Testing out weapons of war at Porton Down
Animals in War
When Animals Are Drafted
War Horses – the Engines of Battle
For Kittens of War, Marines are Heroes
All Creatures Great and Small
When Soldiers Deploy
The 80th Commando
Animal Soldiers Go Hi-Tech
Battle Buddy Now Therapy Donkey
Warrior Dog Gets Stem Cell Therapy
Animals, Conspiracies and ‘The Avengers’
Should We Be Testing Weapons of War on Animals?
Stray Dogs of War Take a Bow
The Most Decorated Dog
The Lion of Afghanistan
By Michael Mountain
Growing up in England in the 1960s, I used to watch the famous British TV series The Avengers, where John Steed and Mrs. Peel regularly found themselves uncovering conspiracies and fighting mad scientists at secret government facilities.
It was all good fun, but the mad scientists at these fictional secret laboratories were based on reality. At the top-secret laboratory at Porton Down in the west of England, British government scientists were doing truth-is-stranger-than-fiction experiments, testing weapons of war on unsuspecting subjects – mostly non-humans, but sometimes humans, too.
Originally set up during the World War I to manufacture and test chemical weapons, Porton Down quickly expanded into testing other kinds of chemical and biological weapons.
The super-secret lab landed in the headlines when people began to tell the newspapers how they had been used as subjects in grotesque experiments. Not even the absurd episodes of The Avengers could conjure up the horror of Porton Down. In one experiment, hundreds of people were unknowingly exposed to nerve gas. In 1953, Ronald Maddison, age 20, died moments after having liquid sarin dripped on to his arm. His family told investigators that the young soldier had been told they were trying out a cure to the common cold.
Beyond these few hundred humans, countless numbers of animals were – and are to this day – being tortured to death in the bowels of this bizarre facility.
On May 14, 2006, The Independent newspaper reported that the number of military experiments on animals had doubled in the previous five years, and that live animal tests were now being conducted at Porton Down on behalf of foreign governments.
Monkeys were being exposed to anthrax, pigs were having their blood drained, being injected with E Coli, and being shot with bullets to test out the efficacy of body armor. At least 100,000 other animals, from pigs to primates, and dogs to mice, were being exposed to poison gas and lethal nerve agents.
The Iraq war was in full swing at this time, and the major justification for going to war was that Saddam Hussein was using weapons of mass destruction. But, as the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection wryly noted,
“It’s bitterly ironic that the only victims of weapons of mass destruction in this conflict turn out to be animals.”
Should we or shouldn’t we?
In the early days of the war in Afghanistan, there was indignation in this country at reports that Osama bin Laden was testing out his weapons on dogs. But this was nothing compared to what our own military does to animals. Most weapons of war are tested on them to establish their efficacy. Pigs, dogs and other animals are dressed up with body armor and then shot at to see the effects. And all manner of chemical and biological agents are tested out on animals.
If you or I had a son or daughter fighting in a war, and their lives could be saved by experimenting on a pig, would we go for it? Probably, yes. We all want to protect our own. We’d probably even agree to using on our own neighbors in experiments if we could get away with it. The Nazis gained valuable knowledge by experimenting on Jews, gypsies and other people they persuaded themselves were “sub-human”. And that’s precisely why we have laws … moral imperatives … deep cultural inhibitions by which we stop ourselves from doing things we know are wrong, however badly we want to do them.
Testing out weapons of war on unconsenting individuals – human or other – is simply wrong.
And the fact that it protects our sons and daughters from some of the worst horrors of war is beside the point. If we don’t like what wars do to our own children, then it’s time to find a better way to resolve our conflicts.
If we don’t want our young soldiers to be killed, mutilated, disfigured and traumatized by the horrors of war, then the solution is not to find better ways of testing out weapons; it’s to find better ways of settling our disputes.
We humans are the only species on earth that wages war on each other on a global scale. Every other species has found a way of resolving disputes in a way that is not massively self-destructive.
If we want to pride ourselves on being more intelligent, more moral, more civilized than our fellow animals, then it’s time to start doing what most of them learned to do long before our species ever even came to be.
The way to save ourselves from the horrific wounds of war is not by inflicting them on other, more peaceful animals. It’s to take a lesson from these animals, consign the horrors of places like Porton Down to silly TV shows like The Avengers where they belong.