Thursday, February 23, 2012

War Pigs: I

It sounds like myth: the stories and rumors and half-remembered newspaper fragments:
  • Westerfeld's "Leviathan" features animals, like airwhales, that were modified for war.
  • A friend from Amityville (yes, that Amityville) tells tales of a top secret lab near Long Island that supposedly has 20 foot tall cows (presumably, these rumors spring from the Plum Island Animal Disease Center).
  • I swear to scoffers that I recall a snippet from the news: A mother lets baby cry itself to sleep--the Ferber method to teach it to comfort itself and fall asleep on its own--but then the screaming gets to be too much, and Ferberizing be damned, she goes up to comfort her child. Only to discover a rat sitting on her baby's belly, casually eating her baby's nose. (But I swear: It's nearly true!) Combine this with biblical tales of the Israelite's God smiting their foes with rodent plagues...
  • My 10th grade English teacher claimed that during the Opium War, the Chinese would strap time-bombs to ducks and throw the ducks at British ships, apparently hoping that the ducks would flap over to the enemy boats just in time for the bombs to go off. He ended his tale by dryly noting that "the Chinese lost the war."
  • Hell, even the LoS banner, top of this page, courtesy of .sWineDriveR., features, at least when I drafted this, a beast with dynamite strapped around its belly.
Like many "myths," however, these point to a largely unspoken truth: people use animals to kill other people. ("People are people, so why should it be...?")

In general, there may be no universally recognized horror in treating animals like tools, means to an end. Lab rats. Factory farms. Lab grown meat--flesh excised from the very soul--may be the logical (and, oddly, the most humane) extension of this idea (although headless chicken farms are a decidedly more extreme proposal).

But food is not the only deadly end for the animals we use: there is also war.Adrieene Mayor's Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World (2003) has a chapter dedicated to the topic, Chapter 6: Animal Allies and Scorpion Bombs. There is lots of interesting stuff in this chapter, but what grabbed me the most was her presentation of a sort of arms race that developed in the use of livestock. If you don't mind giving me a bit literary license, I will try to carve an oversimplified and loose narrative here from my poor grasp of Mayor's facts, probably to the point getting some details wrong--but all in the spirit of fun and with an attempt to convey the facts correctly as I understand them.

Let's start by imagining the simple times when ancient cavalries could just charge about on horses. One day they decide to invade some desert peoples. Only it turns out that horses find camels repugnant--smelly and funny sounding--so the horses turn tail and flee.

So the horsemen get a few of their own camels and keep them about the stables/pastures. Now their horses are used to camels and are, therefore, willing to charge into battle against them.

Now all's going pretty well for horse warfare--until some horsemen run into war elephants. The horses panic and flee.

The solution? You guessed it, get a few elephants to keep around the horses (and their camel buddies?) so that horses don't freak when fighting elephant cavalries.

Well then at some point, someone discovered that elephants detest the sound of squealing pigs, so they started bringing pigs into battles and would poke them with spears if any elephants showed up

This is turning into a flippin' circus!

--the pigs would squeal and the elephants would stampede, often killing their handlers.

In an extreme case, someone actually rubbed down a bunch of pigs with flammable resin, put them in the front of a charge, and set them on fire when the enemy elephants showed up--absolutely horrifying!

War pigs indeed.

But back to our arms race: now the elephant breeders have to get pigs to raise around their elephants.

And at this point, do horsemen need to have camels and elephants and pigs just to keep up with the whole livestock escalation?


Well, this post is already getting a bit long, and we haven't gotten close to DARPA, so I'm going to break this into two or three parts.

Stay tuned for a follow up, War Pigs II, soon!

(Image source: "Squinty the Comical Pig" (1915) by Richard Barnum)


  1. I don't know what's more disturbing: the baby attacked by rats or the headless chickens.

  2. The rats attacking the baby has haunted me for years. Bear in mind that I've had kids in cribs for year (still do).

    The pigs set on fire was, for me, pretty horrifying, too.

    As long as I'm going on about horrifying ... when I mentioned the headless chicken farm, I had forgotten about Mike the Amazing Chicken, who apparently lived for 18 months, much of it spent on tour, after getting her head chopped off by an axe. (Mike was a "her" right? Or else he'd be Michelle the headless rooster or somethin', eh?)

  3. My father, if you'll recall, was a special ops guy, attached to Soccent, the special ops component of the Central Command (Centcom). Centcom is basically the US command that deals with North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan. All the hot spots essentially. He told me that during some brainstorming meeting at some point, either for a theoretical exercise or real operation, someone suggested they parachute hundreds of pigs into the target area as a way of destabilizing the Muslim opponents. I don't know if it was considered to be an effective military tool or just a way of fucking with peoples' heads. He scoffed at this idea but still found it amusing, despite his genuine respect for Arabs and Muslim culture. Weird paradoxes in the heads of our military guys. He was used to considering this kind of shit from the get-go, I think: his specialty in Vietnam being Psychological I'd love to have him around today for his perspective on these things!

    BTW, that Mike the Chicken story is fucking way out there dude.

  4. Oh, wow -- thanks for sharing that your about your dad. Very interesting! Makes you wonder what sort of stuff got the OK.

    Mike the Chicken might be way out there, but I gotta say that I think it might be true! If so, imagine how sad his owner must've felt when Mike died in the hotel room!

  5. Yeah, you have to wonder. Back in the day I think the military were more open to weird experiments. I'd like to research some of that....and the MK ULTRA mindfuckery. I'd also like to look into DARPA a bit. Apparently, know idea is too crazy. The'yre the ones developing instantaneous translatin devices for soldiers to carry, invisibility suits. Cool stuff, the questions of the cost and purpose aside!

    It's a bit disturbing, Mike's story. Animal freaks in general....could be the follow-up to the War Pigs series (hint hint).

  6. I know that Dame Carcass is going to enter the picture in the next post. If you can wrangle a copy from the library, check out Umberto Eco's "Baudolino," chapter 14. In this chapter a trick similar to Carcass' is employed to save a city under siege. The desired effect of the ruse is the same....convince the sieging forces the beseiged have plenty of ood. The manner in which the ruse plays out is different, but the idea behind it is eessentizlly the same. I recomend the entire book....I think you'd dig it.


Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Need to add an image? Use this code: [ximg]IMAGE-URL-HERE[x/img]. You will need to remove the the boldface x's from the code to make it work.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.