Everything You Think You Know About Animals Is Wrong

Came up in conversation recently, worth a repost…

Everything you think you know about animals is wrong  

by Sophie McAdam in the True Activist

32591_400243056747447_1374908357_n-300x221Human beings are the most intelligent, and therefore important, of all the world´s species, right? We deserve our superior status over other animals because of the following scientific truths: that only humans are self-aware and feel empathy, that we are unique in our abilities to use language and tools, that only we can recognize ourselves in a mirror and understand the passing of time.

But advances in cognitive ethology (the scientific study of animal intelligence, emotions, behaviors, and social life) have now disproved these ´truths´, showing that many other creatures also display a complex range of emotions, highly evolved communication skills, compassion for others, and even intelligence that rivals- or surpasses- our own. These ground-breaking studies force us to ask some uncomfortable questions about our place in the world, and have caused leading experts to call for a radical rethink of the way we treat other animals.

Communicative mice, kindly rats and compassionate chickens

Among the findings are that yes, fish do feel pain , and not only that but acidic water actually makes them nervous. Chickens are not only very intelligent, they can also feel  each other´s pain and demonstrate physiological signs of concern and distress at the suffering of their young.

Similar conclusions were drawn in a cruel study of mice who were doused in acid. Not only were the empathic rodents more sensitive to the pain of their peers than to their own agony, but researchers also suggested they “might be talking to each other” about their pain, too. Take a moment to let that sink in….

And while rats don´t have the best of reputations, there is much research to suggest they too are compassionate, communicative and highly intelligent. One group of scientists found that, given the choice, rats prefer to free others from a cage rather than help themselves to candy. What´s more, the rats had not been taught to open the cages in advance. Researcher Peggy Mason noted: “That was very compelling … It said to us that essentially helping their cagemate is on a par with chocolate. He can hog the entire chocolate stash if he wanted to, and he does not. We were shocked.”

Older studies from the 1950s and 60s found that both rats and rhesus monkeys will refuse to pull a food lever if it results in an electric shock for another group member. One monkey went without food for 12 days rather than hurt one of his peers. Another researcher who was attempting to free two baby mice trapped in a sink noted how the stronger rodent showed concern for his exhausted friend, even carrying food to him until he was strong enough to move.

Some of the most heart-warming tales of expressive love and empathy come from the great apes, our closest relatives. Moral philosopher Mark Rowlands recounts the following:

Chimps in the Cameroon mourn the passing of their friend Dorothy, October 2009. But why does this ´human-like´behavior surprise us? CREDIT: Monica Szczupider, Daily Mail

Chimps in the Cameroon mourn the passing of their friend Dorothy, October 2009. But why does this ´human-like´behavior surprise us? CREDIT: Monica Szczupider, Daily Mail

“Binti Jua, a gorilla residing at Brookfield Zoo in Illinois, had her 15 minutes of fame in 1996 when she came to the aid of a three-year-old boy who had climbed on to the wall of the gorilla enclosure and fallen five meters onto the concrete floor below. Binti Jua lifted the unconscious boy, gently cradled him in her arms, and growled warnings at other gorillas that tried to get close. Then, while her own infant clung to her back, she carried the boy to the zoo staff waiting at an access gate.”

He also tells the story of Kuni, a captive Bonobo chimpanzee in the UK: “One day, Kuni encountered a starling that had been stunned during some misadventure. Kuni picked up the starling with one hand, and climbed to the top of the highest tree in her enclosure, wrapping her legs around the trunk so that she had both hands free to hold the bird. She then carefully unfolded its wings and spread them wide open. She threw the bird as hard as she could towards the barrier of the enclosure. Unfortunately, it didn’t wake up, and landed on the bank of the enclosure’s moat. While her rescue attempt didn’t succeed, Kuni certainly seemed to act with good intentions, and tried to make amends by guarding the vulnerable, unconscious bird from a curious juvenile for quite some time.”

