The Zoological Gardens and the Culture of Total War
The fascist 1930s and 1940s began as a golden age for the zoo. Vast ecosystems were suddenly within reach, as the military conquered new territory. Highly sought after megafauna, such as Indonesian Komodo dragons and Mongolian snow leopards—totems of empire—flooded into the gardens. At the same time, “military animals” such as dogs, pigeons, and especially warhorses—strong, silent, and obedient—were idealized as model soldiers, while millions of people streamed into the zoo to participate in the pageantry of fascist expansionism. Mounted troops led parades, and government scientists staged exhibitions on the natural wonders of the Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Nearly all aspects of the war effort involved animals or animal products—as companions, specimens, resources, and calories—and as the pursuit of war overseas tilted the home front into a state of emergency, people also became, in a sense, “military animals,” populations of physical bodies whose claims to autonomy were sacrificed to the dictates of total war.
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