My dear friend!
How could people have told you anything else than what they did answer you? I can hear them talking about the advantages, the usefulness and — the normality of all those actions involved in slaughtering. Maybe they have even convinced you of it. Your letter makes me feel they have. Yes — if we were only to presume a necessity, one might agree with them in some points. But does such necessity exist? That is very much disputable. However, such a necessity might possibly exist for people who have not yet become “human individuals.”
But they are not the ones I’m talking to — look, I am writing these letters to you, to a human individual, to a person who has become aware, who has become conscious and who feels responsible for everything he does, inwardly as well as outwardly.
Is slaughtering really a necessity for such a person who has become aware? If so, then that person should have the heart to do it himself. For it is miserable cowardice to pay other people for doing that murderous job which you shun doing yourself. You give them a little money for that job, and then you get from them the desired part of their kill — prepared, if possible, in such a way that it does not remind of the past in any way; neither of the animal, nor of killing or blood.
I am thinking of Leo Tolstoy and of an incident which is told of him:
An aunt of Tolstoy’s would have liked to come for a visit, but it was a long journey, and she dreaded his renowned meatless cuisine. she would have given anything to eat some chicken. He invited her to come and promised her that she would get everything she wanted for dinner, including chicken. The aunt arrived.
As the first dinner was being served, the aunt saw a butchers’ knife lying on the table where her place was, and a fat living chicken was tied to the leg of her chair.
“Dear Aunt,” Tolstoy said with a friendly smile, “all you have to do is slaughter the animal, then we will be glad to prepare it for you.” You see, he knew the human heart — and that of his aunt in particular. On the one hand, she was too weak to kill the animal, but on the other she was too weak to resist the temptation of a treat.
The meat-eating woman saw the live animal, she regarded the big butchers’ knife, and she felt that she was supposed to do something that seemed horrible to her, and she realized that she had, up till then, made other people do that horrible thing for her sake. And they say that aunt of Tolstoy’s never ate meat again.
Now that was a person, half aroused to consciousness, and a greater or smaller cause was enough to wake her completely, to make her see clearly what she was doing.
But the others, who have not yet become aware, look and see what they are doing, without even thinking about it — and then tell me if you are still capable of doing it; because we humans are capable of all deeds and misdeeds; all evil and all god is possible in our desires, but there are things beyond which we have raised ourselves. That is why I ask you if you are still capable of doing it, for once you might have been.
Look at the young lambkin, at the young kid, so white, so innocent, so full of confidence; — see them frisking about in the sunshine on a flowery meadow. And the human being who watches them and who is delighted at the sight, this very same human being takes a knife and cuts the animals’ throat. Maybe it does even cause a little bit of pain in his heart — but he suppresses that feeling right away. He has to do what he is doing — it is an ancient tradition. Tomorrow is a holiday, and it is always celebrated with the flesh of tender lambs.
And he washes his hands, which are spattered with blood, and he thinks of the holiday: Easter — holiday of Love. –
Isn’t it tragic that once, two thousand years ago, a human lamb was slaughtered for the sake of his faith, for the sake of his gentleness? Isn’t it tragic that mankind has not had enough in that one hideous atrocity, but iterates the murder year after year at Easter time — to millions of lambs?
You say that is an exception — man is not as wicked as I consider him to be. But let me show you some more animals whom he deceives with his care and his feigned love, only to be sure of them when he wants to kill them.
Do you see the dove he is gently caressing? How many touching, lovely attributes is she known to have; mankind sings of her and sees in her the symbol of Peace! But what does she mean to him in reality, other than hobby and ornament today, and tomorrow — a treat for his palate? Do you still believe in man’s noble spirit? Slaughtering a dove — to the heart it seems a monstrous atrocity — but in everyday life, it seems perfectly normal, nobody mentions it, hardly anyone gives it any thought. So much difference is there between feelings and actions. Do you hear the soft, gentle voice of that woman, calling the chickens and the other farm birds, feeding them golden grain? Look, the very hand that gave them food grabs them by the throat and slays them, as it has slain hundreds before.
I don’t trust the hand which is caressing a bunny right now and which has already sharpened the knife, lying ready in the kitchen for that same bunny — or another one that happens to be fatter.
Yes — I am afraid of those hands. Wouldn’t they be capable of doing the same to humans?