Love, empathy…and some strange animal friendships

Rowlands argues that humans absolutely do not have the monopoly on moral behavior (if we ever did). The sheer number of incredible stories to back up his claim is impossible to detail in one article, but here are some more examples, summarized by Marc Bekoff Ph.D, award-winning scientist, author and co-founder of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals : “A teenage female elephant nursing an injured leg is knocked over by a teenage male. An older female sees this happen, chases the male away, and goes back to the younger female and touches her sore leg with her trunk. Eleven elephants rescue a group of captive antelope in KwaZula-Natal; the matriarch elephant undoes all of the latches on the gates of the enclosure with her trunk and lets the gate swing open so the antelope can escape. A male Diana monkey who learned to insert a token into a slot to obtain food helps a female who can’t get the hang of the trick, inserting the token for her and allowing her to eat the food reward. A female fruit-eating bat helps an unrelated female give birth by showing her how to hang in the proper way. A cat named Libby leads her elderly deaf and blind dog friend, Cashew, away from obstacles and to food. In a group of chimpanzees at the Arnhem Zoo in The Netherlands individuals punish other chimpanzees who are late for dinner because no one eats until they’re all present.”

Animals can have surprising bedfellows CREDIT: xaxor.com

Animals can have surprising bedfellows
CREDIT: xaxor.com

“Do these examples show that animals display moral behavior, that they can be compassionate, altruistic, and fair?” Asks Bekoff. “Yes, they do. Animals not only have a sense of justice, but also a sense of empathy, forgiveness, trust, reciprocity, and much more as well.” Interestingly, he adds, these “good emotions can be shared by improbable friends, including predators and prey such as a cat and a bird, a snake and a hamster, and a lioness and a baby oryx.” Other cases of strange friendships include a cheetah and a retriever, a lion and a coyote, a dog and a deer, a goat and a horse, and even a tortoise and a goose. Cats have been known to adopt and feed chicks and baby hedgehogs, while one recent case centered on a disabled dolphin who was adopted by a family of sperm whales.

It seems that compassion has no boundaries. Clearly, co-operation in the animal kingdom is not only common, it´s a crucial survival strategy which humans would be wise to learn from. Charles Darwin himself wrote: “Any animal whatever, endowed with well-marked social instincts…would inevitably acquire a moral sense of conscience, as soon as its intellectual powers had become as well-developed…as in man.”

Is this what is happening now, throughout the animal kingdom? According to experts, all birds and mammals, as well as octopuses and too many other species to list, appear to be a whole lot smarter than we ever gave them credit for. The following is an excerpt from the Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness (a prestigious, official recognition of animal sentience) signed in England in 2012 by 15 leading scientists, and overseen by Stephen Hawking himself.

“The field of Consciousness research is rapidly evolving…and this calls for a periodic reevaluation of previously held preconceptions in this field…Birds appear to offer a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex.”

Superhuman chimps…and crows

A Caledonian crow called Betty demonstrated human-like intelligence a few years ago by making complicated hooked tools from bits of wire to fish items out of tubes. To put this into perspective, it´s something chimpanzees (and most humans) are unable to do.

And like Betty, chimpanzees are also cleverer than us in some areas. In a Japanese study to test short-term memory, numbers were shown on a computer screen before being hidden by white squares. The five-year-old chimpanzees (who were taught to count from 1-9 in advance) beat adult humans hands-down in remembering where each number was hidden. Another study of long-term memory in chimpanzees also gave impressive results, proving the average human is not so special after all.

Apes can also learn and understand sign language, and there is evidence that parrots don´t just repeat words; they also understand meaning. Dogs who wait patiently by the door five minutes before their owners return from work are not only expressing an awareness of time, but evidence of a sixth sense too (as a side note, canines even align themselves to the Earth´s magnetic field when doing their business). Scientists have also recently discovered that not only are dolphins math geniuses,

Teenage dolphins have been filmed ´getting high´ on pufferfish..it´s not big but it is clever CREDIT: deviantart.net

Teenage dolphins have been filmed ´getting high´ on pufferfish..it´s not big but it is clever
CREDIT: deviantart.net

but that juveniles also like to chew and pass around pufferfish for no other reason than to ´get high´ with their buddies- not dissimilar from rebellious youth behavior in our own species!

