I started writing this under the title, ‘An anthropomorphism too far’ and was going to say that the Animals in War Memorial is silly because the beasts won’t get it. But I’ve come round to it. I don’t think this does project human values onto other animals; they’re in war not at war and that makes all the difference. It’s good to remember that other animals also suffer and that all suffering is bad. The memorial extends and improves humanity.
Other animals’ contributions are made for different reasons, of course. Take Simon, who won the Dickin medal for his role in the Yangtse Incident. Twenty-two seamen were killed when his ship came under fire. A badly wounded Simon was treated almost as an equal alongside his 31 wounded shipmates and recovered quickly. His ship was to be stranded for ten weeks and he impressed all by killing a great many rats which would otherwise have attacked the wounded and the ship’s food stores. He raised morale by visiting and comforting the injured. But on arrival in the UK, he was quarantined. It’s not unusual for isolated cats to exhibit symptoms of depression and Simon soon fell ill and died. His fate scandalised his surviving human shipmates, many of whom were left depressed and upset by the visits they’d made to him.
Simon almost certainly understood his ship was under attack, that his captain owner and many other shipmates were dead or injured and responded positively when they treated him as one of crew. But he didn’t understand that this was the Chinese Civil War, his medal for bravery or, more importantly for him, the quarantine laws. In war he had a sense of belonging, was able to follow his instincts and was able to identify threats to his community and deal with them, making a unique and vital contribution. Denied all that in quarantine, he died. I think that’s worth meditating on.