by Robert Cohen - [email protected]
The flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Portland Oregon
lasted six hours.
On the plane, I read the rough draft version of “Eternal
Treblinka,” an extraordinary book written by Charles Patterson that
equates the real life and death experiences of ten billion farm animals
raised each year for human consumption to the same Nazi atrocities
suffered by six million Jews who became Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
Eternal Treblinka is scheduled for a September, 2001
publication date. This is one of the best written, best researched
animal rights books that I’ve ever had the pleasure to examine.
Fresh from the memory of having read about Jews stuffed
into cattle cars as they were being transported to the slaughterhouses
of Aushwitz and Dachau, I myself became witness to the twenty-first
century’s foremost example of man’s inhumanity to other living
creatures. Our tortured kin. The animal holocaust.
Last Thursday morning, I drove from Portland to Mount
St. Helens in Washington State. I had been attending the Raw Foods
Festival in Portland, and found a few hours in between my talks to visit
the scene of America’s greatest natural volcanic disaster. On this hot
summer day, I drove across a bridge spanning the cascading Columbia
River, separating Portland from Vancouver. There next to my car was a
40-foot long silver van with holes large enough to see through.
Inside of the truck were dairy cows. They were packed
tightly together -- with no room to lie down. The cows had served man’s
purpose. Each individual lived her short lifetime of stress, first
birthing a child who would be immediately taken from her, then injected
with hormones that would
painfully stretch her udder, depleting calcium from her
own bones so that she would generate enough milk to fill 100 half-pint
containers for school children to drink each day. Her ancestors
naturally produced enough milk to have filled just four of those same
The cow whose eyes I look into for just one moment would
be made to suffer through hours or days of driving hundreds or thousands
of miles to what was to become a dairyman’s final solution.
Yesterday she died a violent death shared by 10,000 of
Today she will share that same fate with 10,000 other
Guernsey and Holstein cows on Route 80 or Route 66 or I-95, in Kansas,
New Jersey, or Florida, on highways and neighborhoods where your
children and mine sleep comfortably unaware of the predestined doom for
living beings who have done nothing to merit such treatment. Tomorrow
the same, and the day after that. Eternal death. Eternal slaughter.
A holocaust occurs while meat eaters turn the other way,
denying that such horrors could possibly exist. Were the German and
Polish people who knew the fate of those trucked to Buchenwald and
Treblinka any less moral or guilty than those who comprehend the truth
about what really happens to farm animals?
I followed the truck for a bit until it veered off to
the left, and I continued my drive in another direction. I took the high
road, and she took the low road, and her look will forever haunt me. Her
body will produce 2,000 quarter-pounders for one of many fast food
franchises. Her anus and cheeks, arms and legs, back and udder will be
served so that others can have it their way. Today’s slaughter will feed
20,000,000 people, and the year’s tally of Elsie and her sisters will
add up to seven billion kids meals served.
I feel the slaughterhouse. I hear the screams and know
their fear. I smell the sweat and blood and suffer their pain. I
internalize the agony and distress of transported animals. I envision
the once green fields in which these animals grazed and the cold
metallic ramp and smell of warm sticky
blood that flows on the slaughterhouse floor and stains
the psyche of us all.
I imagine the stun gun bolt to the head. The upside-down
hoisting and the sliced neck artery. The animal who chokes on her blood,
and the man who slices off her legs as she kicks in fear from the
ensuing pain of butchery. The last fifteen seconds of a death that no
creature deserves. The arrogance of a man who eats the flesh and dares
not consider the origin of each bite.
Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer once
wrote about a man’s love for his departed pet mouse:
“What do they know -- all these scholars, all these
the leaders of the world -- about such as you? They have
themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the
species, is the
crown of creation. All other creatures were created
merely to provide
him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In
them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an
I ceased eating meat four years ago. I now look at my
pet dog, whom my daughters rescued from a shelter one day before she was
due to be injected with man’s final solution. I have come to love her.
Her name is Tykee, the goddess of fortune. Is she unlike the baby lamb
or calf who is
separated from her mother and shipped to the
exterminator? I reflect on the Amazon parrot who recognizes me and sings
“hello” when I visit my parents. Does the bird with green feathers
differ significantly from the chicken with white plumage?
Do they not feel pain and deserve the right to live? I
cannot eat them. I can no longer be the cause for their pain, although I
once was a part of their genocide. I once denied responsibility for the
acts of terror that occurred outside of my vision… outside of my
consciousness. Their bodies were cut into smaller pieces and were
broiled, baked, and fried.
Oh, that same crime of arrogance to which I now plead
guilty! My penitence? Community service. I explain the act to meat
eaters, and some turn their backs on me. Close their eyes. Shut their
ears. Who wishes to deal with the truth and reality of death?
Arriving at Mount St. Helens, I carefully read one
plaque after another, taking note of performances both heroic and
ironic. I consider the day that once silenced the birds and boiled to
death fish in the streams. A blink in the eye of geological time that
stripped the landscape of the color green, divested pine trees of their
needles and scattered whole trees like matchsticks across barren
I examined the original seismographs and warnings from
hundreds of scientists to the residents to evacuate their homes and come
to terms with an absolute truth.
I became dumfounded by the arrogance of one man, Harry
R. Truman, who lived alone in a cabin aside the lake below a mountain
that would soon explode with the magnitude and power equivalent to
27,000 Hiroshima-type blasts.
A man who declined to leave that mountain. A man who
denied a truth shared by others. An arrogant man who looked death in the
face and refused to respect man’s destiny. I try to imagine his final
moment of sensibility. At the same time, in my own mind’s eye I call
upon the face of a cow in a truck on a bridge
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