Furthermore, magpies, dolphins, great apes and elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror just like us, and many studies show a clear awareness of death in some species. One of the most compelling (and tragic) from Bekoff´s colleague Jane Goodall is detailed here. The behavior of this young chimp who lost his mother and died three days later of a broken heart leaves no room for doubts about his understanding of death.

Depression, grief and mourning affect many animals in exactly the same way as us

Other researchers from Kyoto university witnessed two grieving chimpanzee mothers carrying their dead infants for 68 and 19 days respectively after death, as though they couldn´t bear to say goodbye. To Berkoff, it´s simply “arrogant and wrong” to assume we are the only species in which grief has evolved: the only part we don´t yet know is the why. Elephants are especially known to grieve after the loss of a loved one. They mourn the dead by touching the bones or circling the body. Some researchers have suggested they may even relive memories and understand death in just the same way we do.

Videos of animals exhibiting ´human-like behavior´ have gone viral on YouTube. Among them are a herd of buffaloes who get ´revenge´ on a pride of lions, a heroic dog who risked his life to drag his unconscious companion from the freeway, a baby elephant who cried real tears for five hours after his mother attacked and rejected him, and a cat mourning the loss of a friend.

But skeptics warn against anthropomorphism, the misguided attribution of human-like qualities to animals. They claim we must always look for another, more basic, explanation before claiming other creatures are as complex as us. A skeptic might suggest, for example, that if a rat does not want to hear its companion being tortured, this is simply because the rat is averse to the sound of squealing. Rowlands offers a good debunking of this kind of argument, though. He points out that he, too, is averse to the screams of a tortured man, but it is precisely because he feels empathy that the sound is so unbearable.

“It´s widely accepted that many animals display and feel a wide array of emotions including joy, happiness, pleasure, love, empathy, compassion, sadness and profound grief,” Bekoff states. But, he argues, these are not human expressions at all, they are animal expressions. And the reason we share them with so many other species is because we are animals too, whether we like to admit it or not. “We must never forget that our emotions are the gifts of our ancestors, our animal kin,” Bekoff points out.

Animal rights….or Animal equality?

Yet historically, mankind has always treated animals with great disrespect and cruelty, as nothing more than chattel to be exploited for food, work, ´sport´, protection, entertainment and experimentation. Judaism, Christianity and Islam alike all teach that humans were given the right to use (and abuse) God´s lesser creatures, rather than preaching a sense of responsibility and stewardship towards them. The idea that we are not alone in feeling pain, anxiety, shame and depression is therefore highly uncomfortable for humans. If we accept this, how can we continue to treat animals as we do, or go on believing we are superior?

And in any case, some may ask what right we have to superiority? We are the most destructive and violent species on Earth. As animal rights activist Steven Best rightly argues: “We cannot overlook an amazing paradox. It is an odd but revealing phenomenon that a species which so arrogantly prides itself in its alleged unique skills in reason and communication has not yet attained an accurate understanding of itself. This advanced “intelligence” of humans, moreover, is in the advanced stages of exterminating our closest biological relatives, along with millions of other animal and plant species, thereby ensuring that Homo sapiens will die as it was born – in ignorance of its own nature and the other animal species vital for an accurate self-understanding.”

It´s not what we want to hear, but maybe it´s what we need to hear. But where next? Berkoff is more positive. “We need to work for a science of peace and emphasize the positive, pro social side of other animals and ourselves. It’s truly who we and other animals are.

“People who claim nonhuman animals are inherently aggressive and warlike are wrong,” he goes on. “When they use information from animal studies to justify our own cruel, evil behavior, they’re not paying attention to what we really know about the social life of animals. Do animals fight with one another? Yes. Do they routinely engage in cruel, warlike behavior? Not at all. When people say, ýou´re behaving like an animal, it´s actually a compliment.”

