by Ryan Hediger, editor
Leiden & Boston: E.J. Brill, 2013. Pp. xiv, 268.
Illus., notes, index. $125.00 paper. ISBN: 9004236201
Animals at War
is a partially satisfactory look at the military use of animals.
The authors of the essays in this collection have varied backgrounds and fields: Sociology, English, Public History, American Studies, Media, Society and Arts, Cultural Anthropology, Social Sciences, Gender Studies, and human-animal relations, but none come with a background in military history. This eclectic group of authors gives us a series of essays focusing upon various animals and their use in warfare, from the humble bee and rat to the raven and Nazi guard dogs. The essays are grouped into two categories, the first examines various animals and their use in war from the propaganda value of zoo animals to the venerable war horse and war dog, and the second examines how we humans represent these animals in myth and memorial.
It is unfortunate that these essays come with an agenda, attempting to convince the reader that animals should not be used in war and failing that they should be afforded equal status with that of humans. "God protects dogs from the knowledge of death . . . so they will be brave and serve their fellow man. Because of their unconditional love, devotion, humility and honesty, all dogs are rewarded in the afterlife with the equivalent of Heaven." (p.102) Though the essays provide extensive footnotes and documentation in support of their findings, the premise upon which most are founded is flawed. Dogs and other animals have long been an integral part of warfare. Throughout the essays runs a paradoxical theme of human-animal relationships. Animals have innate abilities we as humans can only admire and abuse to our benefit while at the same time we establish deeply felt emotional ties and sympathies for these same animals. "Maybe it is also because wars are the darkest episodes in human history, and horses represent things we admire: loyalty, comradeship, innocence, courage, endurance, resilience, wisdom, and power. It is difficult for people to think of the pain, fear, and agony horses have felt during wars." (p.148) There are, in fact, numerous soldiers' memoirs contradict that second sentence.
Given the price, this work, a volume in the Brill series “Human-Animal Studies,” is clearly intended for the specialist, which is unfortunate as, although not wholly satisfactory in providing an overview of the subject, Animals and War does offer the reader some interesting insights into the use of various species in warfare.
Our Reviewer: Bill Speer is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Military College (formerly the Delaware Military Academy and now Widener University). A long-time instructor in history at American Military University, he has written for the Office of Signal Corps History and North & South, among others. Speer is the author of the series From Broomsticks To Battlefields, dealing with PMC alumni in the Civil War, among them From Broomsticks To Battlefields: After the Battle, The Story of Henry Clay Robinett,
who held “Battery Robinett” at Corinth, and the forthcoming Harum-Scarum: The Story of David Vickers Jr.