Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust
by Charles Patterson
Review by Nowick Gray]
This book is important and disturbing. I took a growing (and
almost) morbid interest as the catalogue of atrocities grew. From
the very foundation of Western thought, Genesis, to the current
dehumanization of political enemies as "animals," people
have taken power and false morality in order to exert dominance
over others. At the nadir of this depressing history is the incomprehensible
evil wreaked on the Jews by Hitler; but the book does an excellent
job of showing how the way was paved by, among other factors,
Henry Ford and assembly-line slaughterhouses, animal breeding
and forced sterilization, hunting, slavery, and the conquest of
the Americas. Indeed, the author does an admirable work of research
in drawing the links between these various lineages of oppression
and murder--as, for instance, between the treatment of slaves
and the treatment of beasts of burden. Through all of it the tone
is impeccably objective, letting the horrific facts and connections
speak for themselves.
In contrast, the book's conclusion (comprising its final third,
and entitled "Holocaust Echoes") homes in rather one-dimensionally
in on what really is the author's chief concern: the cause of
animal rights. The mountain of dead bodies assembled earlier in
the work certainly proves the point that for animals the holocaust
is a daily reality. What is missing, however, is any consideration
of the rationale which supports meat-eating and its industry.
Obviously billions of humans addicted to meat have their reasons,
and not all of those reasons have to do with sheer domination.
Many native American peoples have survived largely by virtue
of their dependence on animals for food, clothing, and shelter;
in the far north that dependence was absolute. In such a context
animals have to this day been given sacred status, and killed
with respect for supporting human life. Earlier in human history,
animals similarly played a key food role in allowing our species
to expand and survive in conditions that were unfavorable to supporting
year-round vegetable diets. The advent of agriculture allowed
that dependence on dwindling herds of game to shift to cereal
grains: but again animals were necessary, this time to provide
the labor and manure. Finally, I wonder how the author would deal
with the question of carnivorous animals: are only non-human animals
allowed to kill for food with impunity?
Eternal Treblinka is nothing if not thought-provoking. The host
of central questions--like ghosts from the gas chambers--arise
and refuse to go away.
Is killing animals absolutely unjust, or are there occasions
where it is morally "okay"? This question is reminiscent
of the hoary Catholic concept of the "just war." Christians--and
Jews--for centuries have preached the commandment "Thou shalt
not kill" (other humans) but have made haste to cover the
globe (or get swift revenge on Palestinian settlers) doing just
Is it unjust to kill all animals? What about oysters? Fish? Blue-green
algae? What about plants--which other researchers have shown to
respond to human emotion (including thoughts of harm!) or classical
music (Wagner, anyone?)
Was it okay to kill animals when it was a matter of human survival,
but no longer okay when we can buy California soybeans year-round?
Except maybe in the Arctic where it still might be . . . or only
in cases of imminent starvation? The same question could be applied
to cannibalism, I suppose: leg of lady is only on the menu on
Day 30 after a plane-crash or shipwreck?
Or is it all a matter of degree? No absolutes, but just a consideration
of scale, attitude, mind-set? If we went back to the family farm,
or the bison on the prairie, or the scavenged lion-kill, can we
eat meat then (after prayers) and be pure?
Or do we have to find that Space-Odyssey moment of revelation
in our dim apelike history when the light bulb should have gone
on--and instead of wielding the first club against our food-grubbing
neighbor, we throw it down and cry out to friend and foe alike:
"War no more! We can grow sprouts together (and when our
descendents invent blenders, they can wash it down with hemp milk)!"
I'm almost ashamed to be so irreverent in the face of such evil
in the world; and in playing devil's advocate I risk the liberal
disease of rational dismissal, which amounts to denial. On the
other hand, I don't call myself "Cougar"
more about Eternal
Reviews by Nowick Gray]