Pledging to quit animal tests, VW tries again to shake Nazi origin
WOLFSBURG, Germany––Monkeys are no longer breathing diesel fumes. Volkswagen publicists are likely breathing sighs of relief.
Nazi tactics and ideology live on elsewhere.
Examples include the use of the Nazi-developed pesticide Compound 1080 to kill a targeted goal of two million feral cats in Australia, and to purge the whole of New Zealand of feral cats, rats, mice, and brush possums.
“Ethical & moral considerations”
But for VW, at least, an embarrassing reminder of Nazi ancestry seems to be fading.
Mass media worldwide picked up the June 4, 2018 announcement by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that VW chief executive Herbert Diess has pledged to discontinue animal experimentation––at least for the moment.
For a short time, anyhow, VW seemed to get more good publicity than bad, for stopping animal tests that even many defenders of animal testing agreed were more a stunt than useful, that should never have been ordered in the first place.
Wrote Diess, “Research projects and studies must always be balanced with consideration of ethical and moral questions. Volkswagen explicitly distances itself from all forms of animal abuse. In the future, we will rule out all testing on animals, as long as there are no pressing — such as legal — reasons that would make this necessary.”
Macaques made to inhale diesel fumes
For more than five months Volkwagen was haunted by PETA publicity about how the automaker had, in the words of PETA staffer Tasgola Brune, “funded an experiment in which macaque monkeys were forced to inhale diesel fumes emitted from an old pickup truck and a VW Beetle for four hours, after the World Health Organization moved to classify diesel exhaust as a carcinogen.
“After the cruel testing,” Brune said, “samples of the animals’ lung tissue were removed to check for inflammation. It’s not known what happened to the animals after this.”
But global revulsion at the self-evident cruelty to the macaques was only a part of the potential damage to the Volkswagen image that the incident might have occasioned.
Elaborated Kate Connolly of The Guardian, “The tests, carried out in May 2015 by the New Mexico-based Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute (LRRI), involved locking 10 Java monkeys in small airtight chambers…The animals were left to watch cartoons,” in themselves terrifying to the macaques, as shown in video of the experiments, while inhaling exhaust fumes “to prove that the pollutant load of nitrogen oxide car emissions from diesel motors had measurably decreased, thanks to modern cleaning technology.
Humans were also test subjects
“It also emerged that a study in Germany measured the effects of inhaling nitrogen dioxide on 25 human volunteers,” Connolly wrote, an aspect of the testing that seems to have received relatively little notice.
Added Connolly, “The company initially tried to distance itself from the institute that commissioned the tests, the European Research Group of Environment & Health in the Transport Sector, a car lobby group funded by Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW. But it is now known that VW managers were informed about the testing before and after it was carried out.
“Daimler and BMW tried to distance themselves from the tests,” Connolly said, “stressing that none of their cars had been used.”
“Superfluous & senseless”
Said Daimler and BMW in a joint statement, “We will investigate how this study came to pass and have started an investigation. We consider the animal experiments in the study to be superfluous and senseless.”
The gassing experiments might have reminded car-buyers of the origin of the Volkswagen company as the “People’s Car” project in Nazi Germany. Volkwagen has struggled to shed reminders of this heritage for more than 70 years.
But the potential public relations impact of gassing the monkeys and the human volunteers, in a manner partially reminiscent of the methodology of the Holocaust, was overshadowed to some extent by the magnitude of the larger scandal that the monkey experiments were a part of.
Fume testing linked to software scandal
The letter that VW exec Diess sent to PETA, explained New York Times writers Prashant S. Rao and Melissa Eddy, “is part of a push by Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest car manufacturer, to cope with the toll of a scheme that has resulted in tens of billions of dollars in settlements and fines, the dismissal of successive chief executives, and the arrest and imprisonment of top company officials,” after Volkswagen was caught later in 2015, two years after funding the monkey experiments, “illegally rigging the software on millions of vehicles to make it seem as if they complied with pollution standards.”
Altogether, the software rigging affected the performance of 11 million vehicles, Volkswagen eventually acknowledged. That meant here-and-now recall, maintenance, repair, and resale value issues involving the family cars of more than 25 million people worldwide.
The here-and-now concerns obscured recognition of the incident as an echo of the Nazi legacy.
By comparison to here-and-now car trouble, the Holocaust was for most people today something that happened long ago and far away, and is more often cited as a metaphor than as a memory pertaining directly to current events.
