Animals in war

“It would not be an overstatement to say that the outcomes of many of histories wars might have been very different if it were not for the role that animals such as horses and dogs played in them”
– Margo De Mello, Animals and Society

And it’s not just horses and dogs:

“Armies past and present have made use of pigs and other animals such as dogs, horses and even rats to help them win battles and conquer lands.”
– Pia Spry-Marques

Legend has it that Alexander the Great used squealing pigs to panic the war elephants of his enemies.  This was a tactic also used by Romans to repel the Greeks.  On another occasion, a squealing pig was hung from the walls of a besieged town to frighten the elephants of the enemy camped outside.  In the 1st century AD, pigs doused in pitch were set alight and driven towards the enemy’s war elephants.  War elephants were clearly intimidating but they are prone to panicking – hence the use of squealing pigs to scare them.  They would stampede in their attempts to escape and so each rider had a spike and a hammer to kill the elephant in the case that it charged towards their own lines.

Of course, dogs were also used. Ancient Greeks and Romans used them to guard their communities and military outposts.  They have also been used as pack animals, messengers, to attack, as companionship for soldiers and to pull injured soldiers to safety.  When Europeans settled in North American, dogs were even trained to attack, and even kill, the natives.

In 16th century manuscripts, we find ‘rocket cats’ being used to invade castles; cats living in the castle would be captured, bomb attached and then there was the assumption the cat would return to the castle.  I can only assume the people suggesting this plan hadn’t spent much time with a cat… I cannot image them being cooperative…

Other “animal weapons” included foxes with fire tied to their tails, boars with gun powder on their back and ‘fire birds’ – birds who had a bag of embers attached to them.  The idea being that they would then roost on enemy buildings and cause a fire.

We have a lot more information about animals used in World War One and Two, and species utilised included pigeons, horses, dogs and cats.  World War Two was the last conflict to use great numbers of horses and millions of them were killed along with tens of thousands of dogs and other animals including bats…

There was a US plan to attach timed bombs to the bats and release them en masse.  The idea being that they’d settle on buildings and then explode.  Whilst it never actually happened, it was tested and in the tests the bats roosted on a fuel tank… there were no fire extinguishers on the site.  $24 million in today’s money was spent on testing this…

More successfully, pigeons were used to convey messages and were trained to guide missiles.  It was better than existing technology but I’m not sure if pigeon missiles were ever actually implemented.  One messenger pigeon called Gustav conveyed the news of the D Day landing and by the time World War Two ended, 32 pigeons had received medals.

The Dickin medal was created in world war two to recognise animals in war.  It was established by Marie Dickin who also founded PDSA and the medal helped to publicise the charity as well as acknowledge the role of animals. Additionally, it provided a good news story during the war.

Since 1943, the medal was been awarded 71 times; 34 dogs, 32 pigeons, 4 horses and one cat called Simon who “Served on HMS Amethyst during the Yangtse Incident, disposing of many rats though wounded by shell blast. Throughout the incident his behaviour was of the highest order, although the blast was capable of making a hole over a foot in diameter in a steel plate.”

Alongside this good news story, the UK’s MoD lab Porton Down (opened in 1916) was investigating and experimenting on animals:

“A large number involve exploding live pigs to assess whether humans would be able to survive this sort of extreme battlefield injury and, if they did, to figure out what would be the best blood-clotting solutions for this kind of trauma.  As part of the centre’s experimental programme, pigs are also shot repeatedly and later operated on by arm doctors, or are made to inhale mustard gas to assess how this toxic gas affects human concentration levels and orientation.”
– Pia Spry-Marques

Animal experimentation wasn’t confined to the UK.  In 1946, at Bikini Atoll, 147 pigs, 3030 rats, 109 mice, 57 guinea pigs and 176 were placed in ships near to where the first atomic bomb was dropped to see how and to what extent the radiation would affect them.  Eleven years later, in the US’ Operation Plumbbob, experiments assessed the impact of radiation on pigs.

