War Dogs – from Christopher Columbus to Osama Bin Laden

May 8, 2011

I’m not much of a reader of Foreign Policy magazine but I must say I’m knocked out by Roberta Frankel’s selection of images for her piece War Dogs. See the entire article here.

We’re on about the subject today because of Cairo, a Belgian Malinois war dog that was used by the Navy SEALS during Operation Neptune Spear, the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

Cairo the dog was, of course, named after Peter Lorre’s character in the film of The Maltese Falcon, Joel Cairo. The SEALS are well known to be huge Dashiell Hammett fans, while the Marines have always preferred the hard-boiled poetry of Raymond Chandler. I don’t know what the grunts in the Army read.

But even Elmore Leonard could tell you that shortly after their domestication dogs were put to use as weapons of war. During the Viet Nam War, scout dogs are credited with saving 10,000 troops. Too bad that when we pulled out, these same dogs were classified as ‘surplus material’ and left behind (where their efficiency earned them a bounty from the Viet Cong).

After he sailed the ocean blue Columbus used mastiff-sized dogs to help him conquer the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. It’s reported that his men would give a native each night to their war dogs to devour as dinner. The Romans had entire units composed of dogs with spiked collars and metal armor. More recently the Russians used 40,000 dogs during WWII in various roles, including anti-tank weapons. The dogs were kept hungry and fed only under  Soviet tanks. The first idea was that the dog would release a bomb then return to its handler who would detonate it remotely.

This training program had very mixed results so they decided to kept it simple and stupid. Now there was an 8 inch wooden lever sticking up from the top of the pack the dog was wearing. When the dog went under the chassis of the tank, this lever would strike the bottom of the tank and detonate. But even this didn’t work because to save fuel and ammunition most dogs were trained under parked Soviet tanks without gunfire.

Plus the Soviet tanks were diesel and the German tanks gasoline so the dogs had a tendency to run towards the familiar-smelling Soviet tanks.

And if a dog wasn’t wounded or killed in the battlefield they, of course, ran back to the home front where the explosives destroyed them along with their two-legged co-combatants. So any dog returning would have to be shot by its own troops and some soldiers rebelled against this instance of killing during wartime. Nazi propaganda made much of the desperation that drove the Soviets to this inefficient tactic.

Today’s war dogs are  both highly trained mission specialists and expensive tech. They are treated like members of the team, not four-legged bomb delivery systems.

While DC Comics character Sgt. Rock has always maintained that WAR IS HELL (and I believe him), there’s just no place we won’t bring our dogs.





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