WASHINGTON -- The war between animal activists and the Pentagon has raged for decades. You could say there's been a fair amount of collateral damage: thousands of goats and pigs have been mutilated, though the military argues the animals have not died in vain.
So it's no surprise the animal rights camp is salivating over the blow it's about to inflict on the enemy. This week, by order of Congress, the Pentagon must present lawmakers with a written plan to phase out "live tissue training," military speak for slaying animals to teach combat medics how to treat severed limbs and gunshot wounds.
The demand, tucked into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, marks the first time Congress has ordered the Pentagon to provide a detailed plan to start relying less on animals and more on simulators. The military must also specify whether removing animals from training sessions could lead to a "reduction in the competency of combat medical personnel," according to the bill.
"Congress now acknowledges that it is wrong to harm animals for crude medical training exercises if modern and superior alternatives are available," said Justin Goodman, the director of laboratory investigations for Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, which has been fighting the use of animals in combat medic training since the early 1980s. "If the military is too entrenched to make changes on their own, Congress is going to bring pressure to bear and force that change."
The military's use of animals for medical training dates back to the Vietnam war, but it drew relatively little scrutiny until the summer of 1983, when activists caught wind of a training exercise planned at a facility in Bethesda, Md. The plan to shoot dozens of anesthetized dogs strung on nylon mesh slings in an indoor, soundproof firing range enraged animal activists and some lawmakers.
Caspar Weinberger, the defense secretary, stopped the shooting of dogs, but not goats.
In recent years, civilian trauma courses have largely abandoned the use of animals, chiefly because human simulators have come a long way.