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Rod Liddle

The Dickin Medal is a morally dubious piece of nonsense

We've proved that mice despise women. But are we sure that dogs love war?

3 May 2014

9:00 AM

3 May 2014

9:00 AM

Apparently, mice think that women are useless. I don’t mean that they think women mice are useless — they’re keen enough on them, all right. I mean women women, like Rachel Reeves, the shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, and the R&B singer Rihanna, and the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, Baroness Ashton. And so on. All women, everywhere. Some scientists in Canada carried out a study about what mice think of women, and this is what emerged.

I don’t know how the study was carried out, whether it was multiple choice questionnaires or what have you — or indeed why it was carried out, or if the mice were sent on some sort of corrective gender equality course afterwards at the expense of the Canadian taxpayer. But whatever, mice get scared as hell if a man is around and start preparing escape strategies — they get really stressy and distrait. But women induce in them no fears or worries whatsoever, they just carry on with their business, nibbling stuff, even if they are visually impaired and the woman in question is the wife of a farmer and is brandishing a large carving knife.

This news may simply reinforce your conviction that mice are very, very stupid indeed and that this is gender bigotry taken to a self-destructive extreme, in a manner with which only a handful of rogue Ukip councillors would concur. Well sure, fine, OK — but that’s not my problem. I’m just telling you what the mice think. The scientists did not elaborate, but I suspect that when the creatures see a woman they fall about laughing and remark unkindly to one another: ‘Look, there she is, silly cow. I bet you a slice of Gouda that if I run across this floor she’ll stand on a chair and go “Eek’’.’ Or maybe that’s an anthropomorphism too far. But either way, if you’re a woman-hating troll, next time some prominent woman starts complaining about receiving misogynistic tweets or nasty entries on her Facebook page, you can weigh in with: ‘Ha ha. Even the mice think you’re crap. It’s not just us, love.’

Mice are one of the few animals which we humans have not dragooned into our own private battles, perhaps because we all along suspected that they were closet bigots and our armed forces are equal opportunity employers. Horses, which are also exceptionally stupid animals, and less lovable than mice, have borne the brunt of our militarism over the years. But we have also utilised dolphins — who are not as stupid as mice or horses, but still pretty dim, frankly — and rats (which we once stuffed with incendiaries and dropped on Germany), and of course dogs.

I am not convinced that this is terribly ethical of us; I have never taken the view that animals are beneath our dominion and we can do what we like with them, which was the old biblical view; nor its modern eco-friendly counterpart, that because we are a part of their world we must manage their environment in their best interests. Both approaches seem a little high-handed to me. Given the choice, I’d just leave the poor buggers alone, try to impinge upon their brutal lives as little as possible. I think they’d prefer it that way, although nobody has ever done a study to prove the point.

But this being said, I am even less convinced that having co-opted them into fighting our battles for us, we should then award them with medals for so doing. That seems to me a double con. Or at least, we are conning the animals and kidding ourselves. I can just about put up with those statues in Park Lane in London of horses looking thoroughly pissed off — the Animals in War memorial — because at least there is no pretence that the animals themselves chose to clomp around the Somme, and so it might just as well be a monument to our own nastiness for forcing them to have done so. But the Dickin medal, the highest award available to animals, seems to me an absurdity.

My favourite entry in the long list of animals which have, I suspect, been hugely unwilling posthumous recipients is DD.43.Q879. The citation reads: ‘Only survivor of three pigeons released to warn of an impending counter-attack at Manus Island. Reached headquarters in time to extract a US Marine Corps patrol; served with the Royal Australian Corps of Signals.’ I have nothing against pigeons, nor this pigeon in particular, but I am not sure that it behaved with valour. It just flew, imbecilically, as pigeons do. There was also a boxer dog employed by our army in Palestine which seems to have commended itself to its handlers by savagely attacking every Jew it came across. And now we have Sasha, the late Sasha, a four-year-old yellow labrador which got blown up in Afghanistan in 2008 while it was trying to sniff out Improvised Explosive Devices. Sasha is now in receipt of the Dickin medal, and while I would concede that dogs are quite clever, I doubt that it had any grasp of the danger it was in, or would have approved of our incursion into the country in the first place.

Oh — and Sasha’s handler, Lance Corporal Kenneth Rowe, was also killed at the same time. No VC for him.

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