You shake your head. But I tell you: — a great many of these hands would seize a human beings’ throat just as he seizes that of a chicken, and would kill him in the same way. And just as the rabbit is only slaughtered when fat enough, those same hands would only kill a human being if there were enough advantage in it — if it were worth the effort.
You say no — I say yes! For everything begins on a small scale — everything is learned on a small scale — even killing. I know: that same hand would be ready to do it. The only thing that restrains it, restrains it so much that only very few hands to do it in spite of all, is — the law. When this law is annihilated, like, for instance, in war — how do those hands drip with human blood then. — It’s not so hard to do, you’ve learned to do it … on a small scale …
Let me tell you an incident, it happened in a little village in France, and one of my best friends witnessed it:
A child came running down the street of that village, a little girl about five years old. Beside herself with horror and dread, with imploring gestures of her little hands, she kept crying out:
“My mother is a murderess! My mother is a murderess!”
Hunted, haunted by the furies of that atrocity, the child ran out of the village in despair, not knowing where to conceal herself from that hideous reality.
The whole village was alarmed.
What had happened? They went to find out. But then — then they all returned, laughing aloud, with an amused look on their faces.
Everything was alright with Caterine. Their child, stupid thing, had made a fuss for nothing. But it was an amusing incident, after all. And they smiled cheerfully. All the mother Caterine had done was to slaughter Claire’s pet duck, Jean. Oh, well, Claire would get over it.
And still amused, they returned to whatever they had been doing.
But what about the child? Would her soul ever find the way home to happiness again? Would she ever be able to confide in, to love her mother as she had before?
I believe that many parents slay not only ducks and rabbits — many parents kill the liveliest and most noble, the most precious and most important part of their childrens’ souls — kill it from the very beginning, day after day, they assassinate the most divine, peace-bearing commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.”
Oh, every time I think of these things, the crimes of mankind come to my mind, all the felonies committed to animals, atrocities, some of which are as old as mankind itself.
And I think of an animal that keeps itself clean as much as ever it can — the pig. And I mean the pig in the sty, not his brother in other countries, where they live in herds on the pasture.
How has man perverted the name’s meaning. — He has perverted the clean animal to a symbol of the most filthy of creatures.
To fatten the pig, man crams him into a tiny room, so he can hardly move. Thus the pig is compelled to lie in his own excrement. But this animals is so clean by disposition that he will always ease himself at only one single place, if only given enough room to do so — never will he soil his surroundings or his resting place then. But man, who has forced this animal to live in his own filth and dung, has also done violence to human thinking, creating the term: “Swine.” And he said: “Look here, how filthy it is — how it is wallowing in its own excrement!” The facts proved it — or rather, what seemed to be facts, to short-sighted eyes. Thus the pig became symbol of everything filthy. By what reason? It was man who created the reason — and so in reality the name “Man” should become the symbol of filth. Maybe it really is, among animals — who knows? Maybe that word is a verbal injury among them, as we misuse their names to insult each other.
But take it easy — (for I feel you are getting angry) — don’t believe that humans employ these methods only against the poor, innocent animals. Believe me — they employ the same methods among themselves — one against another.
And look how mans’ greed grabs at everything. As if it were not enough that he desires the animals’ flesh for his nourishment, their hide for his clothes. See, he craves for beauty. He slays creatures for the sake of their colorful soft fur, for the sake of their brilliant plumage — not for necessity — no, for adornment. He even goes so far as to feed animals he would shun otherwise — like for instance the wild crocodile — merely to get hold of their skins. The crocodile will become tame, will follow him, as trustful as a dog. But man’s kindness is far less genuine that the crocodile’s tears, which he invented. He feeds it, he tames it — and — he slays it for the sake of the skin. Yes, man even raises his mortal enemy, the snake. Her death will be all the more hideous. He skins her alive. And then gentle ladies will be wearing shoes and carrying dainty hand-bags made of that skin.
Do you understand now why I never wear leather either?
You will say: Leather is no more than a by-product, cattle are slaughtered for meat and not for leather. You are right. I used to think that way, too. But I know now that frequently entire herds are slaughtered merely for their hides, for their leather. That happens when there is no market for the meat.
But now enough of all that death.
Now I want to tell you about something else, about the slavery man has inflicted upon many creatures, and what a merciless slave owner he is.
