- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
This gem of a Friday flashback find is a short film produced by the War Department (U.S. Army) in 1943 — "The Use of War Dogs." The 12 minute bulletin — now declassified — takes viewers on a tour of all the many uses of dogs in war, from messenger dogs to "silent" scout dogs to casualty dogs.
The film has all the grist and glory of a 1940s production — the narrator sounds a little like a two-bit gangster and the music sounds as if it were from a hybrid soundtrack of The Three Stooges and old episodes of Lassie, but whoever made this film really understood how important military dogs were to their troops fighting the war.
As the narrator proclaims early on while detailing the work of one dog: "it would be the same in frozen wastes or hot jungles, in any kind of weather or field conditions. The silent scout dog handles his assignment with trained efficiency."
The film was made in 1943, only about one year after dogs were officially inducted into military service as a fighting force, which gives you a sense of how very quickly these animals were deemed indispensable. Though you can also tells it’s early in the war effort and the military hadn’t quite settled on standard MWD practice. You can still see a host of different breeds (that they would ultimately cull) and some of the jobs they showed still had one foot — or paw — back in WW I.
But you can also see that some methods of training are still employed (at least in part) today. For example, they went to great lengths to simulate the chaos and intensity of the front lines. (Check out around 6:06 where the dog is running through and around multiple explosions and, as the narrator points out, "stays the course.")
There was one line that caught me — a line thick with layers, especially when you hold it up against war-dog history and the tendency at the end of wars to shrink military dogs programs until we lose their readiness and, even worse, their capabilities. We watch a dog finish his task only to pick up an impromptu one — the dog’s natural ability and loyalty prevailing to save the day. The narrator’s voice comes on: "Now that you’ve seen it," he says, as if speaking to a crowd of war-dog naysayers, "the whole thing appears so obvious."
Doesn’t it, though?
Hat Tip: U.S. War Dogs Association Facebook page via P. Winds