Berkoff adds that we also need to “debunk the myth of human exceptionalism once and for all. It’s a hollow, shallow, and self-serving perspective on who we are…of course we are exceptional in various arenas, as are other animals.”

Sophie is an award-winning feature writer, investigative journalist, campaigner and author. She is a staff writer for True Activist on issues of peace, justice, society, environment and activism. You can find out more or contact her here.

Force of Love is the Force of Total Revolution

by Vimala Thakar

A tender, loving concern for all living creatures will need to arise and reign in our hearts if any of us is to survive. And our lives will be truly blessed only when the misery of one is genuinely felt to be the misery of all. The force of love is the force of total revolution. It is the unreleased force, unknown and unexplored as a dynamic for change.

We have moved very far away from love in our collective lives, dangerously near destruction, close to starvation. Perhaps we have the wisdom now, the awareness that love is as essential to human beings as the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Love is the beauty, the delicate mystery, the soul of life, the radiant unspoiled purity that brings spontaneous joy, songs of ecstasy, poems, paintings, dances, dramas to celebrate its indescribable, never-to-be-fully-captured bliss of being. Can we bring love into the marketplaces, into the homes, the schools, the places of business, and transform them completely? You may call it a utopian challenge, but it is the only one that will make a significant difference or that is fully worthy of the potential of whole human beings.

Compassion is a spontaneous movement of wholeness. It is not a studied decision to help the poor, to be kind to the unfortunate. Compassion has a tremendous momentum that naturally, choicelessly moves us to worthy action. It has the force of intelligence, creativity, and the strength of love.

The vast intelligence that orders the cosmos is available to all. The beauty of life, the wonder of living, is that we share creativity, intelligence, and unlimited potential with the rest of the cosmos. If the universe is vast and mysterious, we are vast and mysterious. If it contains innumerable creative energies, we contain innumerable creative energies. If it has healing energies, we also have healing energies. To realize that we are not simply physical beings on a material planet, but that we are whole beings, each a miniature cosmos, each related to all of life in intimate, profound ways, should radically transform how we perceive ourselves, our environments, our social problems. Nothing can ever be isolated from wholeness.

There is much unexplored potential in each human being. We are not just flesh and bone or an amalgamation of conditionings. If this were so, our future on this planet would not be very bright. But there is infinitely more to life, and each passionate being who dares to explore beyond the fragmentary and superficial into the mystery of totality helps all humanity perceive what it is to be fully human. Revolution, total revolution, implies experimenting with the impossible. And when an individual takes a step in the direction of the new, the impossible, the whole human race travels through that individual.

‘Why I would not kill in war’

On International Conscientious Objectors’ Day, four men explain the very different reasons why they refused to fight in four very different conflicts.

DESMOND DOSS

The army said I saved 100 men during one battle on Okinawa. I said it couldn’t be more than 50, so the citation on my Congressional Medal of Honor says 75. When President Truman pinned it on me he said: ‘It is a greater honour than being president.’

Desmond DossPresident Truman said I really deserved this’

Before I was born my father bought a illustration of the 10 Commandments. I looked at that picture hundreds of times as I grew up. The Sixth Commandment showed Cain killing Abel, and I wondered how a brother could do such a thing. It gave me such a horror of killing that I never wanted to kill or even hurt anyone.

When the US went to war against Japan and Germany, my boss at the shipyard offered me a deferment as an essential worker. I did not want to be known as a draft dodger. I felt it was an honour to serve God and country, but I wanted to do it as a medic, by saving life instead of taking life.

When I registered for the draft at 18, I said I wanted to be a non-combatant. But I was told there was no such classification and that I would have to be a conscientious objector. If I did not take that classification and – as a Seventh-day Adventist – wanted to keep the Saturday as the Sabbath or not carry a weapon, I would most likely be court-martialled. So there was nothing else I could do.

