Heroes and Cowards: A call for Action…


I used to teach adolescents the history of civilization. My students sometimes asked why people allow atrocities to happen. I tried to instill some hope by pointing out the courage that a few people have shown.

Helping people along the Underground Railway and hiding Jews were good things, and the people who took those risks were heroes.

My students and I hoped that if we ever found ourselves in similar situations that we would be willing to violate unjust laws to help others. I now find myself in just such a situation.

There is a compelling and growing body of scientific evidence that other species have emotions remarkably similar to our own.

Science is demonstrating a degree of cognitive sophistication in other species that was once claimed as uniquely human. Their fear is not much different from our own. Our pain is the same.

In spite of this growing knowledge, ever more animals are being hurt and killed in American laboratories. More disturbing is the fact that some species, like monkeys, are used precisely because their minds are so like ours. 

How like us do they need to be before their suffering is ethically indistinguishable from the suffering of an African on the middle passage or a Jew strapped to Mengele’s surgical table? 

When intellectually honest people take the time to learn and consider the facts in a consistent manner, they will be led to the same conclusion: not acting in this situation means that we would not have acted honorably in the past to help other victims.

This conclusion naturally divides us. Most of us will claim ignorance after the fact; the majority always prefers indifference. Some of us will claim that this holocaust is just, or a necessary evil. 

The few who will act on behalf of the victims begin by drawing attention to the problem. They learn quickly that the majority is asleep, bigoted, or vested.

They write letters to everyone. They produce leaflets and websites and seek out expert testimony. They try to organize public debate; they hold demonstrations and rallies. 

But the censorship of the animal question is profound. Television networks, newspapers, and magazines refuse to run paid programming or advertisements that might disturb their viewers or alarm their advertisers. Even university campus newspapers censor debate over what is happening on their campuses.

Those who work within the industry remain mute or spin the facts to keep the public confused. And so, the few who do care about the suffering and who do recognize the immensity of the problem are forced to look for ways to breach the barriers to public discussion. One tactic is to act directly against those who hurt animals.

The recent vandalism at the home of two of UCLA’s monkey vivisectors John Schlag and Madeline Schlag-Rey is a good example.

Researchers’ stoic refusals to debate publicly, the Daily Bruin’s endless refusals to print letters of criticism, and the university’s stonewalling response to repeated requests for public documents contributed to the need to act directly.

The Schlags claim that the vandalism and demonstration at their home was ineffective. But a few days later, the Vice Chancellor for Research mailed nearly 60,000 people a written defense of UCLA’s use of animals.

The message from the university and its representatives is crystal clear: it will discuss the matter only if provoked by vandalism and late night visits to vivisectors’ homes. 

Such direct action is the only choice available when all other attempts at open discussion are brushed off. The university’s resistance to public discussion is proportional to the frustration it engenders by doing so. To those awakened to this holocaust, inaction is morally impossible. Escalation seems sadly inevitable in light of the university’s refusal to talk about the suffering occurring within its laboratories. 

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