Not only thousands, not only hundreds of years ago, did we have slaves. No, even in our days does man keep them, keep them in conditions quite incompatible with his dignity and his sense of justice.
I am thinking of our draught-animals and our animals of burden, particularly of the strong oxen, the humble donkey, the sure-footed mule, and the brave horse.
Take the life of a horse in our Western European countries. If he is granted much joy and happiness, it will be for the first two years of his life. His fate afterwards — incredible in its hardship, and yet true — it is endured and suffered by thousands, by hundreds of thousands of horses.
He was tame. Now I don’t mean the luck brother, the saddle-horse, who might be petted and caressed after being tamed; I mean the unfortunate brother, the draught-horse.
His home is a stable, usually a dim-lighted room. The box he lives in is only little larger than the horse himself. The crib is in front of him.
His master may change, but the stable will nearly always be the same: a spot, a little larger than the horse himself — forever.
And the horse leads a slave’s life: In the morning, when he wakes up with a whinny, he gets his food and a drink of water — his hide is cleaned, brushed and curried till it is glossy. Then the day begins — the day’s work.
Whinnying for joy, the horse steps out of the narrow stable, he greets the bright sunshine, the free sight.
The wagon is waiting for him. While still in the stable, he was strapped and girdled, haltered and bridled. Now the straps are loosened and fastened to the wagon, these ropes fettering him, tying him to the wagon, chaining him to the day’s slave-work. And the trudgery begins.
There is some invisible might, the thing we call fate. It gives an easier life to some of the slaves, a harder one to others. One of them pulls huge loads with his utmost strength — wagons with wheels grinding under the heavy weight of the goods, the iron, the sand, the stones, the lumber, or whatever — another is trotting cheerfully in front of a light-weighted carriage. Fate … One of them has a kind-hearted master who never demands more than he is able to do, who grants him rests and stops, who provides shade from the burning sun and shelter from rain and snow, who gives him food in plenty and a treat besides, a kind gentle word, a tender caress. But another slave is possessed by a man who can hardly get along with himself, who relentlessly demands and enforces the impossible, whose whip exploits his very last strength without mercy. He thrashes a lot and feeds but little — hardly ever grants the creature helplessly delivered to him any rest, provides no protection from the burning sun, no shelter from rain or frost — instead of saying kind words, he yells and curses, instead of giving a treat, he kicks him. — Fate.
But there is one fate both of these slaves have in common: the strap fetters them, the pole holds them — the burden they have to pull is always behind them, for days and weeks and months and years uncounted, for a whole long life — just as the galley-slaves of long ago were chained forever to that big ball of iron.
To the right, there are flowery meadows — to the left, there is a sparkling brook, gleaming between fresh green banks. But bridle and whip hold the slave.
That fresh green grass over there, at the side of the road, those tall blades, how luscious they must be! Oh, to be able to walk over there, in the shade, just a little! But bridle and whip hold the slave. A rest now, just stop for a few seconds, breathe deeply — gain a little new strength! But the whip drives the slave ahead.
There — a brother, a sister — put in, fettered to a burden — equal fate. Go to them, welcome them, greet them, comfort them, caress them — and be greeted and caressed. Now — they are quite close. One more step, and you can feel their breath, the gentle blowing of their soft nostrils. But the whip drives the slave ahead, and the bridle holds him.
The day is long and the load so heavy; it seems like magic that it gets lighter from time to time and then heavy again. You wait on dusty streets, you get a little food, and then forward again, on and on, on a never ending road.
Yes — it is a never ending road — for there is no end to this walk, though it may be no longer than a few miles — there is no end to it — no end.
Only the evening brings a rest from that incessant toil. Worn out is the man — worn out is the slave. Weary hands untie the straps, freeing the horse of his daily burden. Whinnying for joy, he trots into the stable, that tiny spot which is his own, that place, slightly larger than his own body. And the horse finds his crib, his evening meal and the drink of water being given to him. He gains new strength after the day’s toil and burden — for tomorrow. But now he will receive the most gracious of gifts granted to the wretched: sleep. For God makes all equal in sleep as in death, the rich and the poor, the free and the enslaved alike.
But then the morning comes, the awakening — a slave’s awakening.
And the toil begins anew, in rain or in sunshine, in snow or frost or storm. Strain the muscles, brace the body, pull, walk!
