Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bite Back!

Operation Bite Back: Rod Coronado's War to Save American Wilderness by Dean Kuipers, has some problems and the first one is right there on the cover. Operation Bite Back, which took place in the early 90s, didn't really have anything to do with wilderness--it was a war declared against fur farmers and animal researchers. That's not to say that Coronado wasn't interested in wilderness, only that it's an inaccurate subtitle--I guess the publisher must think that wilderness is sexier than those wacky people who care about animals. The fact that the book isn't perfect doesn't mean that it's not worth reading, only that it's not as complete or objective a biography or history as I would have liked.

Coronado's life is shown in an episodic and anecdotal fashion--a hunter as a child, his famous sinking of two of Iceland's whalers for Sea Shepherd, working on the Earth First! Journal, lots of details about how he broke into and burned fur farm and university buildings including close calls of both being caught and causing injury to people, his growing interest in his Native heritage, living on the road, at a remote cabin, and on a reservation, how he was arrested, that he's no longer vegan and says he regrets his past actions.

There are many periods and events which aren't addressed at all. For instance, there's oddly not one word about what his five years in jail were like for him. And much of what is presented seems to be Coronado's version taken at face value with no real questioning of his truthfulness (despite the author giving an example of when Coronado lied to him) or possible motivations for some of his actions and statements. Although there are some quotes from researchers and fur industry representatives along with the expected Paul Watson and Dave Foreman, the book never felt like it had much depth.

The book winds up with a recap of the outrageous changes in laws which resulted from Coronado's actions and the ensuing lobbying of his enemies, as well as from the hysteria following 9/11/01. The word terrorist routinely gets thrown at those who break laws on behalf of animals and nature, but not at those who make death threats against them. Running a website gets you years in prison while killing animals makes you a profit. This type of repression will only further alienate people and lead to real violence against people instead of buildings.

Based on what is presented in the book, it seems Coronado did not engage in releasing large numbers of mink as was done by some who attacked fur farms in later years. I'll give him credit for that because I've always seen those large releases as irresponsible and showing little concern for animals. Arson is certainly going further than I personally would be comfortable doing, but I consider fur farming and animal research to be much worse activities. The killing of animals for fashion seems reprehensible enough that I shouldn't even need to mention it and it would have been outlawed long ago if this were a country with any respect for life. I consider animal research every bit as immoral whether it's done to test new makeup or in search of a cure for your baby, your momma, or me. Assuming the right to hold captive, deliberately infect, and drug other life forms is arrogant and repellent. What is considered not only acceptable but good and honorable in this society still stuns me, even at my advanced age and cynicism. If humans want to cure a human disease then human volunteers should be required for any experiment, which would also result in more relevant results.

Whatever one may think of Coronado's past actions or present choices, he was a man who was motivated by a wider respect for life than most people have and didn't hesitate to risk his freedom and life for other beings.
I only wish I had his courage. This may be a fairly lightweight book, but it should cause readers to do some heavy thinking about their own values and how they choose to live.

You can read the author's interesting blog about the book here.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora,
Thanks for the heads up and review of an interesting sounding read. Enjoy your place here very much.

greentangle said...

Thanks, Robb. Enjoyed taking a look at your blog as well. Ironically, one of my friends here in this little city of 85,000 in the middle of the USA is from New Zealand.

Northland said...

Excellent review of "Operation Bite Back".
I really liked the link to Kuiper's blog. That answered the questions that I had about the author's motivations in writing the book, as well as his stand on "monkey wrenching" vs "eco-terrorism".