THE BLOG

Sexual Shenanigans and Pig Shooting in the Military Need to Stop

06/16/2015 12:43 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2016

According to a new paper published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology, pigs are extraordinarily complex individuals. Neuroscientist Dr. Lori Marino and Emory University professor Christina M. Colvin reviewed dozens of studies about pigs' sentience and intelligence and concluded that pigs have excellent long-term memories, live in complex social groups, learn from one another, will check themselves out in a mirror, love to play, can use a joystick to move a computer cursor and display empathy.

In other words, says Dr. Marino, "[T]his paper shows that pigs share a number of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species"--such as dogs, dolphins and chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. "There is now good scientific evidence to suggest we need to rethink our overall relationship to them."

Every decisionmaker at the Department of Defense (DOD) who still views pigs as little more than teaching tools to be stabbed and blown apart in crude trauma training exercises should read this paper. While military studies conducted at major universities have shown that today's super-impressive simulators teach lifesaving battlefield medical skills as well as or better than cutting up and killing pigs and other animals and the majority of our NATO allies have stopped using animals in military medical training, the DOD still has animals in the crosshairs.

It shouldn't be surprising that a new PETA eyewitness investigation of the military's leading contractor for trauma training courses using animals, Deployment Medicine International (DMI), shows that the same mindset that allows horrific abuse of animals to continue also tolerates racism, homophobia and sexual assault.

Before being indefinitely suspended from receiving any federal contracts--less than a week after PETA broke the disturbing investigation--DMI led courses in which live animals were dragged out into woods and mutilated. In recent years, DMI maimed and killed more than 14,000 pigs.

PETA's eyewitness video was obtained during a DMI Operational and Emergency Medical Skills course attended by members of the Air Force and Navy as well as civilians. The footage shows live pigs shot with shotguns and cut into with knives to cause massive bleeding. DMI staff rammed a metal rod through one pig's leg, cut into his abdomen, pulled out part of his intestines and shot him in the face, blowing off his jaw. DMI staff said that another pig--who was cut open on the limbs, chest, face and head--repeatedly started to regain consciousness.

The callousness does not end with pigs. In the video, one instructor tells students that using "Hajis"--referring to Muslims who have made pilgrimages to Islam's holiest city, Mecca--"would be even better" than using pigs for the deadly training. Instructors made sexual and homophobic remarks to students and laughed about mutilating and killing animals.

While putting together this exposé, PETA also uncovered previously unreleased documents revealing that the Virginia Board of Medicine recently suspended the medical license of DMI president John Hagmann for abuses in other DMI courses during the same time period.

The board's investigation of Hagmann revealed that he reportedly drugged, physically abused and sexually assaulted service members and other students in DMI courses. Among other atrocities, Hagmann allegedly performed an inappropriate rectal exam on a student, instructed another student to perform a penis and rectal exam on him that he videotaped, manipulated and photographed a student's penis in a warehouse while the student was drunk and retaliated against a female student who questioned the use of live animals by forcing her to perform a painful procedure on another untrained student's penis. The board concluded that Hagmann's behavior is a "substantial danger to the public health or safety."

While extreme, DMI is not an isolated case. A PETA video exposé in 2012 also documented cruel and callous behavior in a similar military course led by a different contractor, in which U.S. Coast Guard instructors and participants joked and laughed while using tree trimmers to cut off the legs of inadequately sedated goats.

Our soldiers deserve the best training available -- and that's not hacking at moaning goats with gardening shears or blowing off pigs' jaws. Lifelike human-patient simulators, which are readily available, realistically represent human anatomy and traumatic injury. They breathe, hemorrhage, have a pulse, blink and even simulate dying, providing troops with directly applicable experience and valuable feedback.

Military programs have also trained medics in the emergency rooms (ERs) of civilian trauma center hospitals, a mutually beneficial alliance that provides the medics with experience and understaffed ERs with assistance. Top medical schools have abandoned the use of animals in surgical training, and it's time that the military does as well.

Making a complete switch to the effective, high-tech trauma training that is widely used around the world would benefit humans in the military and spare thinking, feeling animals pain and suffering.