Other animals used in the world wars included the glow worm which was trapped in a jar and then used to help soldiers read maps and letters in the dark trenches.  The humble slug was used by the US army in their trenches as an early warning system to alert soldiers to the presence of mustard gas.  Slugs are more sensitive to it than humans and thus would alert the soldiers and indicate it was necessary to put on a gas mask.

In the Vietnam War, Agent Orange was used to destroy plant life (allegedly aimed at food supplies) but had the result of destroying major habitats.  The homes of tigers, elephants, gibbons, leopards and other animals were destroyed. Additionally, unexploded landmines would kill at least 40,000 animals after the war.

During the cold war, a fence 815 km long was erected between Germany and the Czech republic and although the border is now open, red deer who live in the area still don’t cross the line.  Fences such as this one have known impacts on nature.  They divide populations, split males from females, interrupt migration routes and block access to food and water sources.

Since 1960, the US Navy has used dolphins and sea lions to protect ports and equipment from attack, to retrieve objects, to spy and to locate sea mines.  They are used because they can dive deep without getting the bends, they are fast, reliable, adaptable and most importantly trainable.

Of course it’s not just marine animals that have been used to detect mines, many land animals have been used as well.  For example, the Nazis used pigs, cows and camels to check for minefields as they moved across Egypt and we have bomb sniffing dogs and rats.  In particular, the Giant African Pouched Rat has been trained by US military to detect buried landmines – they can sniff them out and are too light to set them off.

During the Iran-Iraq war, numbers of wild goats, wolves, otters, pelicans, striped hyenas and other animals were dramatically reduced, sometimes even wiped out.  In the Afghan war more than half the total livestock population was lost and in the Gulf war, more than 80% of the livestock in Kuwait died.  A deliberate oil leak by Iraqi troops also killed many aquatic animals and birds.

Looking very briefly at the impact of war on animals, we can see that zoo animals are inevitably affected during war.  Sometimes that has meant food shortages other times it has resulted in individuals being killed as a preventative attempt so that dangerous animals weren’t running around if they got out during bombing.

During Mozambique’s civil war – 1977 to 1992 – elephants were butchered for ivory and meat and populations dropped significantly.  Thankfully they are now bouncing back.  Lions, buffalo, hippos, wildebeest are now more numerous than in 1994.  During the war, Gorongosa National Park was a refuge for rebel forces and when government troops came to challenge them, there was carnage and fighting which inevitably had consequences for the wildlife in the area.

And in a very different vein, dogs are well known for their use in supporting soldiers with PTSD, so I leave you with this video, in order to end on a brighter note…



Devilish creatures

The (Christian) devil has had many faces, some more human than others, and we can look at these depictions to learn about what the people who made them were afraid of.  Depictions of the devil and demons inevitably reflect the prejudices of the day and we can see that in descriptions of demons as peasant like, with red hair, with appearance of a Scotsman and so on.

We have had a virtually blank slate when it comes to the appearance of the devil as the bible doesn’t really give any detail, thus making it easy to project fears onto.

“Many kinds of animals have come to symbolize the evil beast, as a force associated with evil or whatever it is we dislike.”
– Lynda Birke

During the middle ages, the devil was depicted as animal like with horns, a tail and sharp teeth – an image I’m sure we’re all familiar with today.  This became more human from the 16th century, thus more able to seduce and recruit witches to his cause.

Depicting the devil as an animal may have been a way of reinforcing both the chain of being and the animalistic nature of the devil.  Using animals such as male goats and rams could have been to emphasise him as a sexual being – hence wild and uncontrolled and seductive – as horns have long been used to represent fertility and sexuality.  Some people have suggested that the goat has been linked with the devil because of their weird, devilish, eyes but I think it’s hard to know which came first – a chicken and egg situation.  Admittedly goats have unusual eyes and this may have been enough for people to declare them devil touched.  We also have the idea of goats vs sheep – the sheep being the flock of saved souls and the goat being those who are damned.

