About ALF > History

Sept 2005
PETA Project -- World History of Callous Domination

What is the common link between all atrocities in our society's past? Shameful chapters of history, such as the African slave trade, the massacre and displacement of Native Americans, the oppression of women, and forced child labor, were the products of a dangerous belief that those with power have the right to abuse those without it: that might somehow does make right. Whether for profit, convenience, or just plain amusement, this supremacist attitude caused people as a society to tolerate, perpetuate, and indignantly defend outrageously cruel acts.

Ota Benga was an African pygmy brought from the Belgian Congo in 1904 and held in the monkey house exhibit at the Bronx Zoo in a collection of humankind�s "evolutionary ancestors."

Hindsight is 20/20. Most people today view slavery, child labor, and the oppression of women as wrong, but this change only came about because thoughtful people called for justice and fought oppression, even at great personal risk.

Will future generations look back at ours with the same shame and horror we feel when we read about ships crammed with slaves or about the forced winter march of American Indians away from their homelands? An objective look reveals that our generation still operates in the same way. The only difference is that yesterday's victims�used and abused because they were "different" and powerless�are now of other species.

Cruel actions that would cause a public outcry today�such as the use of children who had mental disabilities at New York's Willowbrook State Hospital in 1960s hepatitis experiments�are no longer tolerated because we accept that harming other humans simply because they are defenseless is reprehensible. Traveling circuses rarely display physically deformed men and women as "sideshow freaks" to be gawked at and ridiculed anymore because we now know that individuals deserve respect and consideration no matter how they measure up to the norm. Yet intelligent, social animals are still used in experiments, circus acts, and other abominations.


Each movement for social justice in the past has met with determined resistance from those in positions of power. Today billions of animals are slaughtered, experimented on, shot, poisoned, beaten by "professional trainers," chained, drowned, and dissected. This happens routinely despite our ability to choose alternatives and even though scientific proof and common sense show that animals have the ability to think and to feel pain, love, joy, terror, and other emotions.

It happens because animals, with their communication, appearance, and interests that, on the surface, may seem so different from ours, are powerless to stop us.

Just as it was always wrong to oppress and abuse less powerful humans, it is wrong to abuse and oppress animals. Because today's victims of tyranny are unable to defend themselves, it is vital that people of principle speak out for them.

Animals' lives are as important to them as ours are to us. We must stand up for them, just as good people from other eras spoke out and even risked their own lives in order to defend women, children, African- and Native Americans, and other oppressed groups.

Our "Animal Liberation" exhibit reminds viewers that animals are feeling, thinking beings who deserve the basic right of consideration of their interests regardless of their usefulness to us. They are individuals who should be respected and left in peace or protected. They are not ours to use-for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation, or any other reason. As author Henry Beston explained, "[Animals] are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time "

Fortunately, there are many easy ways to bring about progressive change in the way these "others" are treated. Whether it's choosing products that haven't been tested in rabbits' eyes, exploring humane and healthy vegetarian meals, writing to lawmakers, or choosing not to wear animal skins, every day you have countless opportunities to make the choice of whether to harm or to help animals.


Africans captured and forced into slavery were often compared to animals so as to somehow justify their treatment. They were called "brutes" and "beasts" because of the color of their skin. Their lives were considered expendable, and many died at the hands of their oppressors. The same oppressive mentality behind those actions leads to the slaughter of animals today.

Beatings, lynchings, burnings: These cruel acts happen today just as in the past, only the victims have changed. Cattle and horses are branded with hot irons to mark them as property; elephants used in circuses are captured from their homelands, then beaten with metal "bullhooks" and baseball bats. Cows, chickens, and pigs are strung upside-down before their throats are slit. Many animals are beaten, kicked, and spat upon by farm and slaughterhouse workers who view them as objects of scorn, not as frightened individuals.

In the tax-funded Tuskegee experiment, which ended in 1972, impoverished black sharecroppers who had contracted syphilis were tricked into taking part in a "treatment plan" that, unbeknownst to them, offered no medical care. Experimenters documented the men's declining health but did nothing to slow the disease, which can cause tumors, paralysis, blindness, insanity, and death. One experimenter said, "We have no further interest in these patients until they die."

