The VigilanceVoice

July 27, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 318

The Monkey Business Of Vigilance
Is Not Eating Them--The Monkeys!

Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

       GROUND ZERO, New York City, July 27--Ever have a bunch of monkeys save your life?   I have.  Ever eat a monkey?  I hope not.

        My eyes were drawn to a story in the New York Times this morning about the ill fate of rare monkeys in Vietnam.    Hunters are killing off some of the most beautiful and gracious of our ancestors and eating them in elegant restaurants as delicacies.    In a way, they are eating our great, great, great, great, great grandchildren, grand nieces, grand nephews.
       I don't think there is a child alive who isn't awed by the antics of a monkey.   The biggest sour puss child who seems immune to laughter breaks into a wide grin as monkeys cock their heads and scratch at their armpits, hang upside down by their tails, or leap from branch to branch, chattering and screeching in playful joy and respite.   And nothing is more fascinating than to have a monkey stare at you, its curious eyes flicking all over your face, its leathery hands touching your nose and mouth, exploring your countenance as though trying to remember exactly who you are, and why you look so "funny."

      But the fate of monkeys in Vietnam seems foreboding.    The lush, jungle nation of nearly 80 million people has a taste for monkey meat as well as monkey blood.    During the Vietnam War, I walked through the narrow, clogged streets of Saigon and Cho Lon and saw countless monkeys trapped in cages.  You could order the one you wanted.   The merchants drained its blood and you drank it warm, an alleged delicacy I never did or want to try.
       Monkeys have always been my friends.   Prior to joining the U.S. Marine Corps, I was a senior in psychology at the University of Oregon in Eugene.   I was specializing in learning behavior, and spent a considerable amount of time working in the University's primate lab.   At the time, we enjoyed the largest collection of wild monkeys west of  the Mississippi.  The top billing for primate research at the time belonged  to Yerkes, a world renowned primate testing center.

         I conducted various learning tests on a variety of species, all wild monkeys, the best for research.   We used a Wisconsin General Testing Apparatus, measuring the discrimination skills of the animals.   After getting my "test monkey" from the primate lab, I pushed a tray toward the monkey in the testing room with various shapes or letters on it.  The money had to figure out which one had a raisin under it.
      I loved the lab and monkeys and spent as much time with them as I could.  I talked to the simians, getting to know them probably better than I knew most humans.  They were rare, ranging from Madagascar ring-tailed lemurs to squealing spider monkeys that ignited the housing room with a shrill cacophony whenever you entered.
      When I arrived in Vietnam, I felt welcomed by them in this the full of their brothers and sisters.   On patrols deep in the jungles, the sounds of the monkeys was a "safe sound."  It meant everything was Okay.   But when the monkeys fell silent, and the jungle seemed to suck in a deep hesitant breath, you knew danger lurked--that an ambush or the enemy was close by.
       On one patrol we were moving through the dense underbrush.  I was listening to the sounds of the jungle, keying in on the monkeys with whom I had continued a close relationship.    Suddenly, there was silence, following a burst of their raucous chattering, sending out a warning.
       I halted our patrol and motioned for the men to spread out and take cover.    Ahead of us was a long column of Viet Cong bringing in supplies.    Had we kept moving we would have stumbled into the thick of them.   Because of the monkeys' alarm we instead set up an ambush and were successful in our mission.
        On other patrols, I had various encounters with monkeys.   Our ambush unit switched back and forth, half on alert, half sleeping, at two-hour intervals.  I'm a snorer, so I always dug a hole in the earth and put my cover (soft hat) down in the cup of earth I dug with my bayonet and buried my face in it while I slept, so that if I snored, the ground would absorb the noise and my snoring would not alert any enemy patrols (and irritate my fellow marines).

