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Iraqi Donkey Awaits Better Life in America

Photo courtesy of US Marine Corps/File

Last week, USA Today ran what was intended to be a heartwarming story about a former U.S. marine colonel’s struggle to “bring home a little four-legged piece of Iraq”:

John Folsom, who was [Iraqi] Camp Taqaddum’s commandant in 2008, hopes to bring Smoke the donkey home to Nebraska to brighten the lives of children whose parents are serving overseas.

Folsom and Smoke first met when a Marine under Folsom’s command decided to catch one of the many donkeys wandering the base outside Fallujah.”

We learn that the Marines “immediately took a liking to the animal” and assigned him his name based on “his gray color and tendency to snatch up cigarettes, lit or not.” In order to get around the prohibition on pets in the war zone, “a Navy lieutenant helped designate Smoke a therapy animal” and the donkey thus “started receiving care packages of treats and blankets along with the troops.”

As for two-legged pieces of Iraq, these enter the story in the form of an Iraqi sheikh to whom Smoke was ceded after the Marines evacuated Taqaddum. The article continues:

Last fall, Folsom decided he wanted Smoke to see the USA. By now, he was the head of Wounded Warriors Family Support, a non-profit organization that helps the families of servicemembers who are killed or wounded in action. Among its offerings to families are free trips to Florida condominiums that are near theme parks and resorts in the Orlando area.

Folsom tracked down the sheik who had Smoke but was told that the former mascot had been given to a family near Fallujah. The sheik said he could get the donkey from the family for $30,000.

‘We heard that and said, “As long as you are taking care of the donkey, that’s fine with us,” ‘ Folsom says.

The sheik relented and agreed to round up the donkey for free. Now the challenge is to get Smoke shipped to the USA, he says.

Folsom is working through the Operation Baghdad Pups program, run by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [SPCA] International, to arrange transport.”

According to the SPCA International website:

U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan befriend local animals as a way to help cope with the emotional hardships they endure every day while deployed in a war zone.  The Operation Baghdad Pups program provides veterinary care and coordinates complicated logistics and transportation requirements in order to reunite these beloved pets with their service men and women back in the U.S. These important animals not only help our heroes in the war zone, but they also help them readjust to life back home after combat.”

The USA Today article informs us that, unlike dogs and cats, “Smoke will require a special cargo flight” but that “a spokeswoman for SPCA International says her group would foot the bill.”

No matter that there are presumably already a sufficient number of donkeys in America to go around, and that Smoke is presumably serving some sort of function in the familial context in which he is currently located in Iraq.

The fact that such feel-good mobilization can occur on behalf of a donkey while the devastating effects of war on the human population of Iraq are ignored meanwhile suggests that ours is not a humane society at all.

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11 Comments

  1. Drg says:

    The donkey might have a better life in his own country if the US left as the local population wishes.

  2. bt says:

    another example of the hypocrisy and dichotomy of the imperialists.

  3. Mirroman says:

    Phew, thank god that donkey’s ok. God bless the US.

  4. calm says:

    Making a Home for Charlie, Away From Baghdad’s Slums
    By Karin Brulliard
    February 15, 2008
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/14/AR2008021402556.html

  5. Belén Fernández says:

    I’ve just received the following email from Mr. Folsom setting me straight about the donkey. Apparently I cannot understand Iraq without having maintained a relationship with Smoke myself.

    I am pasting the email below, in which he responds to two specific excerpts from my article. Readers will note that the response to my observation that “the devastating effects of war on the human population of Iraq are ignored” by those mobilizing on behalf of the donkey only addresses the effects of war on the U.S. military population:

    Belen…

    To help you understand the Smoke situation:

    “No matter that there are presumably already a sufficient number of donkeys in America to go around, and that Smoke is presumably serving some sort of function in the familial context in which he is currently located in Iraq.”

    Smoke was found near Fallujah with other feral donkeys. Donkeys are not kept in a corral or fenced enclosure that you must imagine exist in Iraq. They are allowed to roam freely and fend for themselves. In other words,they are neglected.

    “The fact that such feel-good mobilization can occur on behalf of a donkey while the devastating effects of war on the human population of Iraq are ignored meanwhile suggests that ours is not a humane society at all.”

    Smoke did a great deal of good for us while he was with us. He helped fathers connect with their children while they were deployed to a combat zone. As a father who spent four years out of eight away from his family, I understood the value of maintaining relationships. You may not believe or understand it, but he did.

    You have to have experienced it first had to understand it.

    Donkeys are intelligent animals. We found him when he was about a year old and malnourished. He came to trust us.

    To not have bought him back would have been inhumane.

    As far as the work that we have done in Iraq to alleviate the suffering of the Iraqi people, especially the children, is another subject.

    John D. Folsom
    Wounded Warriors Family Support

  6. If some soldiers find the opportunity to counteract the emotionally hardening and dehumanizing effect of war by expressing affection and care for an animal, I don’t think we should view such expressions with scorn. Indeed, the fact that they disobey military regulations on this matter should be welcomed.

    The cynicism should really be directed at journalists who opt to write easy feel-good stories that humanize American soldiers rather than the much harder to report stories which would humanize “the enemy.”

    • Belén Fernández says:

      I’m certainly not denying the positive emotional impact that pets have. But I think that stories like these nonetheless contribute to the humanization of American soldiers at the expense of the victims of U.S. military occupation.

    • Robin Yassin-Kassab says:

      I’d be a lot more impressed if they’d disobey the orders which tell them to murder people.

  7. Robin Yassin-Kassab says:

    Folsome’s reply is hilarious. He hasn’t understood the point of the article at all. At least donkeys are intelligent animals.

  8. Ross Mathew Forbes says:

    Perhaps in the light of the present unrest in Egypt Smoke or other 4 footed paragons of democracy could be airdropped by helicopters on to the democratically deficient Arab citizens massing in Tahrir square. Their presence would no doubt go a long way to assuage the anger and frustration the natives must feel at the lack of any other form of American intervention on their behalf.

  9. cecil barrymore says:

    You smug know-it-alls are antagonizing the wrong people and the wrong animals. Rather, put the blame where it belongs and rage against the self righteous among us for starters, then the politicians, dictators, and their business at any cost minded corporate masters who are responsible for this bottomless suffering. It’s not the fault of soldiers, victims, citizens, or other beasts of burden. Yet, you would label even a small basic connection of sustaining compassion between people, between people and animals as some sort of inhumanity. It’s far too soon for you to be so “right.” You speak from outside any direct suffering and rant to assuage only your own sense of impotence to affect any change.
    Cecil Barrymore

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