Column Date 2007-02-25

Are they bringing back the draft?

If you can’t draft people, I guess animals are fair game.

And you can’t really blame the military – with all the wars we’re fighting these days, our armed forces are stretched thin and clearly need help. And volunteers are hard to come by.

Which is why I was curious to read that the U.S. Navy plans to use about thirty dolphins and sea lions for underwater security at a base near Seattle.

How did the Navy convince these sea creatures to join up?

Since it’s hard to imagine dolphins and sea lions suddenly volunteering to join the Navy of their own free will, it’s obvious that they were drafted.

And I think this forced conscription could be the first step down a slippery slope.

The dolphins (they’re Atlantic bottlenose dolphins – the ones that look like Flipper) have been taught to carry around marker buoys and search for underwater mines. When they locate a mine, they attach a buoy to it so Navy divers can dispose of it.

And they’re apparently well-trained. In 2003, the dolphins were used in Iraq to protect Navy vessels. In 1996, they were ordered out on patrol in San Diego Bay, keeping Republicans safe at their national convention. (It’s true – I am not making this up.)

The sea lions have a tougher assignment, carrying around special cuffs attached to long ropes. According to the AP, “If the (sea lion) finds a rogue swimmer, it can clamp the cuff around the person’s leg. The individual can then be reeled in for questioning.”

Exactly how a sea lion decides who is friendly swimmer and who is a rogue swimmer was not disclosed.

Now this “under-the-radar” drafting of dolphins and sea lions may work for the Navy, but who do you draft for the Army? Or the Air Force? I consider it my patriotic duty to offer some suggestions:

Cows, of course, belong out in the field, in the Army.

They are, by definition, above suspicion – everybody loves cows. They’re wide-eyed, innocent-looking, sorta dumpy and nobody thinks they’re very smart. In short, they’d make perfect spies.

And have you noticed how some of the herd always look up whenever a car drives by their pasture? It would be no trick at all to mount a tiny spy camera near a cow’s ear, which would point at the road every time a vehicle passed.

Pigeons should be drafted into the Air Force, where they’d be invaluable for surveillance and attack in large cities. Since their little heads bob around constantly, pigeon-mounted cameras would quickly cover all directions of the compass. And when they make a bombing run, terrorists on the ground won’t stand a chance -- their aim is the stuff of legend.

There’s precedent for drafting animals, of course. At the start of the Iraq war, one member of our “Coalition of the Willing,” Morocco, didn’t send any troops. Instead, they offered two thousand monkeys to help detonate land mines.

Now if we could only teach parrots to say “You have the right to remain silent...” we could solve our police recruiting problems, too.

©2007 Peter Tannen