        One night I awoke startled.  Crouching in front of my face, just a few inches from me, was one of my simian friends.  It quizzically stared at me, its long, leathery fingers clutching the bill of my soft cover.  My heart raced as I reached for my weapon, not yet sure in the haze of awakening what the figure was.   Then the monkey peeled back its lips, almost as if smiling, and jerked my cover away.  He stood for a second staring at me like some errant, playful child who was "stealing" my toy, and then scampered off into the moonlight night, swallowed by the leafy green of the Vietnam jungle.
         I wanted to laugh, but constrained myself.   In the madness of war, I was befriended in an odd way by a creature, who perhaps knew I was a "monkey man," a term often used in psychology to identify those who tested monkeys versus those who tested rats.  We called rat testers--"rat people"--a lower form of research, we affirmed.
      These experiences, three decades old, streamed back to me as I read the Times article about the endangered primates.
      I was revolted as I continued to read.   I couldn't imagine people eating the delicate, beautiful creatures whose biggest joy in life, at least in my mind, is making people laugh at their antics.   

      The more I read the more I realized I owed the monkeys. They had helped save my life and the lives of my buddies from an enemy ambush.   More than once I had used their silence as a warning during more than 100 patrols and missions I participated in.    They became my Sentinels of Vigilance, alerting me to danger, keeping me appraised of the fine line between life and death.
       The idea that rich Asians were coming to Vietnam to feast on the exotic meat stripped from rare simian bones, upset me.  It made me think of cannibalism rather than a gourmand ritual.

           Cat Ba langur

         One of the most beautiful and rare monkeys considered the "feast for a king" is the Cat Ba langur.   It is heavily hunted, and, according to NY Times travel writer Connie Rogers, who just visited the country, is a top menu choice for over 100,000 Asians who visit Cat Ba island each year.   

Grey-shanked   Douc langur

 Two of the rarest monkeys, the Cat Ba langur and Delacour, are projected to become extinct in the next few decades, reports the American Museum of Natural History.  One-fifth of the world's 25 most endangered primates live in Vietnam.
       The country is rich with vanishing primates--rare Eastern Black-crested gibbons, douc langurs, Ha Tinh langurs and Tonkin snub-nosed monkeys.
       A battle is being waged to preserve them.   Conservationists have established rescue missions to save the dwindling simians from the cooking pot and from trappers who seek to capture and sell them as pets.   Both acts are illegal, but policing the dense jungle is more than a challenge for a government with its hands full in rebuilding its nation.

       In a world filled with Terrorism of all degrees, one might think a monkey's fate is low on the totem pole.   But perhaps not.  Perhaps saving a monkey's life is more important than finding Osama bin Laden and taking his.  At least, that is, to a child.
       I've always looked at monkeys as children of laughter.    They force a child to smile.  The thought of someone eating them put a knot in my gut.  It made me wonder how to apply Vigilance to the Terrorism of monkeys.
      Vigilance is an inclusive rather than exclusive venture.    When one thinks of combating Terrorism, the first thought is bolting the door to defend against masked strangers tossing satchel charges at door steps.   But Vigilance is more than being defensive, it's an offensive attitude.  Often, it comes to focus stronger when emotionally charged than when physically threatened.
      The benchmark question of Vigilance is: "What's good for the children's children's children?" 
       Certainly, eating monkeys, especially rare, beautiful ones, doesn't hit the top of the charts.  By nature, I'm not an animal rights activist.  I'm not a garbage can banger who walks down the street claiming the sky is falling if we don't save the spotted owl.   But I do set aside my garrulous nature to stop and think about the kids--not only the human kids, but the children of the monkeys as well.  After all, their great great grandparents helped save my life.

     I also can't help but feel some close natural connection, some ancestral link considered by many evolutionists to be the dividing line between us humans, who can choose the right or wrong thing, and our tree-swinging buddies who operate solely from instinct.
      I also understand mankind’s need to expand.  In Vietnam, as with any nation that progresses, the forests are being farmed for trees to build the country and supply natural resources.  A monkey has little Voice in its own defense--either from ecological intrusion or from hunters who want their meat to sate the pallets of their customers.
       But I can’t turn my head to the issue of Vietnamese monkey plight.  

