Rats to the Rescue | Opinion | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Rats to the Rescue 

Taking a Gander: Trump could yet find his gold medal

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Captain Bone Spurs has always wanted a real medal. His uncertain future, as bleak as it now seems, might actually earn him some (legitimate) honors.

When I consider the forever wars and the often-fraudulent pretexts that helped launch them, I can't help but mention Vietnam. Largely promoted by rabid anti-communist zealots and a highly lucrative military/industrial complex, Vietnam became a hopeless bloodbath—not, of course, of the same magnitude as the fatalities of our current coronavirus pandemic, but a terrible tragedy for the almost-60,000 hardly grown-up young men who died in that misconceived and misdirected war.

Like most wars, the Vietnam conflict was fought for the wrong reasons, in the wrong place, and won no real victory for any of those involved—except the Communists. Our mostly conscripted soldiers may have started out with a sense of patriotism, but most lost that feeling when the futility of the war became clearer. Morale was severely undermined; the proportion of minority casualties was at least slightly disproportionate to the racial makeup of our forces, and many of our soldiers turned to drugs in order to keep their sanity.

Understanding that soldiers are merely cannon-fodder sacrificed at the whims of the powerful, the war dead were only the tip of the war's horrifying toll. The number of non-fatal American injuries was close to three times the number of deaths, and our military hospitals were filled with soldiers who would never go back to their previously happy lives. To top it off—as if the deaths and maiming weren't enough—approximately 800,000 American war veterans suffered from the devastating effects of PTSD.

After America supported a corrupt Vietnamese regime and after it carried out a systematic carpet-bombing of most of the region—including the non-combatant Laos and Cambodia, the American public demanded withdrawal, and President Nixon was forced to end it.

While the U.S. has been narcissistic in its recognition of only its own war deaths, the 60,000 plus American dead were only a small part of the story. In fact, the death toll during our involvement in Vietnam's civil war was in the millions. There have been many estimates, but it's thought that the war's real cost was between 1.4 million and 3.5 million lives—including the tragic deaths of 143,000 civilian women and 84,000 innocent children. In an attempt to conceal the damage done to the local population, our government included the civilians killed in U.S. airstrikes as "enemy dead."

In addition to all the deaths, approximately a half-million babies were born with birth defects directly linked to the use of the "Agent Orange" defoliant.

There was no question that Vietnam was a costly tragedy for all sides, one that left most of Southeast Asia devastated. Sadly, the devastation didn't end there. Land mines and unexploded ordnance from both sides still litter Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos today, and hundreds of civilians die every year. Besides creating a deadly risk to their populations, some of the devices have been employed by locals as a means of booby-trapping their fishing areas to prevent others from poaching. Thus, America continue to kill, providing the explosives for accidents and the protection of commercial enterprises.

In a bit of happier news, it's been found that the African Giant Pouched rat can be trained to find these hazards. In fact, a rat by the name of Magawa, the king of the landmine-sniffing rats, was recently awarded the gold medal for bravery by the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), a veterinary charity in the United Kingdom. Magawa, under the supervision of his handler, has cleared an area the size of 20 soccer fields and helped make it possible for dozens of land mines and bombs to be neutralized. Magawa's nose has been a salvation for a small percentage of innocent people who are injured or die every year from the U.S.'s dangerous war garbage.

It has long been recognized that a rat's keen sense of smell can be used for many things—including the detection of human diseases. It's a remarkable ability that will, undoubtedly, be exploited for a variety of purposes in the foreseeable future.

Well, it just occurred to me that Trump has been desperately trying to earn some kind of recognition. Except for getting his friends to nominate him for a Nobel Prize and his false claim that he was a recipient of the Bay of Pigs Award, the official White House buffoon has found it difficult to attract any meaningful honors.

But, despite his lies and failures, the president may have a future opportunity for acclaim after his term of service. If rats are so good at detecting unexploded land mines and ordnance, I believe Trump could offer his expertise. Following in the footsteps of Magawa, he might even win a gold medal. Tread carefully, Donald.

The author is a former Vietnam-era Army assistant public information officer. He resides in Riverton with his wife, Carol, and the beloved ashes of their mongrel dog.

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