Most Americans and Europeans remain aware of the Nazi gassing of about six million Jews, plus hundreds of thousands of gypsies and members of other ethnic and cultural minorities.
Far fewer, however, are equally aware that this “final solution” was the culmination of a long campaign of pogroms, enslavement, and––even as the Nazis postured as anti-vivisectionists––actual vivisection of human subjects in the name of research.
The Volkwagen company acknowledged in 1998 that it had employed approximately 15,000 slave laborers to make Nazi military vehicles.
Executive linked to history
Though that was long ago, the Volkwagen Group supervisory chair until April 2015 was Ferdinand Karl Piech, 81, a senior executive in the company since 1993––and grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the racing car designer who built the first VW “bug” prototype in 1933.
Adolph Hitler ordered that a factory be built to produce it. The Nazi party arranged funding for the start-up. In May 1937, just over a month after Piech was born, the ancestral Company for the Preparation of the German Volkswagen Ltd. was founded, with a swastika woven into the logo.
Piech could scarcely be blamed for events occurring before he was born, nor in his childhood. But the monkey experiments and software fraud did occur on his watch.
Piech reportedly left VW after failing to oust Volkswagen Group chair Martin Winterkorn, five months before the software rigging scandal came to light. The disclosure forced Winterkorn to resign, followed by other Volkwagen executives.
Diess is now trying to quell concern raised by the entire episode that the VW corporate culture, generations after the last actual Nazis retired, remains imbued with end-justifies-the-means executive thinking and, among middle management, technocratic blind obedience to orders.
Nazi origin of Compound 1080
The Volkswagen debacle is scarcely the only current example of the extent to which the Nazi legacy persists, just below the threshold of recognition.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/National Institutes of Occupational Safety & Health Registry of Toxic Effects of Chemical Substances, for instance, includes single-line descriptions of the lethal dose levels the Nazis discovered in testing pesticides on human prisoners, before settling on the insecticide Zyclon B as the gas used at Auschwitz and other extermination camps.
Captured from the Nazis after World War II, the data was reported in 1946 by the American Journal of Public Health. One finding was that sodium monofluoroacetate killed humans at 5 milligrams per kilo of body weight.
Compound 1080 today
This chemical, renamed Compound 1080 when the Tull Chemical Company of Oxford, Alabama began manufacturing it in 1956, was banned from general use in the U.S. in 1972, although USDA Wildlife Services is allowed to use sheep collars containing it to kill coyotes.
Compound 1080 is intensively used, however, by government agencies in New Zealand and Australia to try to eradicate non-native species. New Zealand alone is believed to use as much as 90% of the total output of Compound 1080, of which Tull Chemical is the only maker.
British Union of Fascists
The philosophical ancestry behind the putsch against non-native predators now underway in New Zealand, and similar putsches elsewhere, may be traced back to the British writer/farmer Jorian Jenks (1899-1963).
Jenks in the 1940s and 1950s helped articulate the views of nature now predominating among environmental policymakers, in his roles as editor of the journals Rural Economy and Mother Earth, and as secretary to the British-based Soil Association.
Earlier, Jenks was agricultural expert for the British Union of Fascists.
“Corps of expert vermin-destroyers”
In that capacity, Jenks wrote circa 1935 that the hypothetical fascist government he advocated would take “Effective steps…to cope with the host of rabbits, pigeons, rooks and other vermin who now levy a heavy toll on our fields. A corps of expert vermin-destroyers equipped with up-to-date apparatus will clear each district systematically.”
Such activity of course had centuries of precedent. The U.S. government, for instance, had already purged wolves from the Lower 48 states, and had embarked upon a similar persecution of coyotes, beginning in 1930.
“Dominant figure in organic movement”
What Jenks added was the now commonplace synthesis of traditional predator-and-vermin-killing with the intellectual pretense that the killing would help to restore a once pristine Garden of Eden, instead of just expediting a presumed Biblical injunction to subdue and dominate the earth.
Jenks went on to be recognized, Wikipedia recalls, as “one of the most dominant figures in the development of the organic movement.”
Ironically, organic agriculture has evolved in opposition to the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, including Compound 1080, but in Jenks’ time Compound 1080 was part of the “up-to-date apparatus” to be deployed by the “corps of expert vermin-destroyers” he sought to organize.