Americans and Afghans alike are rightly outraged over a video circulating on the Internet that allegedly shows U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses. Pentagon officials are scrambling to do damage control, fearing that the video will hinder peace talks, and military officials are promising that those involved will be punished to the highest extent. But another video that surfaced recently also merits outrage and action: It shows a soldier viciously beating a sheep with a baseball bat while other soldiers laugh and cheer.
Blow after metallic, stomach-churning blow rains down on the terrified sheep's skull. The convulsing and kicking animal tries in vain to rise and flee, but the man with the bat just keeps swinging. A local boy in the background jumps up and down in apparent delight while the sheep struggles on the ground. After much public outcry, military officials are finally investigating the video.
Animals don't start wars. They don't have political views, militaries or weapons. Yet they are often the victims of cruelty in combat zones. In 2008, video surfaced of a smiling Marine who hurled a live puppy off a cliff while another Marine laughed. Thankfully, after a massive public outcry and pressure from PETA, the puppy-tossing Marine was expelled, and another Marine in the video faced disciplinary action.
The same year, video that was allegedly taken from a CD found in Baghdad's Green Zone depicts what appear to be U.S. soldiers taunting and tormenting a dog whose back legs were apparently crippled. The laughing men threw rocks at the dog, who snarled and yelped in pain before making a desperate attempt to flee on two legs. One of the men in the video said the dog's attempt to run was "the funniest thing I've ever seen in my life." Many other similar incidents of abuse have been recorded on video, and many more likely never see the light of day.
Whether the abuser is a military service member or a regular Joe, cruelty to animals isn't "normal" behavior, and it must be taken seriously, for everyone's safety. People who find pleasure or humor in harming animals aren't just cruel; they're also cowards because they target "easy victims" who don't have any hope of fighting back.
Mental-health and law-enforcement professionals know that animal abusers' disregard for life and indifference to suffering indicate a dangerous psychopathy that does not confine itself to animal victims. A history of cruelty to animals regularly shows up in the FBI records of serial rapists and murderers, and a study by Northeastern University and the Massachusetts SPCA found that people who abuse animals are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against humans. Violence is a fact of war, but the depravity shown by the sheep-beating soldier and the sick pleasure the onlookers seemed to derive from watching the beating are red flags.
All the students who have opened fire on their classmates have histories of cruelty to animals. "BTK" killer Dennis Rader, who was convicted of killing 10 people, admitted that he was cruel to animals as a child and apparently practiced strangling dogs and cats before moving on to human victims. Serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer tortured animals and impaled cats' and dogs' heads on sticks. The Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo, used arrows to shoot cats and dogs who were trapped inside crates.
Whether it occurs at home or in a war zone, there is never an excuse for harming animals. The stakes of cruelty to animals are far too high to ignore it, to excuse it or to let those who commit it go unpunished. It's time for the military to treat acts of cruelty to animals with the seriousness that they deserve.
Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org .