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A Conversation with Dr Helmut Kaplan
On the modern-day holocaust of the animals
by Claudette Vaughan.
First published in Vegan Voice. Translated by Karen Trevayne

VINTAGE KAPLAN: "If you don't believe [the second Auschwitz lie] exists, then you should read reports of the experiments that Nazis carried out in their research labs on Jews, and then read reports on the experiments done today with animals."

Helmut Kaplan, PhD, is one of the leading thinkers in the German-speaking world. He was born in 1952 and resides in Salzburg, Austria. Kaplan says that when he was growing up, the sight of dead animals, such as halves of pigs being transported and fish displayed in stores, shocked and disgusted him. He became a vegetarian in 1963, at the age of 11.

Helmut Kaplan has made the definitive statement: "Our grandchildren will ask us one day, 'Where were you during the holocaust of the animals? What did you do against these horrific crimes?' This time around we won't be able to say, 'We didn't know it was going on.' "

Q. You have mentioned many times in your speeches and writings the analogy existing between the Jewish Holocaust and the modern-day animal holocaust. In the US a poll was conducted, with over 97 per cent of people hating that analogy. Does this mean our species still lives in a speciesist world that refuses to accept animal rights?

A. I fear that this is exactly what it shows. However, the deciding factor in the comparison between the Holocaust of the Jews and the Holocaust of the Animals is this:
   1. Supreme among the supporters of this comparison are the Jews themselves.
   2. This comparison is factually, historically and ethically correct. This was shown by Charles Patterson in his epochal work Eternal Treblinka is by far the best and most impressive that I have ever seen concerning animal rights.

Q. What about the second Auschwitz lie?

A. The absurd contention that concentration camps never actually existed was, as everybody knows, described as the "Auschwitz lie". What many people don't know, or don't want to know, is that there are still concentration camps today, i.e., animal concentration camps. The assertion that concentration camps were closed down after the Second World War is the "second Auschwitz lie".

The Nazis had in place many laws that modern-day animal rights people would be envious of. They passed a detailed law that clearly stated that animals were not to be protected for the sake of human beings but "for their own sakes". The Nazis were obsessed with conducting "good" science. Surely this is a strong case for fighting vivisection from a moral platform? The scientific-methodology critique on animal experiments suffers from the same weakness as the biological critique on vegetarianism, that humans because of the structure of their teeth and their intestine are not naturally vegetarians. Neither argument goes deeply enough and misses the point.

The important factual-scientific question in relation to animal experiments runs: Do animal experiments benefit human health? The crucial point is not to clarify this question of benefit at all, but rather to show that it is irrelevant. Animal experiments are wrong, irrespective of whether they are medically beneficial. The real or supposed benefit of animal experiments is not an ethical argument at all, because there are many things that could be beneficial but which are, however, immoral or forbidden, such as experiments on humans.

Q. Can you comment on the astounding paradox that modern-day scientists have given the world the tools of eugenics far beyond Hitler's wildest dreams?

A. The problem is not the technical possibilities, rather the legal regulations and the ethical points of view. One example: if we turned back the clock one hundred years to what was technically possible then, therefore putting ourselves in the situation of one hundred years ago, animals in abattoirs would not be stunned with captive bolt stunners, but with a hammer. On the other hand, although we now have the know-how to really stun animals effectively, we don't do so. The problem in both cases is one of ethics, not technology.

Q. Scientists have the power of manipulating the genome. Can we really be so gullible as to trust those who say it will be used only to avert hereditary illness when people are already lining up to "create" their perfect children?

A. Of course it is madness and a crime to deliberately put dumb children into the world. But there is also another side to this story: if our modern methods can be used to prevent dumb people from coming into the world, it is a great thing! As a general rule we should use every opportunity to reduce suffering.

Q. The animal rights movement pushes for stem cell research because it offers an alternative to escalating vivisection practices. If we believe that $$$ dictate the terms then it's difficult to seriously think that stem cell research will lessen vivisection in any form at all. They will continue to run parallel to each other. What do you think?

A. I agree. What we need is a total legal ban on animal experiments. Admittedly, the chances of achieving this goal increase the more alternatives there are to animal experiments.

Q. Germany's great strides in granting rights to non-human animals appear to have emerged out of left field. Is this true?

In the beginning the movement of '68 played an important role in the animal rights movement. Admittedly, there is not much trace of that left today. On the one hand the ideological image of the Greens has changed since then, and on the other, there are now groups in all political and social camps that take animals to their hearts.

Q. How much influence, if any, did the German Green Party play in animal rights' subsequent successes?

A. The role of the Greens must not be overestimated. Some of the Greens had very far-reaching goals regarding the ethical treatment of animals, but these were sacrificed long ago for political pragmatism. On the other hand, animal rights activists are, for the most part, associated with the Greens or vote for them. Let me just add here a personal observation: under the Greens there is also an especially repugnant form of speciesism, namely a perverse combination of "back to nature" and anthropocentrism. These people are against factory farming, yet they support "organic" meat and by doing that ostentatiously confess to something which "normal" meat consumers would prefer not to think about, namely, the exploitation and killing of animals.

Q. What about the EU?

A. Up till now the EU has shown itself to be a brake on the enforcement of national regulations in favour of animals. This absolutely must change.

Q. Germany has passed a law banning the use of battery eggs in egg production and this will come into effect by 2007. How did this come about?

A. This is the result of tireless efforts by German animal protection and animal rights organisations. The referendum in Switzerland that led to the abolition of battery hens there certainly served as an important role model.

Q. The European Parliament has banned the use of non-human animals for testing cosmetics after a 13-year battle between activists and French perfume producers. This law inhibits the use of mice, rabbits and primates for most tests within six years and all tests within 10 years. The catch is that toxins can still be used on animals until an "alternative" is found. The ban on marketing all cosmetics that rely on animal testing will also make it impossible for firms to have offshore laboratories. It is not clear to me whether this law will satisfy draconian WTO rules, which try to ensure that trading blocks do not use moral or safety arguments as a veil for protectionism. Please comment.

A. These are basically merely proposals for the future, which will be dependent upon finding adequate alternative methods before they will be put into practice. What will actually be regulated in six or 10 years time is still completely open. It is quite possible that everything will be postponed yet again. So there is no cause for jubilation just yet.

Q. We in the English-speaking world are deprived of your books because they are printed only in German. Please tell us about your latest book.

A. Yes, I would be glad to find a publisher who would translate this and my other books into English. My latest book is called Die Ethische Weltformel (The Ethical Great Unifying Theory) and concerns the following.

The first phase of animal ethics -- before the animal rights movement came about -- involved the erroneous belief that there was a quasi-ethical exoticism about animals, which absolutely could not be addressed using our traditional moral arguments. The second phase insisted on the idea that one could rationally discuss correct behaviour toward animals in exactly the same way as we do for correct behaviour toward people.

The third stage of animal ethics, which should be realised now, consists of recognising that complicated ethical reflections about our relations with animals, along the lines of Singer's utilitarianism or Regan's concept of rights, are as superfluous as the complicated ethical reflections about our relations with other human beings.

There is only one simple ethic, which tells us how we should treat animals and people.

Helmut F. Kaplan is adviser and spokesperson on ethical affairs for Arche 2000 -- World-Animal Aid.

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