Foreign Fields (2)

This year the ‘toxic trinity’ of modern times caught up with the Animals in War: these are the animals that were harnessed to assist with warfare, from the horses, donkeys, racing-pigeons and dogs of the past, right up to today’s IED ‘sniffer’ dogs (about whose casualty rates we are never told).

Last year Ottawa joined London as only the second city in the world to have a memorial to these Animals in War: if the rows of crosses in war cemeteries across the world are an enduring image of human battle-deaths, so is the mud-stranded horse of the First World War, thanks in part to the recent phenomenal success of ‘War Horse’.

On May 27th this year the ‘toxic trinity’, namely the conjoining of conflict, religion and ethnicity, left a curious mark: the word ‘Islam’ was spray-painted in large red letters across the London memorial located in the heart of the city (the memorial fund-raising was spearheaded by the Marjan Centre Board chairman, Major General Peter Davies CB).

The same word, also in red, appeared on the nearby memorial to the crews of the RAF’s World War Two Bomber Command: nobody or group either claimed responsibility or was charged, but the context might have provided a clue.

That day a raucous protest march was held in central London by the ultra-nationalist, Muslim-hating English Defence League (EDL): was the graffiti a Muslim counter-protest against the ‘sins’ of the West or the Western ‘way of war’; was it an ‘agent provocateur’ of the EDL, or for that matter any other group ?

The Roman philosopher Lucretius had stern words in De Rerum Natura about the link between war and wildlife, in terms of courting disaster both in real and moral terms. Meanwhile Christianity has struggled and failed to find a unified interpretation of ‘stewardship’ of the planet, which could be interpreted as either honesty or failure.

No half-way measures, however, exist in the rainforest of the Amazon basin: wildlife is being stripped out at an accelerating pace. To feed his family a man will spend all day in 40 degree heat, staring up at the towering canopy, looking for a meal ticket. At last, a large ball of brown fur is spotted, suspended, immoveable – it is a Three-Toed Sloth, slow, silent and harmless, worth $30 for the hunter.

The hunter hangs his trophy suspended in mid-air, dead or alive, like a crucifix in the jungle, a cross in some foreign field. The Three-Toed Sloth certainly did not die to save Mankind, or for their country or for freedom. Neither is there a resurrection: it is either death or life in solitary confinement as a penthouse pet or in a squalid shack for the Three-Toed Sloth (weblink:

Nor will drone strikes or ‘special forces’ raids be called in to save the Three-Toed Sloth; no special ‘protection zones’, no commentary in the ‘op-ed’ pages or excitable monographs comparing sloth counter-insurgency tactics with ‘eating soup with a knife’; no statements from the politicians in condemnation, or UN ‘rapporteurs’ or a Security Council mandate: out in the canopy of the Amazon you live and die on your own, and the Three-Toed Sloth is defenceless – his/her immoveability once a defence is now a death warrant.

So, to the ‘toxic trinity’ a fourth ‘t’ can be added, the Tragedy of the Three-Toed Sloth: in some curious way now the spray-painting on the Animals in War memorial is explained, if not make sense. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre

This entry was posted in Conflict, Conservation, Illegal Wildlife Trade, poaching, War. Bookmark the permalink.

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