Pre-Christian thinking and beliefs inevitably have a role to play in how the devil was imagined.  In ancient Babylonia there were wicked demons; winged female creatures that flew at night looking for men to seduce and children to attack.  Christianity routinely took existing gods and turned them into evil spirits and this may be how the devil acquired wings.  We can also see the devil as the ancestor of Pan – a half man, half goat Roman god who was associated with lust and hence could easily be seen as the epitome of temptation.  Pan was also the god of nature and casting him as the devil reinforced the divide between man and nature, and emphasised the importance of not worshipping nature.

The devil also appeared as a cat or dog.  Greeks and Romans associated dogs with Hecate, a goddess of witchcraft (and by association for Christians, of evil).  There has also been a long association of dogs with the underworld and thus it was natural for Christianity to link dogs and the devil.  Dogs also roamed freely and uncontrolled in the middle ages, a time when restless souls, or those who didn’t seem to belong anywhere, were seen with suspicion.

Another devilish form is the serpent, specifically, the serpent in the garden of Eden.  Again, this highlights the sexual, seductive and tempting nature of the devil as snakes have a long association with fertility and sex.

These different forms fed into the concerns around bestiality.  The animal could well be the devil in disguise and thus sex with it would lead to half monster creatures and the devil would have succeeded in creating chaos and disrupting the god given order of the world.

In addition to the devil himself being portrayed as an animal, we see this association between devil and beast in the form of witches familiars.  The species varied significantly and included cats, dogs, rats, toads, mice, snails, birds, ferrets, moles and even small insects such as flies and moths.  Whilst a witch may find their familiar appears out of nowhere, or is gifted by a fellow witch, one way of acquiring them was through the devil.  The devil would give it in exchange for a pledge of allegiance.

We also find witches on the continent riding to sabbats on demons disguised as animals, and were said to be able to shape shift themselves as well as transform others into animals.  All of this added to the threat that witches posed.

Something I’ve been pondering as I’ve been writing this is, what would the devil look like today?  I can’t help but think of certain politicians…


Men, women and nature; a hierarchy

One of the ideas that came up when I was looking at the line between humans and animals was the idea that there is a hierarchy, with men at the top, followed by women, then nature.  So as a woman, I am ‘better’ than an animal, but I can’t begin to think I am as ‘good’ as a man.  Living in a patriarchal society as a well informed feminist, this wasn’t a new idea but it got me thinking.

Women have long been ‘lumped in’ with nature, with animals and this has affected how women have been treated.  It has also affected men.  With women being seen as other, and by default lesser, than man, men then must separate themselves from the devalued femininity.  They must act manly to preserve the distinction between male and female and to preserve their status.

There are a number of ways in which animals and women have lived parallel lives.  Animals have been portrayed as being limited by their biology, being driven by instinct alone, and so have women – we are depicted, for example, as being a slave to our hormones.  Science has historically had little respect for women, just like for animals.

And talking of science, studies of animals and their society have been, and still are, used to reinforce ideas around humans including our beliefs about gender and sexual orientation.  Animal studies incorporate and reinforce our beliefs about masculinity and femininity.

We can see this play out when we look at the theory of evolution.  We often see survival of the fittest portrayed as a competitive display of strength and power, individuals pitted against each other in a show down, a somewhat masculine image.  This is also despite the numerous examples of mutuality within nature.

Another concept around evolution is that of sexual selection.  This is almost exclusively talked about as being one sex (male) competing against others for the limited reproductive resources of the other (female) and thus:

“the language of evolutionary theory, then, has helped to construct images of gendered animals, the prototypes of gendered people.”
– Lynda Birke

Whilst we’re looking at evolution, we should also note that the iconic image of ape turning into man, suggests a “linear progression towards the apex” (Birke) and reinforces the idea of humans are at the top of a scale.  This, and other ways of talking about and illustrating evolution, conflates placement in time with judgement of worth.  Stopping and thinking about it, you realise how paradoxical it is – we are the new kids on the block and for some reason we think we should automatically be neighbourhood king.

Western thinking tends to see nature (and women) as something to be dominated, to be conquered and this has consequences for how we treat nature (and women).

