Violence at Home

By Ingrid Newkirk

Is it a coincidence that, in the wake of the attacks on Washington and New

York, most men speak of retaliation while most women express an urge to

return to peace?

At the Washington Center for Teaching Peace, Professor Colman McCarthy has

fretted over the fact that, year after year, his female students are always

more open than his male students to the concept of peace. A Georgetown law

student thought she had the answer. “Women want to know about nonviolence

more than men because we are more victimized by violence than men. And

victims always want solutions quicker.”

McCarthy thought it over and

realized that most domestic violence is caused by men. After all, there are

no battered men’s shelters. The leading cause of injury to women is being

beaten at home. Some women have more fear walking into their homes than

walking out of them. In McCarthy’s words, many women suffer husbands and

lovers and fathers who surround them with “combat and commotion, not

compassion and comfort.” In many of those homes, humane society officers

find that children and animals take the brunt of physical violence.

It has always been that way. I remember my mother describing how English

families destroyed their beloved pet dachshunds in World War Two because

people saw the dogs as “German,” and would throw stones at them or worse.

Then there is the writing of Rosa Luxemburg, a peace activist jailed for

opposition to World War One. In 1917, two years before she was assassinated by

the secret police, she wrote from her cell in the Breslau Prison about war

and the use of animals.

She recounted how soldiers outside her window mercilessly flogged a team of

buffaloes who were war trophies from Rumania. She wrote, “A lorry came laden

with sacks, so overladen indeed that the buffaloes were unable to drag it

across the threshhold of the gate. The soldier-driver belabored the poor

beasts so savagely with the butt end of his whip that the wardress at the

gate, indignant at the sight, asked him if he had no compassion for animals.

‘No more than anyone has compassion for us men,’ he answered with an evil

smile, and redoubled his blows.”

Eventually, the animals, utterly exhausted, succeed in drawing the load over

the obstacle, and stood perfectly still. Ms. Luxemburg wrote, “The one that

was bleeding had an expression on its face and in its soft black eyes like

that of a weeping child – one that has been severely thrashed and does not

know why, nor how to escape from the torment of ill-treatment.” She thinks

of where these buffaloes have come from, the rich, green meadows of another

land, and how they are now objects of disdain for their “nationality,” and

concludes, “I had a visitation of all the splendor of war!”

While we reel from the differences between human nations and religions and the destruction that brings, it is a good time to examine how it is only our own ingrained prejudices that allow us to treat others we don’t understand as nothing more than commodities, instead of as sentient beings who feel love, pain, fear,

misery, loneliness and the blade at their throats.

Luckily, it isn’t only women who understand that non-violence can be

expressed through kindness to the animal ‘nations,’ the ultimate kindness,

perhaps, being to leave them in peace and refrain from eating them.

Professor McCarthy advocates vegetarianism.

The Martin Luther King family has

become vegetarian because they cannot escape the absolute analogy of he

slaughterhouse that supplies the supermarket and the carnage that is war and

domestic strife.

Mahatma Gandhi, who liberated India from the harsh yoke of

the British Empire, embraced a nonviolent diet and spoke forcefully against

frightening animals and stealing their lives all for a fleeting taste.

The Nobel Laureate, Isaac Bashevis Singer, whose fled Nazi-occupied

Europe, became a vegetarian when, from the window of his rented room, he

viewed cattle in shackles being beaten down a ramp to their deaths.

Many Quakers and Grahams who fought for emancipation of women and the abolition of the slave trade refused meat so as to avoid violence to their own bodies

and to animal life.

As we cast about for ways to cope with the World Trade Center and related

incidents, perhaps it is time to look at the animal rights message with new

eyes, to wonder if we can open our hearts and minds and oppose

violence in all its forms, not simply when the horror reaches into our

families, communities and homes. We’re all free to make a start

by wiping violence off our plates.

Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, will send free vegetarian recipes to anyone who writes to PETA, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510, or the web site below.

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