The reaction of the other soldiers and officers was pretty bad, having me around was not to their liking. I was not the kind of conscientious objector that so many were in those times, who would not salute the flag, wear the uniform or cooperate with the army in any way. But my comrades classed me with them. I did not try to tell them different, because they would not have believed me.

The bullets were going near enough that I could practically feel them

One of my majors tried to have me discharged from the army, saying I was mentally off. I felt I would be a poor Christian if I would accept a discharge because of my religion.

After we went overseas, my comrades began to realise that I would always be there to help them if they got wounded, their attitude changed. They knew I would come to their aid if I possibly could. From then on we had a very good relationship.

Some of my men felt I should carry a weapon for protection, but I told them that would put my trust in God. They could do the fighting and I would do the patching.

In May 1945, we were sent up on the top of a 400-foot-high cliff to fight the Japanese. I suggested to the lieutenant that we should have prayer, because we knew how many people had been killed on this escarpment.

US troops fighting on Okinawa

‘We knew how many people had been killed on this escarpment’

One day we were given what we thought would be an easy mop-up job. Everything seemed to go wrong and we were finally told to retreat. But about 75 men were wounded and could not move. I was the only medic and I would not leave my men.

I stayed on top and let them down one by one over the escarpment, to where they could be taken on down to the aid station.

I kept praying: ‘Lord, help me to get one more.’ And He did help me. I got all the men down safely and I did not get a scratch from the bullets that were going near enough that I could practically feel them.

Going into battle helped me to realise how tragic wars, bloodshed and killing are. When anyone is killed it is a tragic thing.

I have nothing against those who kill people in battle. It seems to be a necessary part of living. Soldiers must decide for themselves what it is right to do. But for me, it was wrong to kill and I felt I could not do it. I put my trust in God and made my decision to keep commandments.


RUDOLPH KIRST

Hitler had a theory that Germany would be defended to the last drop of blood, so I was among a group of boys taken for military training in 1945 and then lined up and asked to fight. I said: ‘Hitler is an evil man and I won’t volunteer.’

Boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth in 1945

‘The other boys were sent to the front as cannon fodder’

Of the 600 boys – mostly 15 year olds – about 10 of us didn’t agree to join the Hitler Youth division going to the front. We were interrogated by army officers, and the boys said that their parents would not like them volunteering. I was the only one who said: ‘I don’t want to volunteer.’

Looking back it was an extraordinarily brave act for a 16-year-old. If I had been 18, I probably would have been shot.

My father had already been forced into fighting for the Nazis, but he never shot at people. He would aim over the heads of Allied soldiers, and that was his way of being a conscientious objector without being executed.

He was formerly a musician, but had been forced out of his orchestra in Cologne because he would not say ‘Heil Hitler’. Many of his fellow musicians were Jews and had disappeared. That gave us the clue that something was fishy.

By the time I ordered to report for training in 1945, more information had percolated through about Hitler’s treatment of the Jews. Anyone who had ears knew about the extermination camps. I decided I would not fight to defend such evil.

Hitler decorating boy soldiers in 1945

‘Hitler wanted Germany to be defended to the last drop of blood’

I was immediately ostracised by the other boys. I was taken from our camp and spent that night in the officers’ quarters.

The next day, when the boys gathered for the flag raising, an announcement was made that I was being sent home. I was not allowed to see anyone. I was poison.

Ironically, my stand saved my life. The other boys were sent to the front as cannon fodder – we had only had a few days of training. Those who turned back from the fighting were shot by their own officers. It was a great tragedy of those final days of the war.

I did not refuse to fight because I was concerned that my life might be in danger. It was a matter of conscientious objection, and looking back that day had a profound effect on my life. Throughout my life I have stood up for my views. Today, I campaign against genetically modified crops.


ISHAI MENUCHIN

You’re 18 and a paratrooper. You’re learning new things and meeting interesting people. You’re an officer, commanding others. It’s an adventure. You think that what you are doing is defending Israel, but soon find what you are really doing is occupying another country.