“Western imperialism and global exploitation assumes that it can appropriate nature’s resources without significant consequence; those resources may be other peoples, or they may be directly affected by western destruction of their local environment.”
– Birke

In addition to colonising the world, we see this played out in the male conquest of the wilderness; hiking, climbing, mountaineering, and of course hunting.  Hunting feels like it may be the ultimate act of subduing nature and hence a badge of masculinity with the furs and taxidermy used as status symbols.  And if hunting is a way of showing how well you can dominate, to then eat the animals you’ve killed, is even better.  Eating is loaded with symbolism; ‘real men’ eat meat, vegetarianism is effeminate and so on.  Even our pets can have something to say about our gender; owning a rottweiler is a sign of masculinity whereas a poodle is a sign of femininity.

The language we use to describe or denigrate women – chick, pussy, bitch etc – all reinforce the idea of women as part of the ‘non human animal’ group, separated from men.  They reinforce the difference between men and women and are used to reinforce gender stereotypes which in turn reinforces the hierarchy.  And just as some men react by rejecting any suggestion of femininity, some women reject the suggestion of animality.

There are some reasons why women may want to separate themselves from animals, a major one being that all the time we are seen as animalistic, we can be treated as animals, which at this point in history opens us up to abuse and suffering.  In the late 19th century, women became concerned about the treatment of animals because they feared that the fate of animals could easily become the fate of women.  Being grouped with animals may feel, to some people, like they are being denied their humanity.  Thinking of women as animals is certainly it is a form of objectification which is inherent with all kinds of issues…

In separating women from animals, there is the possibility, the hope, of aligning ourselves next to men and thus claiming a place at the top of the hierarchy.  But is this the end goal we really want to head towards?

“Animals in western culture are ‘other’, objects of scientific enquiry.  We have defined ourselves in opposition to a generality of ‘animals’, irrespective of the qualities of individual species.  It seems paradoxical that at a time when much feminist theory is moving beyond simple dualism of gender (outing great emphasis on differences between women, say) it should do so by implicitly building its analyses on another simple dichotomy – humans verses ‘other animals’.  A more consistent approach, indeed, might be to extend the emphases on plurality and difference, and to begin to deconstruct the (punitive) boundary between us and other species.”
– Birke

Bestiality: Resources

Below are the main resources I’ve used whilst considering bestiality.  There are some additional links within the posts themselves.


Please use viewer discretion

Bestiality in fairy tales

If you’ve been following my blog recently, you will have noticed the bestiality series.  And you might well be thinking ok, well that is a topic that’s for other people, it’s nothing to do with me. But this overlooks bestiality in fairy tales, in mythology and in folklore.  Think beauty and the beast.  Think Leda and the swan.

“Legends about animal deities and their sexual congress with humans can be found in ancient cultures the world over – Sumarian, Indian, Chinese, Egyptian and Babylonian”
– Tatov

“Nearly every storytelling culture maps out dating practices with animal partners”
– Maria Tatov

“Mythologies throughout the world tell of intimate kinships that people have established with animals, whether as shapeshifters in the present or as ancestors in the remote past”
– Boria Sax

Starting with mythology from Ancient Greek, we find Zeus who took the form of an eagle to rape Ganymede.  He took the form of a swan to seduce the mortal woman Leda and the form of a bull to have sex with Europa.  Then there are the centaurs, which some people point to as the result of a Centaurus interbreeding with horses and hence the result of bestiality.

“There are several old tales of sexual unions between human beings and various animals producing composite creatures.”
– Sax

This theme of Gods turning into animals to have sex with humans is found elsewhere in the world including in the Roman empire and in Hinduism where sex with an animal was thought to be sex with a god incarnated in the form of an animal.  An Indonesian myth tells of a princess marrying a dog and giving birth to a son who would become an ancestor of a particular tribe.

In an Italian folktale – the King’s Pig – a cursed man is turned into a pig who killed his first two wives who were disgusted by him.  His third wife was quite satisfied by having sex with a pig.  In a Greek folktale – the golden crab – the beautiful princess marries a crab and wants no one else.

