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Animal use in warfare questionable

After 42 chickens proved unfit for survival in the desert in February, the Marines received a company of pigeons that would travel with the Marines and help detect chemical attacks — the equivalent of a canary in a coal mine, as CNN puts it.

Pigeons were among the first animals trained to participate in warfare, serving as messengers from the front. Other animals that have contributed include dogs trained to sniff for explosives and dolphins that have helped the Navy since the 1970s.

Today, in addition to watching the birds for signs of biological warfare, at least two Navy-trained dolphins are in the waters near Umm Qasr, detecting and marking mines. The dolphins are trained to avoid contact with the mines and simply flag them for divers and minesweepers.

Is it fair to use animals in warfare? After all, they are God’s creatures. Should humans, as stewards of the planet, use our fellow global denizens as detectors when war is but a series of explosive squabbles between humans?

The pigeons will be released, probably in Baghdad. The dogs and dolphins are trained to play a game in which they are rewarded for repeatedly achieving an objective.

So long as they have a proper living environment and good caretakers who will keep their charges as safe as possible, it is all right to use animals as noncombatants in warfare. It is not necessarily a situation that rests comfortably on the conscience, but given the choice between using monkeys to detonate mines and putting a soldier’s life at risk in a minefield, the monkey would have to go first.

The Moroccan government, by the way, denies ever offering to sell such trained monkeys to the U.S. government, despite what you may have heard from John Stewart on The Daily Show.

University Wire — Baylor University