Dr. Teresa Whitehurst
May 26, 2005
When Boy Kills Dog
A Meditation on Killing First and Asking Questions Later
After all the human carnage thatís gone on in Afghanistan and Iraq, I suppose itís not too important to many Americans that our dog lovers in uniform have been forced to "go through towns shooting dogs" because theyíre "suspected of carrying rabies." A young soldier, 19 years old, reported this sad assignment to my daughter a month or so ago, but quickly added, "I donít want to talk about it."
Some will leap to defend whatever the US military deems necessary: "Well of course they have to shoot rabid dogs. They spread disease and when our boys kill them, itís for the good of the Iraqi people." But most wonít even bother. After over 100,000 civilians and 1,600 US soldiers have died (not to mention the staggering numbers of permanently wounded and maimed Americans and Iraqis), what do dogs matter?
I wonít engage in an ethical or moral argument regarding the worth of dogs. Either youíre a dog lover or youíre not. Either you believe that dogs and puppies should be tested before being "put down" or you donít. Either you believe that life is sacred or you donít.
Instead, Iíd like to simply ask this question: What is the effect on young Americans who are given the odious task of marching through towns in Iraq and Afghanistan, gun in hand, shooting any and every dog "suspected" of carrying rabies?
Could it be that he was injured psychologically and morally by the sheer brutality of what he was ordered to do? Is he still in a state of shock that he, a dog lover from early childhood, could roam through city streets, shooting dead every stray dog, young or old, cute or limping, in his path? Have his eyes been opened to the flippant carelessness and disregard for life of his commanders, who consider the word "suspected" a synonym for "proven"?
Killing people has become commonplace to war-weary American minds, no big deal really. All thatís needed to justify the shooting of human beings are magic words to describe the victims that reliably dull the senses and calm the conscience: "insurgents," "militants," "suspected terrorists," or simply, "evil doers." But when boys kill dogs, something inside them dies, too.
Shoot First, Ask Questions Later
When we read a typical war report justifying killings of human beings, for example that US military weaponry slaughtered another 20 people, it wonít trouble Bush supporters because the killed people were "bad guys" ("insurgents," etc., claims for which no evidence is offered or required). Such justifications donít work as well when it comes to animal killing, however. Any dog lover, prowar or antiwar, would have trouble accepting the killing of 20 canines solely on the basis of someone having labeled them "bad dogs" or "suspected rabids."
Granted, had the media advisers at the White House or the Pentagon ever dreamed that anyone would bother to write about a matter so "trivial" as US soldiers hunting down and shooting dogs without so much as a cursory testing, they would have pre-empted it by sending out a couple hundred press releases and canned TV news segments last week about the dangers of rabid dogs; about how itís hard to tell by looking at them which are healthy and which are not; about how the US military is already overtaxed and hence canít take the time to test Iraqi dogs before shooting them; and about how, after all, "Weíre" (the imperial and assumed-collective "We") doing this For the People of Iraq.
But because this "action" was considered so inconsequential that it would never make the news, an opening was left for us to ponder, on a scale that some but not all of us consider miniscule, the morality of Bushian military policies that harm all forms of life, like kill-first-ask-questions-later and demonize-then-destroy.
If theyíre lucky, US troops will one day return to civilian life, where theyíll be expected to behave as something other than obedient killers. Young men like the one who doesnít want to talk about what heís done may become pet-owners, even fathers one day. They may marry women who donít yet know what has died within their young smiling beaus.
Killing dogs may seem a minor bump in the hard road of Mr. Bushís perpetual war of terror, but perhaps we should consider what happens to the minds and souls of young soldiers ordered to hunt down and kill a boyís best friend, gun in one hand and broken heart in the other.
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Dr. Teresa Whitehurst is a clinical psychologist, author of Jesus on Parenting (2004) and coauthor of The Nonviolent Christian Parent (2004). She offers parenting workshops, holds discussion groups on Nonviolent Christianity, and writes the column, "Democracy, Faith and Values: Because You Shouldnít Have to Choose Just One" as seen on her website.