The Voice of Complicity

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The Voice of Complicity

By Jill Howard-Church, Animals and Society Institute

One of my favorite quotes says, “Silence is the voice of complicity.” If we don't speak up against injustice, we help it to continue.

The efforts to stop the Japanese whale and dolphin slaughter may require more ethically consistent policy and behavior on the part of people and entities worldwide who make excuses for their complicity. But if we can't "save the whales" after several decades of trying, there's not much hope for saving any other species, either.

News coverage of this year’s dolphin roundup and slaughter in Taiji, Japan will reinvigorate the debate over the horrors so vividly depicted in last year’s Academy Award-winning film “The Cove.” A report this week describes entire families of risso dolphins and pilot whales being butchered, with no doubt more horrors to come.

Protests are planned at numerous Japanese embassies and consulates on October 14 in an effort to push yet again for a halt to the slaughter. Those who have seen the film or read about the issue will likely (and justifiably) react harshly toward what “those people” are doing to animals. But “those people” aren’t acting entirely alone; there is complicity to be found elsewhere that we must acknowledge and deal with.

First, there’s the economic incentive to kill dolphins and whales. Not many Japanese consume whale meat, but those who do consider it a delicacy and pay high prices for it. Such commerce isn’t confined to Japan; earlier this year a California restaurant was caught serving the meat of endangered whales, although it was fined and has since shut down. Anyone who eats “exotic” cuisine is responsible for whatever means brought it to the table.

Aside from meat, the economic incentive to capture dolphins derives from their value in the entertainment trade. Bottlenose dolphins are held captive around the world for use in shows and swim-with programs. Some of the dolphins captured in Taiji each year go to these captive facilities, although wild dolphins supposedly are banned from being imported to the U.S., at least directly.

But anyone who visits dolphin shows anywhere in the world supports the premise that it’s acceptable to keep these sensitive, intelligent creatures in a highly artificial and stressful environment, just to amuse paying customers. That creates a market for new dolphin shows to open, like the one coming to Atlanta next year.

Second, there’s the “tradition” excuse. Cruelty in the name of culture occurs worldwide; we only object when the animals involved aren’t consumed in our culture. Even in the United States, native Inuit and Makah communities have been given permission to kill a small number of whales each, albeit with much controversy.

The mayor of Taiji, Kazutaka Sangen, defends the hunting and eating of dolphins on cultural grounds. "We will pass down the history of our ancestors to the next generation, preserve it,” he said. We have a strong sense of pride about this."

But critics say there’s more tragedy than tradition when it comes to Japanese eating whales. The commercial Japanese whale trade didn’t start until 1898 when the Norwegians helped the Japanese in order to obtain whale oil, sales of which financed Japan’s invasion of China. The Europeans still managed to out-slaughter the Japanese, but not before killing record numbers of whales in the 1930s and nearly wiping out the Western grey whale population.

After whaling halted during World War II, the United States became complicit in its modern revival. Gen. Douglas MacArthur helped the Japanese to re-establish a deep-sea whaling business so that the war-ravaged Japanese could keep the meat but provide the United States with millions of dollars of valuable whale oil.

“Tradition” may now just be a convenient, politically correct PR excuse for whaling. Paul Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (whose valiant fight against Japanese whalers is seen on Animal Planet’s “Whale Wars” series), wrote, “The Japanese say that we must respect their culture. I can only respond by asking why? What is it about Japanese culture we MUST respect? …. No Westerner, Chinese, Indian or Arab is under a cultural imperative to accept inhumane slaughter and blood sports. All human beings have a right to disrespect killing of any kind without being condemned or vilified for it.”

Then there’s political complicity. Long at odds with most other nations in the International Whaling Commission over hunting moratoriums, the Japanese resorted to bribing several smaller nations for their votes against whaling restrictions. Had those countries not provided their support, Japan would have been more politically isolated and humane policies would more easily prevail. No other governments are getting tough enough with Japan to bring about change.

A writer from Time magazine speculated that by refusing to bow to international pressure to stop whaling (even though the low consumption rate means it’s not a very profitable business), the Japanese government is sending a signal that it won’t be pressured into hunting fewer bluefin tuna, either, since that species is highly prized for use in sushi (the Japanese eat approximately 80 percent of the annual bluefin catch). So, in that sense, anyone who eats bluefin tuna may be indirectly complicit in the continuation of the whaling trade.

One of my favorite quotes says, “Silence is the voice of complicity.” If we don't speak up against injustice, we help it to continue.

The efforts to stop the Japanese whale and dolphin slaughter may require more ethically consistent policy and behavior on the part of people and entities worldwide who make excuses for their complicity. But if we can't "save the whales" after several decades of trying, there's not much hope for saving any other species, either.