Now I understand how I feel about Abigail…as though she tugged me to safety…
“… In the U.S. Army as in ancient Greece, the most admired trait in soldiers is not their ability to kill but their willingness to sacrifice for their friends.
The Battle of Thermopylae occurred in Greece in 480 BC, when three hundred Spartan soldiers and their allies held off an invading Persian army. Since then, more people throughout the world have looked to this battle for inspiration than perhaps any other battle in history. I always found this interesting, since the Battle of Thermopylae did not inspire countless generations of people because the Spartans won, but because they lost. The Spartans at Thermopylae are admired because they stood courageously against overwhelming odds and died to protect their loved ones. These are the same reasons why many Medal of Honor recipients are admired today.
Although we could list countless examples of unconditional love from every era in history, I cannot say that every mammal shares the experience we call unconditional love, because I can only speak form my own experiences as a human being. However, I can show that other mammals are willing to protect and sacrifice for the members of their group, even if they are not related to those members by blood. Whether we call this behavior unconditional love or not, abundant evidence reveals that dogs, wolves, and primates exhibit selfless behavior that contributes to the well-being of others.
Many of the soldiers who served as dog handlers during the Vietnam War, for example, would certainly agree that dogs are capable of experiencing unconditional love, and these soldiers have lots of evidence to support this claim. There is a reason, after all, why human beings forged such strong bond with dogs, and why dogs are considered man’s best friend. Because of its pack mentality, a dog can become a valued member of the human family. The army takes a humanity’s close kinship with dogs even further.
In the army today, dogs are not viewed as pieces of equipment, but as soldiers. In fact, military working dogs are given rank, promotions, and awards just like human soldiers, and they always outrank their dog handlers. When army dogs complete their military service, they even receive a retirement ceremony along with an honorable discharge before they are given to a civilian family for adoption. Although the behavior of dogs differs from that of human beings in many ways, military working dogs reveal that we share one form of behavior crucial to our survival. The following example will better explain why many people in the army do not see dogs as pieces of equipment, but as soldiers who are capable of experiencing unconditional love.
During the Vietnam War, the most dangerous position for a soldier on patrol was walking “point.” Because the soldier marched in front of the patrol, he would be the first person attacked by the enemy during an ambush and the most likely person to die from a booby trap. Due to these dangers, the soldier walking point was often a dog handler. Military working dogs were trained to smell enemy ambushes, locate snipers, and could even hear trip wires vibrating in the breeze.
In 1969, Corporal John Flannelly served as a dog handler in Vietnam with a German shepherd named Bruiser. “They told me that this dog was going to be my new best friend,” he said, “and that I would probably get closer to him than any human being that I have ever known in my entire life, and they were right. I was closer with that dog than most people are with their wives, their children…we were inseparable.”
In September of 1969, Flannelly and Bruiser were leading their platoon on a patrol through enemy territory when Bruiser spotted danger. “All of a sudden Bruiser stopped dead in his tracks. His nose was up and his ears were twitching, and I noticed some movement from the bush. I had to make a decision, and I chose to fire. The next thing I knew, all hell broke loose. There were automatic weapons fired, hand grenades, rockets being fired.”
The explosion tore Flannelly’s body apart and knocked him to the ground. “I looked down. I thought my arm was blown off. My whole side was blown open. I could actually watch my left lung filling up and down, and then I watched it slowly deflate. Bruiser was just standing next to me, looking at me. He had a very sad look in his eyes. He knew we were in way over our heads. I didn’t want him to be there. I didn’t want him to have to see me die. I told him, “Bruiser…go…go.” It was very hard, because every time I spoke I was spitting up blood, and I was just trying to stay conscious, because I just wanted to get him out of there before I died. He wouldn’t leave.”*
Instead of leaving, Bruiser tugged on Flannelly’s uniform with his teeth. Realizing that Bruiser was trying to pull him to safety, Flannelly grabbed on to Bruiser’s body harness with his good arm. Bruiser than dragged Flannelly away from the gunfire and explosions. “He dragged me back. I’m not sure how far it was. It seemed like forever. I don’t know where he got the strength to pull me. While he was dragging me he was hit I believe two times, but he was determined to get me out of there. His loyalty was immeasurable. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for that. I owe my life to that dog.”
Other mammals display incredible acts of selflessness, but since human beings must rely on cooperation far more than any other mammal to survive, we have a unique human ability that makes us different from every other mammal. Because we can strengthen our unconditional life to a limitless degree, we have the capacity for universal love, which is the ability to love all of humanity, even all life. Two of the most admired and influential people in history–Jesus and Gautama Buddha–embraced our unique human capacity for universal love. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, and Henry David Thoreau also demonstrated that human beings have an endless capacity for unconditional love. To understand how our endless capacity for unconditional love gives us our endless capacity to cooperate and survive, we must further explore how unconditional love gives us the power to end war.”
From Will War Ever End? A Soldier’s Vision of Peace for the 21st Century, by Captain Paul K. Chappell, U.S. Army
* War Dogs, America’s Forgotten Heroes: The Untold Story of Dogs in Combat, narr. Martin Sheen, VHS (GRP, Nature’s Recipe Pet Foods, 1999).