Sunday, May 23, 2004

Pigeon research will not stand still

Pigeon research will not stand still. The truth of that statement fairly reaches out and smacks you across the chops, doesn’t it?

The BBC reports on plans drawn up, but alas never acted upon, to extend the WWII war-fighting capabilities of the humble pigeon into the cooler and greyer skies of the Cold War. Pigeons did play their part in Hitler’s downfall, serving as a secure means of secret communication. (A trench-coated pigeon flits from shadow to shadow; one wing pressing a tiny package snugly to its downy breast. The bloody Jerries won’t get their hands on this, it coos to itself, even as it spies the distant but unmistakeable shape of a Gestapo falcon on the wing.)

After the close of WW2, the British started a ‘Pigeon Committee’ acting upon the blood-chilling warning that: ‘Pigeon research will not stand still; if we do not experiment, other powers will.’ Pigeons, the War Office mused idly to itself, could carry small explosives or even biological weapons directly to the enemy. The pigeons themselves were not asked for their views on this mode of warfare. One wonders whether sufficient feathered British volunteers would have been found or whether Whitehall would have been forced to rely on swaggering, sun-browned Colonial pigeons.

Of course, as in many fields of industry, ultimately the British blew it. They lost their pigeon edge. The gruff, no-nonsense English pigeon could not stand against the sky-darkening hordes of Chinese pigeons, raised as fearless fighting machines in the brutal hot-house of the Beijing State Circus.

I will add, however, that pigeons have been found in Iraq. Where these pigeons came from and what they were doing under Saddam's regime remain a mystery.

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