Who is pulling? — Who is walking? — who is breaking down, falling, lying in the dust, gasping, dying after years of toil? A slave. Yes, a slave in the twentieth century.
The people in the street, they stop for a moment, glance with a look of almost generous superiority, then they turn away from the poor creature, turn to me, for they heard me saying: “A slave.” And one of them smiles politely and says:
“You are joking — it’s only a horse.”
Only a horse … for years and years this slave has toiled for his owner, has earned a living for his owner and his owner’s family. They would not have led such a good life if it hadn’t been for his labor. And now this benefactor, this selfless friend, is lying on the ground, gasping, dying.
and the one who gained the benefit, he is standing beside him. Do you see tears in his eyes? Do you see his lips trembling, do you hear him stammering some words in deep emotion?
Yes — his lips are trembling, and the words he is stammering in deep emotion are the following: “Damn it, now I’ll have to buy another horse!”
That is the emotion — the sorrow — the gratitude for the creature who, for more than ten years, pulled the loads one never could have moved without him, the gratitude for the creature who helped earn one’s living. And here he lies now, dying, his selfless life fading away — the slave. A child is standing there crying. Its mother takes it by the hand:
“Hush now — mustn’t cry! It’s only a horse.”
Nearly every horse suffers a similar fate — though not all o them break down; some of them remain vigorous up until old age. But then, they don’t manage to pull the loads as well as they used to; the loads can’t be as heavy and the roads not as steep any more, and they cannot trot as fast as they did before. Their breath gets weaker, their legs stiffer, the body leaner — it is that way when you get old.
Yes, the slave has grown old, aged and worn out much too soon. But he still bears his years quite well, he can still pull a light-weighted carriage, he still enjoys his clover and his oats.
The man who exploited his strength is standing beside him, with a pipe in his mouth, and regarding the gouty motions of the old horse. Then he shifts his pipe to the other corner of his mouth and says to his son:
“It’s about time to take old Jack to the knacker — maybe next week. Though he won’t pay much for the old nag.”
This is his feeling of gratitude for the vigorous old slave. That is how the father is teaching his son to be thankful, teaching him in these “little” things which are in truth so great.
But then, when the faithful old working companion is led away to die, to be killed, then the father may possibly even wipe away a tear, and he wants everybody to see it, so that they may praise his tender heart.
“Yes, Jack, good old Jack — what a faithful animal, it will be hard to find another like him! And now we have to buy another horse — oh, what an expense!” And the sigh he then utters is deep and genuine.
And what had the done for the slave, to beautify his life, what was the reward for all the benefits he gave? — Nothing — nothing. thrashing perhaps.
But what could they have given him? A little spot of land, a little spot of pasture where he could have spent his evenings, longing for, dreaming of freedom — just a little spot of land for recreation after the day’s trudgery, a couple of square yards of meadow instead of that must corner in the stable.
And then there are horses working on big farms. The handful of hay and oats they would need in their old age, nobody would miss it in the household of such a farm. And yet — they don’t grant it. Very scarce are the places where an aged horse-slave is allowed to eat his food in peace. But if it does occur somewhere, it seems like a legend, and people talk about it far and near. It is as though white raven were living on that farm: — kindness. For it seems strange to us human beings when we return good for good we have received — and it is considered a great event if we give even more than another has given us.
Now let me remind you of another slave, one who can bear no burden, pull no load: the bird in the cage.
His wings were meant for the vast, wide space of free air, for him to fly from land to land, as we can do only in our thoughts. But we incarcerate him, confine him in a tiny cage hardly big enough for him to spread his wings, not to mention flying. and our gentle, sentimental ladies call the prisoner their pet — they have the bars of his cage gilded, and they give him seeds with their dainty hands. They don’t want to be reminded of the fact that he is their prisoner, that he is singing his song in yearning and sorrow. They enjoy that song, they think it’s marvelous, and it is a pleasant pastime for them. They do not understand their prisoner’s plight and longing; in spite of the moving song, their soul remains untouched.
But not always. It might happen that they, too, are afflicted with sorrow, in one way or another. then they compare themselves with the captive bird, compare their pain, their yearning with his song. And they think that is poetic, they regard their singing slave in deep emotion, and they sigh; “I’m a prisoner just like you! Oh, how much do I suffer! Oh, this anguish, this pain — oh, this longing!”