Israel soldiers man a Gaza checkpoint in the 1990s

‘I was in an elite unit … and had no contact with the Palestinians’

I was called up to fight in the invasion of Lebanon in the early 1980s. I was naive and believed it was a war of defence. It was easy for me, since as I was in an elite unit, I had very little to do with daily life of the occupation.

When we went to train in the Occupied Territories – the West Bank or Gaza – we would be off in the mountains or the desert and had no contact with the Palestinians.

That was until I was leading my men on a training mission in the Sinai desert and was ordered into Gaza after a Palestinian grenade attack on an army truck, which had killed two.

Intelligence had tracked the man responsible to a refugee camp and my unit, being the closest, was sent in to capture him.

So there was I, crawling through the mud and sewage of this camp in the middle of the night. We knew he still had grenades, so we had to rush his house fast.

We caught him in bed. His wife sleeping beside him was crying. His children were crying.

The [Palestinian] man knew, like I did, that if he had obeyed the [Israeli officer’s] command run, he would have been shot

We took him outside and handed him over to officers from another unit, so we could begin the search for the hand grenades.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of these officers cock his pistol and tell the prisoner to run in Arabic.

I didn’t know what to do, I was shocked. The man knew, like I did, that if he had obeyed the command run, he would have been shot. He lay down and didn’t get up, even though they kicked him. Israeli military police eventually arrived to arrest him.

We never found the grenades and eventually were told our prisoner was the wrong man – he just happened to share the same name as the grenade attacker.

I don’t know why I didn’t do anything to stop what happened that night. It was so hard to not be a part of such things when you are a soldier in the Occupied Territories.

That incident made me understand occupation and humiliation and showed me exactly what being an occupier was. It still haunts me.

An Israeli soldier with Palestinian prisoners

‘I did not refuse to be called up, but I refused to be involved in policing actions’

I began what is now called selective refusal. As a reservist, I did not refuse to be called up, but I refused to be involved in policing actions. Then I refused to cross into Lebanon or the Occupied Territories.

I talked with my soldiers. A small minority said I was doing the right thing. Another minority refused to talk to me because I had gone against our brotherhood. The rest said we’d talk again when I got back from jail.

I was sent to prison for 35 days. It was the beginning of the mass refusals and there were demonstrations in Tel Aviv calling for my release.

Once out, an officer again ordered me to go to Lebanon, and again I refused. I heard him on the phone saying he wanted to send me back to my cell, but he was told to send me to a less elite unit as a punishment.

I felt it was too easy for me just to stop taking part in the occupation, so I set up the group Yesh Gvul [There is a limit] to act as a model for other reservists and to support those who become refuseniks like me.


STEPHEN FUNK

At Marine boot camp it’s constantly ‘Kill! Kill! Kill!’ There are contests to see which recruit can shout it the loudest. Every time you do a push-up you shout ‘Kill!’ I thought it was insane, but mouthed the word so as not to get in trouble.

Stephen Funk reports for duty

‘I felt disgusted, hypocritical and trapped in a contract to do things I thought were wrong’

My recruiter spotted I wasn’t suited to the Marine Corps, but he sold me on all the valuable things I could learn. I was going to be a reservist, not in the regular infantry, and would learn leadership skills and Boy Scout things like tying knots.

If I had talked to my family and friends before I had enlisted, I would never have joined. Everyone was surprised. It was so against my nature – I’m known as a liberal, non-violent person.

I’d graduated high school, and had left one college and moved to San Francisco to apply to another. Being out of school for the first time and in a strange city, I felt I lacked direction. I was depressed and not thinking clearly.

On the first day of boot camp everyone feels like they have made a big mistake. But as the training progressed I realised the Corps’ only reason for having me there was to teach me to kill people.

They try to deprogram recruits, make them forget things that are common to all people, forget the human aversion to killing.

I’d never even been in a fight before joining. Boot camp made me think about my attitudes to violence. I felt disgusted, hypocritical and trapped in a contract to do things I thought were wrong.

