Remembering the fallen animals of war
In June 326 BC two great armies faced each other at Hydaspes in what is now Pakistan. On the one side the Greeks, Afghans, Egyptians and Persians of Alexander the Great with an unbeaten army consisting of archers, heavy foot with 18ft long pikes, light and heavy cavalry. On the other side King Porus with an army equal to that of Alexander but boasting over 100 war elephants to strike terror into the attackers.
Alexander’s men, having conquered most of the known world and become rich and powerful were tired of fighting and only presented themselves to the battle field out of loyalty to their leader. Their hearts were not in it any more. As the battle reached a climax the forces of Alexander started to buckle and retreat. Desperate to keep up the initiative of attack, Alexander charged forward alone on his great war-horse Bucephalus.
The Greeks seeing their fearless commander attacking alone would eventually throw themselves back into the heat of battle in his support, but for this moment in time, one man and one horse charged alone against a mighty army. Being honourable, the King of the opposing forces rushed forwards to meet Alexander one to one, riding upon his mighty war elephant. As the two men closed the distance between them and finally faced each other, Bucephalus Alexander’s horse and the Purus’s elephant both reared in defiant challenge to each other.
The horse was dwarfed by the mighty elephant.
This scene was captured perfectly in a 2004 film ‘Alexander’. I was watching the prequel to this movie and saw this moment of history represented in film for the first time. I was immediately struck with horror and grief. When my girlfriend arrived home from work she found me still puffy faced and unable to speak. The horror that had filled me in that instant was the realization of the effect of our wars upon these noble animals, these innocents, whom we drag into the violent hell of our own making.
No horse should have to face an elephant in battle, neither should they be forced to charge into cannon and machine gun fire, or to contend with the smell of blood and smoke whilst dying screams of horses and men surround them.
In the world war one alone it is thought that 8 million horses perished.
Even to a human child we can communicate what is going on, we can explain and reassure. The animals that serve us as we involve them into our madness can only rely upon their trust in us.
It is not only horses and elephants that suffer in our war; it is also dolphins, dogs, donkeys, mules, camels, pigeons and hawks. These are the direct victims of our actions. Imagine the collateral casualties of war among domestic pets and farm animals driven to heart failure by fear during the bombing of cities. Consider the wildlife burned and destroyed as we tear apart whole landscapes.
Millions of small animals have been killed in biological and chemical warfare experiments.
It is an irony that Alexander’s horse went down in history as one of the bravest warrior spirits of all time alongside his master, yet when he was first found, this great beast was afraid even of his own shadow. What Bucephalus had endured throughout his life he did for love of his master, but it was not in his original nature. It was his sacrifice to the man he trusted. Bacephalus died on the battlefield that day, most likely from a burst heart.
The Druid knows that animals are no different to men in spirit. We are all earth’s children. We pride ourselves on our intelligence and use of tools, but few people can compare to animals in our courage and nobility of service to others.
Our Celtic ancestors used horses to pull chariots into battle but they used no cavalry since the horse was considered too sacred to expose to such risks in battle, our knights would dismount and go forward without their horses in order to fight. They were less discerning when it came to their wolf hounds, bred to hunt and fight with the families of men. Perhaps it was because these animals descend from the wolf, and hence are of hunter/warrior kind themselves, that made the war dog acceptable to the Celtic tribes.
As deeply ugly as the use of animals in warfare is I am under no illusions about the lengths that any of us might go to when our lives or those of our families are concerned. When push comes to shove we are pre programmed by our nature to throw every weapon we have available at the task of survival. Humans are unlikely to stop using animals in our wars. What we can do, in time of peace is look at better alternatives to the use of these innocents, and to be mindful of the eternal shame that their suffering brings down upon our race.
If I had my way, every new Prime Minister or Head of State upon taking power should be made to walk alone through the war graves of their nation to let the waste of war sink in before they are allowed to make any decisions on our behalf.
When on 11am, on the 11th of November every year our war dead are remembered in Great Britain, I would personally like to remember and keep in my heart alongside the people whose lives were cut short, the animals also. For the animals who’s service and loyalty to humanity has exposed them to the most violent destructive and terrifying aspect of our nature, I would encourage everyone to wear a purple poppy (symbol of the animal war dead) in November 2012.