Years ago, during World War I, British and German soldiers did something that horrified their superiors: they called an unauthorized truce on Christmas Day in 1914, climbing out of their trenches and sharing cigarettes, rations, family photographs, jokes and songs with their mortal enemies, the men they would later attempt to shoot to kill. These soldiers realized that their counterparts, like themselves, either believed in their country's mission or were there because they had been sent there and there was nothing they could do but fight each other.
Of course there were atrocities in that war, as in all wars, and people were raped, beaten and abused, but that shining moment on the Western Front stands out as soldiers in opposing armies acknowledged their shared feelings of being desperately cold, lonely and a long way from home on Christmas Day.
We are all familiar with accounts of My Lai, photographs from Abu Ghraib, and now videotape of soldiers urinating on the dead. But there are other victims who also do not deserve what is done to them at the hands of war bullies. Animals are easy victims, and much has been written about how human enemies are easier to kill if they are called "animals," "rats," "dogs" and other such names.
Last year, a scandalous video emerged of a U.S. marine throwing a puppy off a cliff. Now there is this video of a soldier repeatedly beating a sheep with a baseball bat to the whoops and laughter of other soldiers who are looking on. I would say "beating to death" because that is probably what happened, but we do not know the upshot. We only know, from watching the video and seeing the mood of the soldiers -- and what appears to be a local lad who arrived with the animal -- that the sheep could only have come to a very nasty end. He or she tries to rise several times but the soldier continues to thwack away amid the laughter.
PETA did what it always does when someone blows the whistle on these incidents of gratuitous cruelty: We wrote to Secretary of the Army John McHugh [PDF] and then, when no answer was forthcoming, to other high-ranking officers, including Chief of Public Affairs General Stephen Lanza and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command David E. Quantock. No one -- not PETA and not the thousands of people who have seen this video and are rightly disturbed by it -- has received any acknowledgment, not even a single comforting word, that an investigation has been started.
Military psychologists and psychiatrists are aware, as are all psychologists and psychiatrists, that gratuitous cruelty to animals, especially when it gives pleasure to the perpetrator, is an indicator of other anti-social problems that need to be taken most seriously. Juveniles who decapitate neighborhood cats or hang the family dog from a tree are almost guaranteed to go on to other violent crimes if they are not stopped and dealt with. All the "school shooters" have a history of cruelty to animals, as does every known serial killer from Son of Sam to Jeffrey Dahmer. Worrying about what these soldiers will do to other human beings is a valid concern, but it is enough to worry about why they feel it acceptable or funny to torture any living beings who cannot defend themselves -- in this case, one who is unarmed, small, docile, out of his or her environment, the holder of no political views or enmity, and not threatening them in any way. In fact, it's hard to find a less threatening being than a sheep.
It is also worrying not to hear that something is being done about such behavior even if it is unlikely to disrupt talks with the Taliban and risk the lives of our other serving troops, which is the fear that the video of the urinating soldiers has raised.
Ms. Clinton, Gen. Lanza, Gen. Quantock and Sec. McHugh: May the American public hear from you that the United States condemns cruelty to all vulnerable beings by its own and that an investigation is in the works?