|From Rebecca Frankel, War Dog, Foreign Policy|
Dogs, like people, can be happy and placid. Also like people, they've evolved to be socialized predators who can call up or fall into aggressive tendencies. Canines were domesticated not just for fuzzy warmth but for their ability to guard and attack. (Most everyone has heard that domesticated dogs bark far more than wild canids, presumably because the bark was useful to owners with poorer hearing abilities.) The deployment of dogs against an enemy has a long, complex history. Among the most horrendous examples was the use of dogs to catch, control, and intimidate slaves. During the early 1800s in Haiti, the colonizing French used starved dogs to attack, kill, and even eat rebelling slaves. Historian Sara Johnson has written about the use and training of these dogs and quotes a contemporary indictment of the slave managers for “not merely returning to the barbarism of the earliest periods, but descending to the characters of assassins and executions; and removing the boundaries which civilization had prescribed even to war, rendering it a wild conflict of brutes and a midnight massacre.” (Sara E. Johnson, "'You Should Give them Blacks to Eat': Waging Inter-American Wars of Torture and Terror" American Quarterly 61.1 March 2009: 65-92). For a number of animal rights adherents, people should never force an animal to do anything that would not be in the animal's own best interest. Nor should unwitting dogs be put in harm's way.
However, if someone you know is deployed to a military zone, you might hope that he or she has the best bomb-detecting device known. And that device probably has four legs. The U. S. Military has become increasing aware of dogs' value and of the imperative to treat them well during and after active service. Rebecca Frankel of Foreign Policy has been documenting the roles of dogs in combat, and one of her photos shows a Lab lolling blissfully with handlers,
|Rebecca Frankel, War Dogs|
While Frankel focuses on the amazing talents of these dogs, some other commentaries point to more dubious issues. Gardiner Harris, writing for The New York Times, notes that "dogs can be used to pacify an unruly group of people — particularly in the Middle East. 'There is a cultural aversion to dogs in some of these countries, where few of them are used as pets,” Major Roberts said. “Dogs can be very intimidating in that situation.' Sergeant Mylott said that dogs got people’s attention in ways that weapons sometimes did not. 'Dogs can be an amazing psychological deterrent,' she said."
Like the soldiers, the dogs follow orders, so the orders had better be good. Also like soldiers they shouldn't be completely docile and reactive. I've heard a dog-trainer, who used to train dogs for the army and now trains them for airport duty, say that they dog has to have an independent will to find something. The dog can't just look at the handler for the answer, after all.
Putting dogs in harm's way--that remains a big issue. But they are hardly seen as disposable by their handlers or by the people who invest significant time and money in training them. Rebecca Frankel's photo essay makes that point repeatedly.
Other war dog links:
See this blog, for April 10, 2011, on Lt. Col. Jay Kopelman's book, From Baghdad, With Love;
NPR Bomb-Sniffing Dogs;
CBC news on a run-away dog;
The Wall Street Journal on a shell-shocked dog;
Not every handler and dog return: fromThe Guardian earlier this spring.