Today as many as 115 million animals are tortured and killed in laboratories in the U.S. every year. Many of these experiments�including infecting dogs with diseases, blinding kittens, dripping caustic chemicals in rabbits' eyes, and force-feeding poisons to monkeys�are paid for by taxpayers' dollars even though we are now in the 21st century and have progressive, animal-free alternatives. Animals in laboratories suffer and die only because they are considered "different" and "inferior" and are powerless to defend themselves.

We know that all humans deserve protection from exploitation and abuse. Compassionate people understand that animals�with their ability to think and feel�also deserve this consideration.


Settlers came to America to escape tyranny but immediately began tyrannizing Native American peoples. Today we casually exterminate and drive out animals who want nothing more than to continue to make their homes and raise their families on the lands they have inhabited for thousands of years.

Caring people recognize all beings' right to live according to their own values and needs, and they find ways to coexist without killing them or driving them away from their natural homes.


Not so long ago, women were denied formal education and the right to vote. Not only could they not own property, they were considered property that could be thrown out of their own homes if they didn't perform to expectations. The idea that women were inferior to men was generally accepted by society, and they were admonished to be submissive and obedient.

Women were denied basic freedoms because they lived in a male-dominated culture in which men had all the power, took advantage of it, and saw it as a matter of course or God-given privilege. The same attitude today robs animals of basic rights to exist without being molested in a human-dominated society. Cows used for milk, for example, are constantly impregnated to increase milk production. Terrified calves are taken away from their distraught mothers soon after they are born to be sold for veal or raised for milk. Anyone who has ever seen a cow and her calf separated knows that both are devastated, bellowing and calling out to one another constantly for days. The grieving mother's milk ends up on breakfast cereal, and her baby ends up on a dinner plate as veal or back on the milk-production line. Every glass of milk and slice of cheese supports this system, as if a cow's suffering is of no concern.

Animals used for entertainment are beaten and electroshocked to perform tricks that are, to them, pointless, confusing, uncomfortable, and even frightening. They are kept in cramped, barren cages or circus boxcars where they lose their minds from frustration, loneliness, and lack of stimulation. We know that animals such as elephants have rich, complex emotions and thoughts that we are only beginning to understand, yet we take advantage of our power over them for the sake of pleasure and profit.


There was a time when it was believed that infants and young children did not feel pain, and that belief was used to justify major surgery without anesthetics. Crying and thrashing were seen as an automatic response, not a reaction to pain. Similar arguments are made today to justify the abuse of animals. For example, some people who catch fish say that a fish's struggle is automatic, despite overwhelming evidence backing up the obvious�that fish struggle because they are trying to flee, because the hook hurts, and because they are afraid.

Decades ago, young children were used in factories, mills, and farms and were subjected to cruel experiments because they were easy to control and could not defend themselves against abuse. Animals are used and abused for the same reasons�because they are powerless.

Children used as workers were often pushed to the breaking point, with little time to rest or eat. Many became crippled or were killed in machinery accidents, and most suffered injuries or health problems from performing the same motions day after day in extreme conditions. Today animals used as laborers, such as horses pulling carriages full of people and pack animals hauling heavy carts, are worked long hours, sometimes until they collapse, while their injuries often go untreated. Their needs to socialize, rest, and run free are ignored.

A 1939 experiment conducted by University of Iowa professors, called the "Monster Study," used orphans to study the influence of psychological pressure on stuttering. The experiments, which involved intimidating and maliciously deceiving the children, caused them to become withdrawn and stutter. When the study ended, no remedial therapy was given to the children who had lost the ability to speak properly. "When I left that orphanage, that experiment was over for me," one experimenter said.

Today infant animals are stolen away from their loving parents, who would otherwise care for and nurture them for many years, just as human parents do. Young great apes are forced to "act" and are used to elicit cheap laughs for TV, movie, and circus audiences. When they become too strong and uncooperative at about age 8, they are typically sold off to dismal roadside zoos to live the rest of their lives in loneliness and squalor.

Just as people spoke up to turn the tide and end child labor and experimentation, as well as slavery and the oppression of women, so must people who have a voice speak up for animals who can't defend themselves against exploitation and cruelty, disrespect and violence.

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