Press Action Editorial, July 2004
Press Action - SUNDAY, JULY 18, 2004
Mark Hand, editor
Slowing the Machines of Death and Destruction
"People must learn that their power does not lie in their voting strength, that their power lies in their ability to stop production.” –Voltairine de Cleyre, Direct Action
“Direct Action includes only activist tactics that, like boycotts and sabotage, are intended to have an immediate impact on a problem or its causes.” -Pattrice Jones, Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?
By Mark Hand
The captives were led into the holding area, nervous but probably unaware of their horrific fate. Next, the men, impassive but forceful, ushered the captives into the adjacent gas chamber. A few minutes later, the men began pumping carbon monoxide into the cramped unit. As gas began to fill the chamber, banging and thumping could be heard as the captives desperately tried to escape. No one came to rescue them.
After the noise subsided, the group of captives was pulled from the chamber and their limp bodies were dumped into a pile. And then the process began again, with the men methodically escorting the next group of unsuspecting captives from the holding area into the gas chamber where they too would soon meet their demise.
Some well-meaning souls expressed their opposition to the slaughter, through petitions and a rally. But such activity obviously proved ineffective in the face of a culture that was conditioned to view such killing with either nonchalance or as a social benefit.
This particular slaughter didn’t occur 60 years ago in German occupied lands of Europe; it took place here in the United States, less than three weeks ago in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Olney, Md. And it’s an activity that occurs frequently across the United States.
Why wasn’t the well-orchestrated mass killing of 100 captives in a mobile gas chamber near the nation’s capital front-page news across the land? Because the victims of these atrocities—actions that we now believe represented history’s ultimate examples of evil when they were conducted on European Jews, the mentally ill and others deemed untermensch in the 1940s—were not human animals.
“One by one, the geese are lifted out of the pen, honking and flapping in protest, their elegant black necks contorted into fearful shapes,” writes Maggie Brasted of the Humane Society of the United States, describing the scene as 100 Canada geese were gassed. “The men stolidly push the birds into the van’s gas chamber, where the geese will meet their ignoble end. The youngest geese are the first to go.”
The gassing of the geese took place in the community of Waterview in Olney, where the board of the homeowners association obtained a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to kill 100 geese because some residents in the neighborhood didn’t like the droppings produced by the birds, especially during the few weeks when they are molting and unable to fly.
The homeowners association then paid $3,000 to a small company named Adcock’s Trapping Service, based in College Park, Md., to round up the geese and place them in the company’s van containing a portable gas chamber. As suburban sprawl consumes former woodlands and farmland, business has been booming for Adcock’s, which has seen its annual revenues leap into the million dollar-plus territory in the past couple of years.
Like today’s animal “trapping” companies, the Nazis also used mobile vans, as well as various gassing methods at concentration camps, to kill several million people between 1941 and 1945. After the June 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazis experimented with gas vans for mass killing.
The gas vans were hermetically sealed trucks with engine exhaust diverted to the interior compartment. Use of gas vans began after the German mobile killing unit members complained of battle fatigue and mental anguish caused by shooting large numbers of women and children. Gassing also proved to be less costly. The mobile killing units, Einsatzgruppen, gassed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Jews, Roma, and the mentally ill.
As is well documented, the Nazis could not have killed on such a mass scale without the help of private companies. After conducting experiments to test its potency, the Germans decided to make Zyklon B, the trade name of a pesticide, the preferred method of killing in gas chambers located at its concentration camps.
Zyklon B was provided to the government by the German companies Degesch and Tesch und Stabenow, under license from I.G. Farben, which held the patent. After the war, two directors of Tesch were tried by a British military court and were executed for their part in supplying the chemical.
What are the lessons, if any, to be learned by today’s liberation activists, including advocates for animals, from the merger of state and corporate power in Nazi Germany that helped to grease the skids for the dehumanization of millions? Ward Churchill, activist, professor and author, writes that, for example, to assault the meatpacking industry is to mount a challenge to the mentality that allowed more than a million “dehumanized humans” to be systemically slaughtered by the Einsatzgruppen in eastern Europe during the early 1940s and the Nazis’ simultaneous development of industrial killing techniques in places like Auschwitz, Sobibor and Treblinka.
In the foreword to a new book, Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals, Churchill explains that the type of response to a perceived offense should depend on the situation. Abridgement of civil rights and wage inequity can perhaps be addressed by reliance upon such methods as mass demonstrations, strikes, boycotts and sit-ins, he says. “But is there anyone deluded enough to believe that such tactics might in themselves have been effective—and thus appropriate as a set of methodological constraints—as a means of confronting/stopping the Hitlerian genocide?” he asks.
“Animal liberationists, unlike the great majority of oppositionists in other vectors, appear, at least in principle, to have drawn the correct conclusions from these and comparable queries,” Churchill explains. “To this extent, if none other, there is much to be learned from their praxis.”
In Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?, editors Steven Best and Anthony Nocella have compiled an impressive collection of articles by an equally notable lineup of writers on the history, tactics and future course of the animal liberation movement. Best and Nocella begin the book with a lengthy introduction that examines the origins of the animal liberation movement, particularly the Animal Liberation Front, and the controversy surrounding the use of certain kinds of direct action. “The animal liberation struggle is the most difficult battle human beings have ever fought, because it requires widespread agreement to abandon what most perceive as their absolute privileges and God-given rights to exploit animals by sole virtue of their human status,” they say.
They attempt to show how the exploitation of animals hurts the human world because of how the fates of all species are intricately interrelated. “Some theorists argue that the cruel forms of domesticating animals at the dawn of agricultural society created the technologies and conceptual model for hierarchy, state power, and the exploitative treatment of other human beings, as many feminists argue speciesism and patriarchy emerged together with the rise of male power …,” they write.
In a chapter titled “Mothers with Monkeywrenches: Feminist Imperatives and the ALF,” activist and author Pattrice Jones contends that women and animals have historically been seen as the property of male heads of households. “Patriarchy (male control of political and family life) and pastoralism (animal herding as a way of life) appeared on the historical stage together and cannot be separated, because they are justified and perpetuated by the same ideologies and practices,” she writes.
With this animals-as-property mindset still dominant, activists today have ratcheted up their efforts to stop some of the most heinous cases of animal exploitation. Simultaneously, the U.S. government and its corporate partners are stepping up their responses to the animal and environmental direct action movements. In the era of the Patriot Act, the stakes of fighting for animal rights are now much higher, Best explains later in the book in a chapter titled “It’s War! The Escalating Battle Between Activists and the Corporate-State Complex.”
The animal and earth liberation movements must defend themselves rhetorically and philosophically against claims that they are fanatics and extremists. “They must expose for all to see the charlatans and real terrorists in state and corporate garb who fulminate against honorable dissidents and freedom fighters from behind their Oz-like curtain,” Best writes.
The scope of animal exploitation is so great and pervasive, especially with powerful sectors “hell-bent on exploiting animals and the earth for profit whatever the toll,” that it’s hard to decide on which animal liberation campaigns to focus your attention. Is engaging the different groups of people responsible for the slaughter of the 100 Canada geese in Maryland on July 1 worth your time when each year hundreds of millions of cows, pigs, chickens suffer even worse torture before they are finally killed?
While some actions may have a greater effect than others, any activity that will directly diminish the level of pain, panic and extinction experienced by animals is worth the time and devotion. “There is strength in diversity, so the best one can hope for is that multiple approaches can coexist, positively reinforce one another, and learn to repel the state repression that unavoidably will grow,” Best and Nocella write in the introduction. “Every aspect of the animal advocacy movement should learn to appreciate or at least tolerate different approaches.”
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