The Corps told my lawyer it would try to court martial me for desertion. I’m not worried. Perhaps I should be

My speciality was landing support – loading fighting troops on and off of helicopters and landing craft. Part of the job was to motivate the Marines to kill, to pump them up for battle.

When we practised it, I’d hide at the back of the group, I couldn’t believe I’d really have to do this crazy thing. When my turn was called, I just couldn’t motivate the people to kill. I thought it was wrong.

I expressed my concerns and raised questions during training, but was never told I could become a conscientious objector. I only found out after I’d gone back to civilian life, and started to work on my application to leave the reserves.

It’s not a simple process, and before I’d even finished the first draft, I was called up to go to Iraq.

A lawyer looked at my form and said it needed more work. So I told my base I wasn’t going to report, that I was a conscientious objector and that I would hand myself in when the form was finished.

US Marine in southern Iraq

‘I just couldn’t motivate the people to kill. I thought it was wrong’

Mine was a small base, and I wasn’t sure they knew what they were doing. I didn’t want to report in case they did something crazy, like detaining me.

I wanted to go public with my story, to warn other young people thinking of joining up. When I got the media involved, the Corps put a warrant out for me for desertion.

I reported back and was transferred to New Orleans with 20 other objectors. We mostly sit around reading, waiting for our application to be processed.

It’s not just the politics of the war on Iraq that I oppose, it’s war in general. I’m a pacifist and opposed to participating in any conflict. They don’t solve anything and just perpetuate a bad situation.

The Corps told my lawyer it would try to court martial me for desertion, but it would have to prove I had no intention of returning. I handed myself in, so I’m not worried. Perhaps I should be.

Source

Update: Israeli conscientious objectors

Atalia Ben-Abba is an imprisoned Israeli conscientious objector

After 115 days of imprisonment, Israeli conscientious objector Tamar Ze’evi has had her objection to military service recognised, and has been granted CO status as a political refuser. However, conscientious objectors Atalia Ben-Abba and Tamar Alon have been imprisoned again for their refusal to take part in the occupation and serve in the IDF. This is Atalia’s second, and Tamar’s sixth imprisonment, and each will spend 30 days more behind bars. Click here send a protest email to the Israeli authorities.

“Our present reality needs to be changed, and my refusal is my way to change it”

In her declaration, Atalia, who has already spent 20 days behind bars and is currently spending 30 more following the final court decision, states:

My social responsibility as a stakeholder in our society is important to me. The people living here are important to me, all of the people living here, and it’s my responsibility and the responsibility of all of us to act for a better life here. My refusal to be drafted doesn’t come out of a renunciation of this responsibility, but out of the understanding that our present reality needs to be changed, and that my refusal is my way to change it…

I spoke once to a Palestinian activist who described the first time he met Israelis. All he saw, as a kid, were foreign soldiers, speaking a language he doesn’t understand, entering his village and demolishing houses. He feared them and was angry. Only years later he met Israelis who showed him another side. Hearing him made me understand the endless cycle we’re in – violence begets violence, there’s no solution in this way. Cooperation with Palestinians enables us to create a relationship that paves the way to peace and proves that there is a chance for partnership between the two sides for a better future.

Along with Atalia, Tamar Ze’evi and Tamar Alon have also repeated their refusal and sentenced to 30 days each. This will add to 97 and 100 days each has already spent behind bars in total respectively.

Read Tamar Ze’evi’s declaration here.

Read Tamar Alon’s declaration here.

Solidarity

As well as filling in our email alert you can also send your emails of support to Atalia, Tamar and Tamar. Use this link to write them and your messages will be passed on.

You can also write to Israel’s embassies abroad. Find a list of these here.

When Muhammad Ali took the real heavy weight

A reposting for International Conscientious Objectors Day.

