane--those who weep over their war horses or hunting dogs while ignoring decimated armies and smoldering villages.

The study of biology confirms what some of our better instincts tell us. Our own fate is closely bound up with that of other species, and the loss of them would mean more than the loss of our pleasure in their company. Knowledge, science, medicine and nutrition are all enhanced for humans by other creatures.

Of course, it is precisely in the name of knowledge, science, medicine and nutrition that the worst things done to animals are justified. Cats are subjected to pain by functionaries in white coats, in order to see how much pain they can endure. Dogs are given overdoses of alcohol and nicotine to find if the effects are harmful. Acids are tested on the eyes of live rabbits by the researchers of cosmetic companies. You don't have to be William Blake to find this intolerable, just as you don't have to be a vegetarian to object to the torture of veal calves and other animals for luxury foods. The problem here is not an esthetic one. It concerns the sense in which it is not absurd to speak of the treatment of animals as inhumane.

Those who campaign for "animal liberation" have confused the issue unnecessarilty by borrowing human terminology. While the proletarian condition can be abolished and women can cease to be chattels and whole races can throw off slavery, there is no means of freeing animals from the condition of being beasts. For all I know, that is just as well. The absolutists don't know better, any more than did the foolish clergy who used to debate, and perhaps still do, whether animals have soulds. The argument against inhumane conduct is that it degrades the perpetrator as well as the victim, and you don't have to be an anthropomorphist to see that some of our behavior toward animals falls into that category. It is not in our interest, for example, to pump factory-farm creatures full of antibiotics to keep them "healthy" in what would otherwise be pestiferous conditions. The geniuses who originated that form of profiteering are risking all manner of plagues among us, too. When Rosa Luxembourg referred to "exploitation," as she did later on in that letter, she meant the analogy to stick. I must now don my tuxedo and head to the ball, where Republican womanhood is gathering en masse. I know before I get there that the well-upholstered shoulders will be garnished with a pointless riot of endangered fur.
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Title Annotation:animal rights
Author:Hitchens, Christopher
Publication:The Nation
Article Type:column
Date:Feb 2, 1985
Previous Article:Bombing feminism.
Next Article:Uncivil liberties.

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