And they shed vain tears. Their own sorrow is not deep enough to make them realize that it would be up to them to change their slaves’ fate to the better, that they could satisfy his yearning and alleviate his sorrow. A little motion of that dainty hand, and the poor thing could be free and happy, the little slave who was once brought from the forest as a prisoner.
While I am writing this, it seems as though eyes were gazing at me, those of man’s most devoted friend, those of his almost voluntary slave, the eyes of the dog.
His eyes, too, are accusing, telling of brutality, of evil return.
And I can see him, the faithful, ever-ready friend, chained all his life, living in a barrel with a layer of must straw — see him feeding on the garbage they toss to him.
When he grows old, when he loses his teeth, after long years of servitude — then … then they shoot him or put some poison in his pan. That is man’s gratitude for the one who guarded his house and his yard, his wife and his children, his possessions and his life and all the treasures he calls his own — for ten years. A shot — or a little poison.
And the most dreadful part of it is: it is considered perfectly normal to act that way, it is no exception; no, “everyone” does it when a dog gets old.
Let me tell you two incidents. I have heard about them from the persons who finished their most faithful friends’ lives that way.
In one house, they spoke about it while sitting at the dinner table; they said it was time for old Caro to be put down, and it should be done that same day, as he was beginning to grow blind — what a burden.
They talked about it in the dog’s presence. That should never be done. Animals understand more than we believe. Though they do not know the meaning of the words, they do feel the sense of what is being said.
When they called Caro afterwards, petted him and invited him for a walk, the family had tears in their eyes. Caro pressed himself close to everybody in a very affectionate way, as though he wanted to say farewell — then he followed his master.
After the door of the house had been closed behind man and dog and they had already gone some distance away, faithful old Caro turned back once more, came to the door, stood up on his hind paws and licked the door-handle of that house which had been his home for so many years, and he uttered a long, wailing cry — then he sank back to the ground and gazed wistfully at the door which would never be opened for him again, which was shutting him out of life. — and then he followed his master — to death.
And his master — the very man who told me this story — he had the heart to lead his dog, that sensitive creature, to the shambles; unmoved.
Yes, Caro was very old and was beginning to grow blind …
I looked at that man. Would he never grow old? Was it impossible that he, too, might gradually grow blind some day? And then, would they … A lady to whom I talked about that became very indignant and cried out in anger:
“What an outrage! — You are comparing a human being with a dog!”
Another man’s friend, another affectionate dog, had also heard that they were planning his death, they had talked it over at dinner, as usual.
After dinner he went from one to another and licked the hands of everyone of them, which he never did at other times — it seemed he wanted to kiss them. it was his farewell to all of them. And then he went into the garden. They had already dug the hole they wanted to bury him in. With the courage only faith can give, he jumped into his own grave, lay down in it with his head on his forepaws. Gazing with quiet, sad eyes, he lay there waiting, No calling brought him out again — he was waiting to die.
And the end came — his master came with a rifle. The dog looked at him, calm and understanding, and — the man whom he had trusted so much, he shot him.
That man told me about it himself, unmoved. He did feel almost a little sorry. But — an old dog, that might get ill …
What if his son felt that way too, later on, in the father’s old age?
I believe: as long as man tortures and kills animals, he will torture and kill humans as well — and wars will be waged — for killing must be practiced and learned on a small scale, inwardly and outwardly.
I don’t think it necessary to be shocked at the little or big atrocities and cruelties others are committing, but I do think it very necessary that we begin to be shocked where we are acting cruelly ourselves, in a large or small scale. As it is easier to accomplish small things than great ones, I think we should try to overcome our own small thoughtless cruelty, to avoid it, to abolish it. Then one day it won’t be so hard to fight and overcome our great heartlessness.
But all of us are still asleep in our traditions. Traditions are like a greasy tasteful gravy, which lets us swallow our own selfish heartlessness without noticing how bitter it is. But I don’t want to point at him or her — no, I want to wake up myself and begin to be more understanding, more helpful, and kinder, on a small scale. Why shouldn’t I succeed on a large scale later on?
You see, that’s what it’s all about: I want to grow, to live into a more beautiful world, a world with higher, more blissful rules, with the divine rule for all of the future:
Love for all Creation.