I read this article years ago and just recently bumped into it again. Thought it was a good read then and hopefully it still is now.
The Disneyfication of war allows us to ignore its real savagery
By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 24th October 2006.
Most of our memorials sentimentalise war. Few commemorate the horror. But now we have a new category, whose purpose seems to be to trivialise it.
Last week a vast bronze sculpture was unveiled in Montrose on the east coast of Scotland by Prince Andrew. It depicts a hero of the second world war, wearing a seaman’s cap, who was decorated with “the equivalent of the George Cross”. It’s a bit late, perhaps, but otherwise unsurprising – until I tell you that the hero was a dog. The statue depicts a St Bernard called Bamse, which reputedly rescued two Norwegian sailors. It is the latest manifestation of the new Cult of the Heroic Animal.
The Imperial War Museum is currently running an exhibition called “The Animals’ War”. It features stuffed mascots, tales of the “desperate plight” of 200 animals trapped by the fighting in Iraq, and photos of dogs wearing gas masks. It tells us about the “PDSA Dicken Medal – the Animals’ Victoria Cross”, which has been awarded to 23 dogs, 32 pigeons, three horses and one cat for “acts of conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in wartime.” The museum resounds with cries of “aaah!” and “how sweet!”. War is now cute.
Last year, Disney released an animation called Valiant, about the heroics of a group of messenger pigeons in World War Two. In 2004, a vast sculpture was unveiled by Princes Anne in Park Lane in London, called “Animals at War”. It cost £1.5 million, and it is dedicated “to all the animals that served and died alongside British and Allied Forces in wars and campaigns throughout time … From the pigeon to the elephant they all played a vital role in every region of the world in the cause of human freedom. Their contribution must never be forgotten.” In Liverpool there are now two statues commemorating a dog – Jet – used to find victims of air raids in the Second World War.
I have no objection to remembering the suffering of animals. If someone started a subscription for a statue of a battery pig or a broiler chicken (conveniently forgotten by almost everyone) I might even contribute. But the emphasis given to animals’ suffering in war suggests a failure to acknowledge the suffering of human beings. The tableau in Park Lane carries the justifying motto “They had no choice”. Nor did the civilians killed in Iraq, the millions of women raped over the centuries by soldiers, or the colonial subjects who died of famine or disease in British concentration camps. You would scour this country in vain for a monument to any of them.
Bamse has been dead for 62 years. Both the Park Lane memorial and the exhibition at the Imperial War Museum were inspired by a book by Jilly Cooper – the patron saint of English bourgeois sentiment – called Animals in War(4,5). But it was first published in 1983. It is only since the invasion of Iraq that this disneyfication of war seems to have become a major industry.