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Hunters and Soldiers: Brothers in Arms

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Mickey Z.
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Thanks to the Associated Press (AP), I recently learned about an innovative new method in psychological therapy: killing. Thanks to the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), wounded American soldiers are now attempting to "recover" from their violent trauma by, well, imposing violent trauma onto defenseless animals.

"The PVA learned many years ago that participating in sporting events helped restore self-confidence and that 'can do' attitude to someone who has received a catastrophic injury," said Bill Kokendoffer, president of the Mid-America Chapter of PVA. "We older injured, like myself, try to show the newly injured that life is not over after an injury, just changed."

"It is about giving them the experience," added Lew Deal, a retired Marine who serves as director of outdoor programs for PVA. Deal's venue of choice was the Great Turkey Hunt 2008 in Miami, Oklahoma. Four paralyzed veterans took part this past April. One of them, according to AP, "earned his inclusion" by getting shot in the head while serving in Afghanistan. The goal, according to organizers, is for the hunt to serve as a "mechanism to set a psychologically wounded service member on a path of healing." (Reminder: this is not an SNL skit.)

When one of my local daily papers—AM-NY—ran this story, it provoked two angry letters in the following day's edition. "What perverse logic is at play here?" asked the first reader. "How about feeling better about yourself and helping animals, children, or community?" A second reader objected to "victims of violent actions or situations" seeking to "feel better about themselves by creating other victims."

While it may seem a more obvious choice (for sane people, at least) to give wounded humans an opportunity to heal through efforts that involve compassion and caring, we must never forget the deep connection between volunteer soldiers and the American hunting culture.

I remember a 2004 New York Times article called "In Iraq's Murky Battle, Snipers Offer U.S. a Precision Weapon." Author Eric Schmitt explained how American snipers earn all those yellow ribbons we see on passing SUVs. "Soldiering is a violent business, and emotions in combat run high," Schmitt wrote. "But commanders say snipers are a different breed of warrior - quiet, unflappable marksmen who bring a dispassionate intensity to their deadly task."

Such intensity is often honed at the expense of animal life.

"Most snipers are familiar with firearms even before joining the armed forces," Schmitt wrote. He interviewed two snipers who "grew up on farms, and both owned their first rifles before they were 10." According to Schmitt, these patriotic heroes "fondly remember hunting deer as youngsters."

You just gotta love the use of the word fondly to "soften" the image.

To further highlight the age-old hunter-soldier connection, let's flashback to the early days of the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. That's when some gallant American soldiers, in their unswerving quest to spread freedom and democracy, had an after-hours beer party in the bombed-out and neglected Baghdad Zoo. When all was said and done, one of those soldiers had shot dead a rare Bengal tiger. "Someone was trying to feed the tigers," the zoo's night watchman told Reuters. "The tiger bit his finger off and clawed his arm. So his colleague took a gun and shot the tiger." In that same Reuters article, we learned: "The tiger was one of two in the zoo-once the largest in the Middle East, today a decrepit collection of dirty cages and sad-looking animals." (No mention of U.S.-imposed sanctions, of course.)

If we want a better world for animals, we must make no excuse for the hunter. If we want peace for all living things, we must dispense with the unconditional support for our (sic) volunteer troops.

"War will exist," declared John F. Kennedy, "until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the warrior does today."

Or, as Albert Einstein sez: "The pioneers of a warless world are the youth that refuse military service."

Mickey Z. is the author of the upcoming novel, CPR for Dummies, and his blog can be found here.
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