       Terrorism is about Complacency--the lack of concern.  Complacency is fed by Fear and Intimidation.  One of our great Fears is impotency on a major issue—that lack of ability to “make a difference.”   Intimidation is the other ingredient:  "What can I do about the problem with monkeys being eaten in Vietnam when America can't even find Osama bin Laden?"
       Complacency thrives in a state of immobilization, a state of resignation.  It grows in a myopic view that makes it hard to see how our “little Voice” can do anything, as well as by the stunted nature of our vision. 
       Vigilance, on the other hand, gives us a much longer, richer, deeper view to the horizon and beyond.
       If we think about monkeys as our far-distant children, how many of us would stand for others eating them?    If someone told you your child was wanted on the menu for people who like the taste of "little things," how would you react?
       It's one thing for a creature to be taken to become a pet, or part of a zoo, but quite another for it to be served as a main course, ending its life, and its ability to procreate.   It seems to me that one of the saddest acts of Terrorism in our world today is eating "rare monkeys."
        It would be easy to neglect this small issue in light of larger, far more pressing ones that agitate the world.    
        But Vigilance is about vision.  It's about seeing far into the future, to the children's children's children's children benefit..    While we might think we can't do a damn thing about the eating of monkeys in Vietnam, that may not be true at all.  And, doing something about it may be far more important to our children than rolling bin Laden’s head down Main Street, or prosecuting the financial “monkey eaters” at Enron and Arthur Anderson, or turning Martha Stewart into our our lady with a scarlet letter on her forehead.
         Lack of “monkey vision” might deprive our children of a precious association with a distant cousin, might reduce the awe in their eyes when they see one in a zoo, or on Discovery Channel.

There are things you should consider
While you are at the zoo,
For as you watch the monkey,
The monkey's watching you.

At dinner when you tell your mom,
"The monkey's a disgrace."
The monkey talks about the kid
With mustard on his face.

 from Zoo News "Do's and Don'ts"

        Vigilance demands we make a stand, that we draw a line in the sand and add some mortar or concrete to it.   In the long run, we don’t want our children to think we sat back and did nothing as the monkeys of the most rare and precious genre were consumed by tourists who flocked to Vietnam to eat the last remaining species of our children’s most distant relatives.
         Complacency tells us to turn our head, to leave the rescue of the monkeys to someone else, someone better equipped—to the “do-gooders.”    But Vigilance demands that we toss Complacency overboard, and that we make some effort, however small, as a sign to our children that one can take a stand—that one grain of sand can ultimately become a beach.
     .   Maybe it's just sending some important greenbacks to one of the rescue camps in Vietnam that attempt to protect the rare monkeys.  Or, perhaps it's rallying the kids in the neighborhood to write letters to the head of Vietnam, or to our U.S. Trade Division that offers money and outlets for Vietnamese commerce.

         Maybe it's a simple as talking the “monkey issue” over with your kids, and letting them know you care about their feelings, asking them what they think they can do, what the family can do, to help out the at-risk monkeys. A favorite children's song would be changed to No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed (see book on right). Vigilance is a lot about listening and learning what’s in your child’s or loved one’s heart.
         Vigilance takes Courage, Conviction and Right Action to be set into motion.   A child who sees his or her parents, grandparents, uncle, aunt, or loved one concerned about a monkey's future, takes a second look at his or her role in the world.   He or she sees people who are concerned—not afraid to be a “grain on a beach.”    The Vigilance expressed over a monkey’s future can have the “butterfly effect.”  The effect is said to start with the ripple of a butterfly’s wings upon the water, very slightly moving it, but as it builds and grows, it can result in a giant wave culminating on some beach thousands of miles from it origin.

                Rippling Butterfly Wing

         I owe the monkeys maybe my life, so I have an extra obligation.   But I also have grandchildren who need to learn how to be more Vigilant than Terrorized by life.  They need to know their Voices, however small and seemingly insignificant, have a right to be heard.   They need to know they can stand for something even though others may not stand with them for whatever reason.  And, I, as a Parent of Vigilance, a Grandparent of Vigilance, a Citizen of Vigilance, owe it to them to show my concern for the monkeys.
           Below, I've listed some websites you can browse.  (Note:  They have great pictures of the monkeys on them) 
      To sum up my Vigilant point,  I ask--"Would you eat a rare, endangered species monkey just because it tasted good?"  If not, maybe you'd like to show your children the power of one Vigilant Voice--yours.


       Endangered Primate Rescue Center--

      Cuc Phong National Park--

       NY Times Article--


Go To July 26--Vigilance Not Vigilantes

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