Humans are driven towards conflict. We as a species are like Mick, the drunk Glaswegian staggering around the streets on a friday night, picking fights with lamp posts. However there are times we get bored fighting other humans as we declare open war on the animal kingdom with mixed success.
Side Note: Mick, you know who you are. I hope the hand gets better soon.
Mao – War on Sparrows
In 1958 as preparation for Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward” China announced state mandated culling of four animals. Rodents, mosquitoes and flies which were believed to be responsible for the spread of pestilence. The fourth animal was the sparrow which were believed to be eating grain from the fields.
In May 1959 China mobilised her immense army equipped with guns and soft soled shoes. Men, women and children too to the streets to bring death undo the sparrow. Substantial rewards were offered for people handing dead sparrows in to guard stations. Some reports say that over three million non-military personnel participated in this culling. National newspapers under the instruction of Mao himself reported “No warrior shall be withdrawn until the battle is won,”. One report I read suggested that sparrows flocked to extraterritorial locations, like the various embassies where they found refuge. This genuinely almost led to some “diplomatic incidents” when the Polish embassy wouldn’t let the Chinese army in to remove the resident sparrows.
Side Note: Ecological science was totally a thing by the 1950s. Mao wanted to replicate the massive leaps Russia took under Stalin and for that he needed food for the people, Food that he was sure was being eaten by the sparrows. The guy was not alright.
Its difficult to get a proper feel for what actually happened and how seriously the Chinese people took this given that the only sources I can find are in English, mostly American and they had invested in a less than positive attitude towards communist China. Mao had already controlled the national media to a point that the people in China were just as unlikely to know what was really going on as any foreign nations.
Famously Mao enthusiastically read the works of Charles Darwin in his youth and so you have to presume he had at least some awareness of how ecological balances work. The near total eradication of sparrows resulted in what I can justifiably refer to as an ecological disaster. Whilst the sparrows only ate a small amount of grain they did eat a huge amount of locusts. Without their natural predator the locust population exploded and stripped the grain and paddyfields of crop resulting in what we now call The Great China Famine.
Edgar’s War on Wolves
Edgar the Peaceable was a Saxon King of England who ruled from 953 AD to 979 AD. Despite what you might think he did not get the epithet The Peaceable because he was a passive, retiring sort of chap. He was a mad, murdering bastard, and by far my favourite ruler in world history. During his rule crime was at an all time low, mainly because his punishments for the first offence entirely eliminated the possibility for a second. He went for a quiet walk with men who had pissed him off and they both encountered fatal accidents. He also had a bit of a thing for nuns. There was no rebellion or insurrection during his reign because everyone was too scared of him. There were no foreign threats to the country because everyone was too scared of him (are you sensing a theme?).
About halfway through his reign people were complaining that wolves were becoming a bit of an issue. Historically wolves in Britain have been quite famous for their industrious breeding rates and the fact they don’t experience island dwarfism. However Edgar decided to ease up on his approach to crime and punishment, he determined that certain crimes could be cleared if the perpetrator were to provide his officials an appropriate number of wolves heads. So for murder, you could choose either execution or provide three wolves heads to the kings representative. Frankly the odds are you would get killed by the wolves anyway. In addition to this if villages were unable to keep up their taxes, rather than his predecessors approach of burning the village to the ground he would ask for wolves heads to cover the difference.
Wolves were native to Britain until the fifteenth century when they were eventually driven to extinction however they weren’t really a problem for people after the reign of Edgar the Peaceable.
Australia – The Great Emu War
In 1932, fed up with the devastation growing emu populations were reeking on crops, the people of Campion in Western Australia requested support from the department of defence.
In October 1932 Major Meredith of the Royal Australia Artillery, led Sargeant McMurray and Gunner O’Halloran with two Lewis Guns into the area.
Analysis: A Lewis Gun was an early 1900s machine gun. Now Emus are notoriously fast but very large. I will let you decide if a couple of fuck off machine guns were the right tools for this kind of work. Given these chaps were from the Royal Artillery I guess we should be grateful they weren’t using mortars. I am just glad this was a time before nuclear weapons.
On the Second of November they “Engaged the Enemy” (I swear to God that’s what the report says). Between fifty and seventy-five Emu were sighted. With the help of farmers the birds were herded into an “Ambush”. The feathery body count varies depending on which source you read, the newspaper triumphantly proclaims more than half of the sighted birds were killed. Statements from the farmers who were there said they only managed to kill about ten Emu.
A couple of days later the men had set up a highly elaborate “ambush” which several hundred Emu were heading towards, they waited until the birds were close before opening fire ….. and the gun jammed. Only ten birds were killed. It was at this point that the soldiers reported a psychological analysis of their enemy stating that every pack had a leader. A large male who kept watch and warned the rest of the approach of a threat. They decided to move to another area where the birds were reportedly “more docile”.
Meredith ordered that one of the lewis guns should be mounted on a truck. Their strategy now was to drive straight at the birds, shooting wildly. One thing that everyone knows about Emu is that they are fast, very fast. On the rough terrain the truck was unable to catch them and thankfully Gunner O’Halloran, not being a complete fucking moron realised how stupid and dangerous opening fire on a bouncing truck going full whack over rough terrain was. So far during this “campaign” (yes that is what they reported it as) we are looking at about 3000 rounds of ammunition spent over ten days, with three senior, trained and experienced military men, the estimated body count was forty. At this point Major Meredith’s report stated that his “men have suffered no injuries”. Due to overwhelmingly negative press coverage and the fact the entire nation found this absolutely hilarious, the national government withdrew Major Meredith and his men on 8th November 1932.
Side Note: I think its fair to say this situation marred the reputation of the Australian Military. The Australian Military had an outstanding reputation prior to this with demonstrations of significant naval prowess throughout World War One and the noted and incredible heroic action of Australian forces at Galipoli. Its understandable the Australian government didn’t want to be seen losing a military action against birds.
Shortly after the military withdrew, farms in Campion reported being over run by Emu. This had such a devastating impact on the crop and projected yields that the Prime Minister ordered Major Meredith and his men back to deal with the situation. This is where they experienced their first success of the campaign, given there were so many Emu it was just a case of aiming in the right direction and blindly firing. By December when the team were recalled they claimed about 100 Emu killed per week. Averaging ten rounds of ammunition per confirmed kill.
In the face of this costly and frankly humiliating exercise the Department of Defence referred the case to the Department of Agriculture who found a 100% effective strategy – they put fences up around the farms. Despite the ediculous and unnecessary body count I am chalking this one up to nature as the army withdrew without success and the Emu succeeded in making Humans look profoundly incompetent. This two month engagement with two machine guns, experienced personel and over ten thousand rounds of ammunition barely put a dent in the Emu population in the area.
There are hundreds of cases like this. I chose these three because they are examples of nations legislating against nature. Trying to extract morals or learning from these examples beyond the jokes, I would say “don’t fuck with nature” is a good moral. Also “states shouldn’t legislate for pest control without consulting someone with at least a GCSE level understanding of basic ecology”. I am not even going to explore the fact that in Australia plan A is a machine gun, plan B is a fence.