A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Comparisons with Concentration Camps

pigs-111213Last week, shocked by the latest disturbing video from Mercy for Animals about life and death for pigs at factory farms, Andrew Sullivan wrote a post on his popular blog The Dish called “Inside America’s Concentration Camps.”

A conservative Catholic, Sullivan is appalled by what he’s seeing. As a Republican, he’s appalled that Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey was cozying up to the meat lobby during his election campaign by vetoing a bill that would have banned gestation crates – cages so small that pigs cannot turn around or even lie down in them.

On what conceivable grounds could Christie veto a bill banning such barbarism? Pigs are close to dogs in intelligence and emotion. Would we allow puppies to be picked up by the tail and have their heads smashed into concrete? Would we allow corporations to keep a dog in a crate so small it cannot even turn around for its entire life? It’s about time the national press began pestering Christie, Walmart, the National Pork Producers Council, and all those complicit in this evil for an answer.

In a follow-up, Sullivan posted responses from readers. For example:

I am a lifelong lover of bacon, ham, and almost every other pork product!  But in light of what I have now learned about the treatment of pigs in American factory farms I can no longer, in good conscience, continue to consume pork. 

But then Sullivan pulled back. Not from his horror at what goes on at these hell holes, but at the way he had compared them to “concentration camps.” In a new post, entitled “Inside America’s Torture Factories,” he apologizes for the use of the CC words and quotes a reader who chastised him:

“You do yourself and your argument no favors when you refer to industrial pork farms – however cruel they may be – as “America’s Concentration Camps.” These farms may be barbaric, but to refer to them as “concentration camps” is spectacularly disrespectful to the six million people who were murdered at Nazi camps.  Unless you believe that a pig’s soul is the full equal of a human one (and I have never got that impression reading you) the comparison is completely inept.”

“I should have been more sensitive,” Sullivan writes. 

I beg to disagree. And so would the famous Jewish author Isaac Bashevis Singer, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, who wrote, referring to one of the Nazi camps, that “For the animals, life is an eternal Treblinka.”

Alex Hershaft, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and founder of the Farm Animal Reform Movement, also compares factory farms to the Nazi holocaust, seeing parallels including “the crowding, cattle cars, brutality and the routine and efficiency of mass extermination.” We do not disrespect our own kind by comparing factory farms to death camps; quite the opposite, we disrespect the animals by failing to make such an obvious comparison.

I was born soon after World War II and grew up learning how part of our family – aunts, uncles and cousins who were living in Belgium – had been taken away in cattle cars to the death camps. When I first learned about factory farming, my first reaction was that the Nazis had done to humans almost exactly what we do to the animals we eat: We round them up, cram them into cattle cars and trucks, transport them to death houses, kill them, and then roast them.

We do not disrespect other humans by comparing factory farms to death camps; quite the opposite, we disrespect the animals by failing to make such an obvious comparison.

The same “sensitivities” are sometimes expressed by African Americans when we compare the life of a nonhuman animal in captivity to the life of a human in slavery. In both cases, it is slavery pure and simple. There’s no other word for it.

I, too, have sometimes been taken to task for comparing the life of, say, an elephant in a circus or an orca at a “marine park”, who exists simply to make profit for her owner, to human slavery. But if we cannot accept the parallel, we blind ourselves to the history of slavery, disenfranchisement and discrimination by us humans against each other and against other animals.

Comparing how we’ve treated each other to how we’re treating nonhuman animals does not debase us. By respecting the lives of other species and treating them as we would want to be treated in their place, we only ennoble ourselves.