These two examples show that bestiality isn’t always the route to a restoration of humanity, a structure we are more familiar with.  Such as in the case of a Bantu story where a crocodile turns back into a human when a maiden licks it’s face.

The latter will likely seem familiar to many readers as it fits the form of an animal bride/groom tale.  A pattern where a bride has no choice but to marry an animal, often urged on by her father.  She suffers in that marriage although there are some good moments.  Her ordeal is rewarded by riches and the animal returns to being a man.  Sometimes the gender roles are reversed but often the spell breaks when the animal proves their human worth or is loved, generally by a virgin.  And yes, this is literally the plot of beauty and the beast.  That is how interwoven into our lives, bestiality is.

In early versions of little red riding hood, the girl saves herself from being eaten by engaging in bestiality, something that is now generally lost from today’s versions.

There are also the selkie style stories where a man steals the animal’s feathers or skin in order to trick her into marriage.  In the end, she tends to find her feathers or skin and is able to return to her animal form and escapes the husband.

That these stories cross cultures and time, suggests a desire to question or interrogate something that is universal.  That may be a fear of burgeoning sexuality, concerns about forced marriages or an attempt to understand the line between man and beast.  Another argument is that it’s about understanding other humans, about building empathy and showing the flares inherent in judging someone based on their appearance.  Whatever it is, there is something in these stories of sex between human and animal that continues to appeal to us today.

Bestiality and the line between man and beast

How we define humans and other animals, and the importance of that dividing line, is crucial to understanding bestiality as a transgression of the natural order.  So often this dividing line is one that demarcates a hierarchy, with humans at the top.

Even in religions where animals are valued more than in Christianity, humans tend to be on top.  Hindus believe in reincarnation and believe that animals and humans both have souls.  Humans can be reborn as an animal and vice versa but humans are considered “to be the apex of what life should be” (DeMello) and hence are superior.  Buddhists also have the idea of karma, and consider that humans and animals both have potential to reach enlightenment but again being reborn as an animal is seen as negative.

Human exceptionalism is the belief that humans are unique in the animal world but it is not the only way to approach the world.  The human animal divide is “neither universally found nor universally agreed upon” (DeMello).  It is a social construction, dependent upon time and place.

For example, in some Native American traditions, humans, animals and plants are created together.  In this context, humans are part of the natural world, not apart.  A number of creation myths have animal creators giving birth to humans and animals and this clearly influences how we see, and treat, animals.  Notably, some animals were seen as superior to humans and there wasn’t a concept of animals as private property.

The divide between, and differential values of, human and animal likely arose with the domestication of animals.  For hunter gatherer societies, the collection of plants and hunting of animals involves an intimate interaction with nature.  On the other hand, a society that’s based around producing food involves control of, and intervention with, nature.  We can’t domesticate animals for our own use unless we create some sort of a divide.  The rise of agriculture meant a new concept of animals and humans, one where humans transcend and control.  Animals no longer exist in the same world as humans, they belong to nature which humans have been able to ‘overcome’.

The rise of Christianity also influenced this divide.  There is a concept called the great chain of being which divides beings into physical and spiritual, those who have souls or not.  Within this hierarchy, humans are uniquely placed in that they are physical and spiritual, we are the only beings with souls and hence are closer to god than animals are.  The great chain of being set out the natural order of things and if it is broken, there would be disastrous consequences, all that is secure would falter.

“God had created an orderly nature with clear boundaries between humans and beasts.  Satan, and the buggerers who served him, were challenging the boundaries and threatening to reduce everything to confusion.”
– John Murrin

As an aside, not all humans are equal within the chain, some are less human – women, children, lower classes – and in many cases were treated as animals.

