Friday, August 10, 2018

Horses and Men (1952)

A Short Story from the August 1952 issue of the Socialist Standard
  The Manchester Guardian, in a series of articles dealing with the transport of horses for slaughter, to France and other parts of the Continent, excited a good deal of horrified attention from humanitarians and animal lovers who protested in letters to the Press and by questions in Parliament The articles described the pitiful journey of these animals in overcrowded railway trucks, and told how they were led to their death along halls filled with the smell and groans of their dying fellows. Impelled by a deep sense of gratitude at the altruistic nobility of the human beings who had espoused his cause we have received a request from a horse to publish the result of an investigation he has conducted into the lives of mankind. We do so gladly.
Altruism Unlimited
I began my investigations early one morning when, seeing huge crowds making for some stairs which seemed to lead to the bowels of the earth, I decided to follow and find out what I could. When I reached the bottom of the stairs I saw these men and women jostling each other to get to some monsters with strangely small mouths and illuminated eyes. Everyone was trying to put some pieces of metal into the monsters’ mouths and those who succeeded received what looked to be a square piece of leaf. I thought at first that 1 had stumbled across some strange religious rite, and seeing the printing on the leaf I thought it was some motto whereby the people who propitiated these monsters received absolution. After getting the pieces of leaf they made their way towards a small gate where a man in uniform whom I at first took to be an acolyte, cut pieces of leaf out with a pair of horse clippers. “Ah,” I thought, “ they are going into an inner temple.” I tried to follow but when I reached the gate the man in uniform refused to let me through. I had no pieces of metal with which to propitiate the monsters so I jumped over the barrier and found myself on a platform marked “Inner Circle.” It appeared that I had penetrated into the very holy of holies. But I found by eavesdropping that these people were all going on a journey. The train arrived and pandemonium broke loose. Pushing, shoving and wrestling, every man and woman on the platform tried their best to enter the train (I did this successfully as my four legs proved an asset.) It was so jammed that it was barely possible to move or breathe. The train started with such a jerk that we should have fallen had it not been for the fact that so crowded was it that there was no room to topple over. After a few minutes the train stopped and again pandemonium reigned. People pushed and fought to alight. Suddenly a frightening thought froze my blood. Was it possible that we were being taken to the slaughter and that that was why there was this panic. Using my four legs I made my escape and dashed furiously up into the street. I made some enquiries about these strange phenomena. What I learned filled me with wonderment. These people were not going to the slaughter but to their work.

My investigations into transport being as I thought completed I walked along the street alert for any phenomena which needed investigation. I came to a place called Victoria. In the forecourt were hundreds of men all dressed alike and being shouted at by other men with stripes on their sleeves. At the first shout the men arranged themselves briskly into long rows. Each carried a pack on his back (just like a horse) and held a long metal tube attached to a carved piece of wood, firmly against his shoulder. At another shout the men marched off and I followed. Again I found myself on a platform and again I was almost carried off my feet as the men rushed to get into the train standing alongside. Soon the train was packed with the men who were singing and whistling all sorts of tunes. The train moved off and after several hours we arrived at a quayside where we were all embarked on to a ship. It was a very rough journey and I was glad when it was over. Had I but known what was to face me my gladness might have been tempered. We were all loaded—this is a strange word which is used to describe goods being put on vehicles for transport and is also used for human beings in the same context—into huge carts drawn by mechanical monsters. The men were by this time tired and did not sing as much as when they left Victoria. After some hours of travel we heard from the distance peals of heavy thunder and saw lightning and flames leaping into the sky. We were soon in the thick of it and all the men jumped off the carts and began running for cover while huge birds dropped eggs which exploded as they fell. Men collapsed to the ground all around me with great bleeding holes in their bodies and the air was filled with the stench of blood and the groans of the dying. Terrified I hid under one of the carts. Had I been able to I would have run away. I lay there waiting for the butcher to come with his knife and carve the choicest joints from the bodies that were lying about. 1 felt sure that we had been transported for slaughter so that the meat could be sold for the benefit and profit of their masters. 1 waited for some hours but no butcher arrived. Only men carrying litters on to which they loaded the bodies and moved them into white trucks with red crosses painted on them. I was told afterwards that these trucks should never be molested out of respect for the dead and dying. It appears that among human beings the living get no respect or consideration.

By the intervention of providence I made my escape and found myself back in England. For days thereafter I could not speak of my adventures so stunned was I by what I had seen. Human beings were protesting vigorously at the treatment meted out to horses and here were human beings treated almost in the same way.

I recovered my composure and by dint of much enquiry discovered that what I had seen was an almost regular occurrence in some part or other of the Globe. Men called it war. The dead bodies were not eaten, for this, I was told, would be immoral and cannibalistic. They were either buried or left to rot

My horse friends with whom I discussed this would not believe me. One suggested, and this seemed the most popular belief, that I had mistaken jackasses for human beings. But my oldest friend agreed with me when I insisted I was not mistaken. “You can’t be wrong,” he neighed, “it couldn’t have been jackasses. Only human beings could invent such things."

With this I concluded my investigation into the life of human beings, and I am more than ever convinced that Man is the “noblest work of God.” For who other than noble unselfish creatures would concern themselves with the sufferings of others when they themselves were subjected to the same treatment. There are many other facets of human life I would like to investigate and perhaps at some later date you will give me the courtesy of your columns in which I could publish the results of my enquiries.
A. Sarna.

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