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October 2001
Wiping Violence off our Plates

By Ingrid Newkirk



Rosa Luxemburg was a peace activist jailed for opposition to World War I. 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 Romania. She wrote, “A lorry came laden with sacks, so overladen indeed that the buffaloes were unable to drag it across the threshold 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, succeeded in drawing the load over the obstacle, and stood perfectly still. 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!” This reminds me of my mother describing how English families destroyed their beloved pet dachshunds in World War II because people saw the dogs as “German,” and would throw stones at them or worse.

In the wake of the attacks on Washington and New York, 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.

One way nonviolence can be expressed is through kindness to the animal ‘nations,’ the ultimate kindness, perhaps, being to leave them in peace and refrain from eating them.

Long-time peace activist Professor Colman McCarthy, who created the Center for Teaching Peace, advocates vegetarianism.

The Martin Luther King family has become vegetarian because they cannot escape the absolute analogy of the 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, who 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 is president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. For a free vegetarian starter kit (with recipes), contact: PETA, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510, or


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