Monday, July 13, 2009

Wars of Whales and Words

The real “eco-terrorists” kill animals, not save them!

I have recently been watching Whale Wars, which (for those who haven’t seen it) is Animal Planet’s hit reality TV show about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s quest to stop illegal commercial whaling on the high seas. In Season 2, Episode 4 (entitled “Yum Yum, Eat Crow”), a member of the Sea Shepherd crew said something very interesting about so-called eco-terrorism that really struck me as exceptionally true and wise.

A Japanese whaling ship being tracked by Sea Shepherd on the Antarctic Ocean had somehow lost a man overboard, and the cetacean hunters were searching for him (or rather, his corpse, because a human could survive no more than an hour in waters so cold). Sea Shepherd’s Japanese translator aboard the S.S. Steve Irwin radioed the whaling vessel to offer them assistance in the search, to which the whaling captain replied (in subtitles) that they would not accept help from “environmental terrorists.”

After the conversation, Sea Shepherd’s native-Japanese translator explained to the audience through the camera that the whalers (rather than animal protection activists) were the real eco-terrorists because they were killing nature’s precious creatures. Even though it now seems self-evident, I had never thought of this interpretation of the “eco-terrorist” label before, the profundity of which was underscored by the fact that the speaker had hidden her face behind a mask for fear that her family would suffer violent reprisals at the whalers’ hands. Think about that frightening reality, and it’s pretty clear who the true terrorists in this story are.

Being one who believes in the sanctity of language, I find it despicable that some would so arrogantly abuse words for their own purposes by seeking to redefine or reinvent them until that they mean their exact opposite. Not surprisingly, the first to describe environmentalists as terrorists were logging company PR flacks seeking to turn public opinion against Earth First! tree-spikers in the late 1980s, and by the 1990s, industry front groups, right-wing think tanks and free-market politicians were routinely trying to link environmental defense with terrorism. The deliberately distorted discourse fostered by these pernicious biocidal forces amounts to a form of psychological warfare, so it is not surprising that those who make a living by killing would project their own violent tendencies onto others by accusing them of what they themselves are most guilty.


  1. Hart.9:22 PM

    Destroy a forest, a mountain, a river, and they call you a logger, a miner, an engineer. Destroy a bulldozer, a chainsaw, a dam, and you're called a terrorist.

  2. How true...
    Words and labels can be so powerful, even (and especially) in the hands of mass manipulators.

    Beware of people who use the word "terror" or "terrorist" lightly and with purpose of defending their business practices.

    On another note, even animal names can be misleading sometimes (think of the Orca which in almost any language means killer whale - it makes you think of a vicious animal, when in fact it has never killed a human being - and it only kills whales and seals to survive, never for sport).