At particular points in history, such as when nature seemed to be getting too close to man, it wasn’t enough to construct this divide, it had to be proven and one way was to dominate animals.  This meant that owning and controlling animals was a part of what it meant to be humans.  This is reinforced because to own and control animals, you need to divide yourself from them:

“by drawing a sharp dividing line between human and non human, a vast gap is created between subject (the free acting human agent) and object (the passive acted-upon thing)… we perceive ourselves as belonging to a totally different order: the realm of culture, while all other beings and inanimate things are only nature.”
– Barbara Noske

Within this mindset, humans having sex with animals tested the boundaries between humans and animals and gods.  It could lead to half man half beast creatures which would be placeless in the chain.  It would also reduce man to the level of animal and generally lead to chaos and confusion.

Knowing this helps us to understand the almost instinctive, strong reactions that bestiality invokes.  Sex with animals degrades humans, and humanity, and undermines the “crucial understanding that human beings are unique, special, and of the highest moral worth in the known universe… [it] is an affront to humankind’s inestimable importance and intrinsic moral worth” (Wesley J Smith)

Today we find the divide used, and reinforced, in how we talk about animals, turning them into objects by labelling them ‘breeding stock’, ‘meat’ and so on:

“when we are determined to do violence to an animal, we must first turn the victim into a despicable “thing” that deserves such treatment”
– Noske

Interestingly, this may make it easier for people to carry out acts of bestiality, seeing the animal as an object or a possession rather than a living creature with a soul.

We cannot understand behaviours and attitudes outside of the culture in which they exist and this is so true of bestiality.

Bestiality and Masculinity

One thing I have found in all my research into bestiality is that it is, predominantly, a male activity.  There are women who do it, but over and over again, the majority of what I’ve read is talking about men.  Some of this may be down to the historical importance of penetration when it came to trials but I think it goes beyond that.

Looking back in history, between 1635 and 1778, Sweden executed about 700 people for bestiality, mostly adolescent boys and young men.  At the same time, under the UK laws, penetration was necessary and hence those people prosecuted were almost always men.  There was at least one exception and that was a woman and her dog who were hanged in 1679.  Women were generally accused in a different way, through witchcraft trials.  English women on trial for witchcraft would often confess to having sex with the devil, who frequently took an animal form.

“Bestiality discredited men in the way that witchcraft discredited women”
– John Murrin

However, unlike bestiality which is a specific act and a one off incident, witchcraft tended to be vague.  Bestiality vs witchcraft is a topic that I want to look into more in the future.

At certain points in British history, abuse of an animal was considered to be a violation of the man’s property, as was the case when women were abused by men other than their husband.

When I was looking at reasons why people have sex with animals, or how they explain their actions, I focused mostly on the modern situation.  Historically, Arab men have had sex with goats, mares, sheep, sows, asses and cooperative camels.  It was believed that sex with an animal increased virility, cured disease and made their penis bigger – the latter is a belief that I’ve found replicated in different cultures.  What won’t men do for a bigger dick?

“Sex between humans and nonhuman animals remains a typically male activity”
– Christine Overall

There are also parts of the world where sex with animals has been, and still is, a male rite of passage.  Whether that’s penetrating a donkey, or sticking your penis into a pig’s mouth

Some cultures also view young men having sex with animals as a part of learning about sex and sexuality.  It is also a way of demonstrating man’s control and domination over nature.

We have to consider this topic within the context of the patriarchal society we live in, where women are still so often considered objects, there for the amusement of men.

“The privileged expectation in male dominant societies [is] that men shall have sexual access to the bodies of women as a right”
– Sheila Jeffreys

This attitude around the right to sex, sex entitlement, certainly has a role to play and as we saw in the justifications section of this series, some people have sex with animals because they can’t have sex with women.

“Animal sexual assault is the product of a masculinity that sees women, animals and nature as objects that can be controlled, manipulated and exploited.”
– Pier Beirne

We see this when we look at male sexist language.  Calling women bitches, birds, chicks, foxy, fresh meat etc creates emotional distance between man and ‘prey’, making women less than and hence easier to abuse without guilt.  If this is the case, then surely within this construct, it’s not much of a stretch to abuse animals.

As I said at the start, women do engage in bestiality and I don’t want to portray this as a purely masculine behaviour but it is something to keep in mind in this conversation.