Print Edition - 2015-09-06  |  Free the Words

Bad or mad?

  • We must end the military’s harebrained schemes to use animals in warfare
- MANEKA SANJAY GANDHI

Sep 6, 2015-

Are all the militaries in the world stupid or do they get far too much money for using animals for war, which is reprehensible. The military constantly thinks of new ways to use animals for defence and aggression. The military is a ‘sacred cow’ in all countries, much above education, social welfare or health and it gets a large chunk of the budget, and nobody gets to know the details of their spending. So, they become like children with toys. It does not matter how many absurd ideas they come up with or how much money they spend. I remember, during the 70s, they had spent a lot of money to produce gigantic vegetables in Ladakh in India—carrots that were one foot long and pumpkins, so huge that it could be turned into chariots!

Use and throw

But when it comes to animals, we should be far more alert. They kill millions in hare-brained schemes which are then abandoned. Some recent examples are like Pliny the Elder’s recommendation to the Roman military to use pigs as they scared away elephants.

Honeybees are natural-born sniffers and are now being trained to recognise the scents of bomb ingredients. The idea is to make a box, and inside it bees would be strapped into tubes and exposed to puffs of air where they could constantly check for the faint scent of a bomb. A video camera linked to pattern recognition software would alert authorities when the bees start waving their proboscises in unison.

In the 70s, the Israelis placed trained gerbils, in cages, at security checks at the Tel Aviv airport. A fan wafted the scent of suspects into the gerbils’ cage, and the animals pressed a lever if they detected high levels of adrenalin—which meant that a terrorist was about to enter. However, after it was discovered that the gerbils could not discern between terrorists and passengers who were just scared of flying, the Israelis were forced to abandon it.

The US Department of Defence has a programme called Hybrid Insect Initiative.  Scientists implant electronic controls into insects’ bodies during the early stages of metamorphosis and allow tissue to grow around them. The insects can then be tracked, controlled and used to gather or transmit information. For example, a caterpillar could carry a microphone to record conversations or a gas sensor to detect a chemical attack.

In the 60s, the US, decided to make cats into bugging devices as a part of Operation Acoustic Kitty. The idea was to surgically alter cats so they could eavesdrop on conversations from park benches and windowsills. A battery and a microphone were implanted, and its tail became an antenna. Finally, five years later, after several surgeries, intensive training and spending $15 million, a cat was ready for its first field test. It was let out of a parked van across the street, and was immediately hit by a taxi. Thus, the Operation Acoustic Kitty was declared a failure and abandoned in 1967.

Military experiments

Toward the end of World War II, the US Air Force suggested strapping small incendiary devices on bats, loading them into cages shaped like bombshells, and dropping them from a plane.  The bats would escape from the shells and find their way into Japanese buildings where their miniature bombs would explode. The US military began developing these ‘bat bombs’ in the early 1940s, but the first test went awry when the bats set fire to an Air Force base. Many bats were either uncooperative or they simply dropped like rocks or flew away. Despite this, the US Army used as many as 6,000 of the mammals in their experiments and spent $2 million on this project, before finally giving up and turning it  over to the Navy. But the programme was cancelled in 1944 because of its slow progress.

The British military in World War II, killed rats and stuffed them with plastic explosives. The carcasses were left by spies in factories all over Germany, where it was hoped that the stoker tending a boiler would dispose it into the furnace causing it to explode. Unfortunately, the scheme did not work.

In the 1920s, the Russian military tried to create a race of super soldiers by crossing human and chimpanzee genes. A top veterinary scientist, Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was tasked with creating an “invincible human being, insensitive to pain.” Female chimpanzees were impregnated with human sperm. The next stage of the experiment was to use ape sperm to impregnate a human female. But when the animals died, the programme was called off.

Both Sweden and the Soviet Union attempted to utilise moose as cavalry instead of horses. Unfortunately, the animals were difficult to feed, and at the first sound of gunfire they fled the battlefield.

Birds in warfare

Pigeons have always been used to carry messages, but in World War II, Project Pigeon was a US military plan to place pigeons inside the nose cone of a missile in order to guide it towards the right target. A specialised nose cone would be created that would fit onto a Pelican missile. Each cone had three compartments that would consist of house-trained pigeons, and a screen that showed the path of the missile. As the missile fell towards its target, the pigeons would peck at the screen and align the missile in the right direction. The pigeons were trained beforehand to recognise the target, so if it was off-centre—when the missile veered—the controls would correct it until all three pigeons were pecking at the centre of the screen, keeping the target dead centre ahead. The project did receive funding, but was abandoned later. In World War II alone, thousands of pigeons were being used to send messages. So, to prevent German pigeons from coming into England, the British trained a force of peregrine falcons to patrol the coast of Great Britain and intercept them. Two enemy pigeons were even captured alive and were kept as prisoners of war.

I could go on, and on, with military’s mad ideas involving animals but none of this is funny because so many animal lives are lost in the process. One day we must find out what our own Army is doing.

To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

Published: 06-09-2015 08:05

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