In an era defined by endless war, we should recognise a day in history that wasn’t celebrated on Capitol Hill or in the White House. On June 20, 1967, the great Muhammad Ali was convicted in Houston for refusing induction in the US armed forces. Ali saw the war in Vietnam as an exercise in genocide. He also used his platform as a boxing champion to connect the war abroad with the war at home, saying: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs?” For these statements, as much as the act itself, Judge Joe Ingraham handed down the maximum sentence to Cassius Clay (as they insisted upon calling him in court): five-years in a Federal penitentary and a $10,000 fine. The next day, this was the top-flap story for the New York Times with the headline: “Clay Guilty in Draft Case; Gets Five Years in Prison.”

The sentence was unusually harsh, and deeply tied to a Beltway, bipartisan consensus to crush Ali and ensure that he not develop into a symbol of anti-war resistance. The day of Ali’s conviction the US Congress voted 337-29 to extend the draft for four more years. They also voted 385-19 to make it a federal crime to desecrate the flag. Their fears of a rising movement against the war were well-founded.

The summer of 1967 marked a tipping point for public support of the Vietnam “police action”. While the Tet Offensive, which exposed the lie that the United States was winning the war, was still six months away, the news out of south-east Asia was increasingly grim. At the time of Ali’s conviction, 1,000 Vietnamese noncombatants were being killed each week by US forces. One hundred US soldiers were dying each and every day, and the war was costing $2bn a month.

Anti-war sentiment was growing and it was thought that a stern rebuke of Ali would help put out the fire. In fact, the opposite took place. Ali’s brave stance fanned the flames. As Julian Bond said, “[It] reverberated through the whole society. … [Y]ou could hear people talking about it on street corners. It was on everyone’s lips. People who had never thought about the war before began to think it through because of Ali. The ripples were enormous.”

Ali himself vowed to appeal the conviction, saying: “I strongly object to the fact that so many newspapers have given the American public and the world the impression that I have only two alternatives in this stand – either I go to jail or go to the Army. There is another alternative, and that alternative is justice. If justice prevails, if my constitutional rights are upheld, I will be forced to go neither to the Army nor jail. In the end, I am confident that justice will come my way, for the truth must eventually prevail.”

Already by this point, Ali’s heavyweight title had been stripped, beginning a three-and-a-half-year exile. Already Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam had begun to distance themselves from their most famous member. Already, Ali had become a punching bag for almost every reporter with a working pen. But with his conviction came a new global constituency. In Guyana, protests against his sentence took place in front of the US embassy. In Karachi, Pakistan, a hunger strike began in front of the US consulate. In Cairo, demonstrators took to the streets. In Ghana, editorials decried his conviction. In London, an Irish boxing fan named Paddy Monaghan began a long and lonely picket of the US Embassy. Over the next three years, he would collect more than twenty thousand signatures on a petition calling for the restoration of Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight title.

Ali at this point was beginning to see himself as someone who had a greater responsibility to an international groundswell that saw him as more than an athlete. “Boxing is nothing, just satisfying to some bloodthirsty people. I’m no longer a Cassius Clay, a Negro from Kentucky. I belong to the world, the black world. I’ll always have a home in Pakistan, in Algeria, in Ethiopia. This is more than money.”

Eventually justice did prevail and the Supreme Court overturned Ali’s conviction in 1971. They did so only after the consensus on the war had changed profoundly. Ali had been proven right by history, although a generation of people in Asia and the United States paid a terrible price along the way.

Years later upon reflection, Ali said he had no regrets. “Some people thought I was a hero. Some people said that what I did was wrong. But everything I did was according to my conscience. I wasn’t trying to be a leader. I just wanted to be free. And I made a stand all people, not just black people, should have thought about making, because it wasn’t just black people being drafted. The government had a system where the rich man’s son went to college, and the poor man’s son went to war. Then, after the rich man’s son got out of college, he did other things to keep him out of the Army until he was too old to be drafted.”

As we remain mired in a period of permanent war, take a moment and consider the risk, sacrifice, and principle necessary to dismantle the war machine. We all can’t be boxing champions, but moving forward, all who oppose war can rightfully claim Ali’s brave history as our own

Dave Zirin