I write today with the heaviest of hearts. I write to beg forgiveness on behalf of the entire Kingdom of Denmark, from her majesty Queen Margrethe II to the youngest Jute in the humblest hovel of Møgeltønder. For those of you somehow still unaware of the grave miscarriage of justice that has taken place in the Copenhagen Zoo, a young giraffe named Marius was put down last week because he was found to be genetically unimportant. Not since the unfortunate incident at Lindisfarne in 793 A.D. have my countrymen conducted themselves in such a barbaric manner. It sends shudders down my spine, imaging Marius, walking down a narrow, cobbled Copenhagen street in the early morning fog, being led to the exceedingly inadequate guillotine sitting in the center of City Hall Square.
I apologize for that last bit, but the imagery was too good to pass up. In all seriousness, I have watched the uproar over this most trivial of execution proceedings with great interest, and I feel I should throw in my two cents, especially concerning how this incident was received in Denmark. I am not going to claim to speak for all Danes. Though a dual-citizen of Denmark and the U.S., I must admit to being more comfortable on this side of the Atlantic. But after having lived there for a year, trying to understand their comedy, learn their grading system, and surviving their (and I’m being charitable) delicacies, I can comfortably say that I know more than the average American about the doggedly happy Danes.
I understand some of the concern from those who have questioned why the giraffe was killed and why it was dissected in front of young children at the zoo. The short answer is this; the autopsy was done in a respectful and informative manner, and Danes don’t fuss over their children as much as the typical American. When asked by a hostile British tv-host why he didn’t simply allow the children to watch the killing of Marius, Copenhagen Zoo director Bengt Holst replied “There is no education in seeing the killing, but there is a lot of education in seeing the dissection.” It’s easy to understand the perception of the zookeeper as being rather cold, but the logic behind what they did was there. It was a question over limited resources and, perhaps ironically, the well-being of the giraffe. Bengt Holst himself expressed both his own love of animals and concerns that sending the giraffe to an institution not as strictly regulated may have resulted in improper care for the animal. The staff at the zoo looked into other options before deciding that it was best to put down the giraffe. The dissection was done in a respectful, educational manner. It was done in an area of the zoo usually off-limits to the public, so people who decided not to see it didn’t have to see it.
Now in response to those who are shocked or appalled at the dissection in front of children, it should be said that Danes approach childrearing in a very different manner to Americans. Danes encourage children to be curious and inquisitive, being after all the land that brought the world LEGOs. Independence and self-reliance are very much encouraged among young Danes, who are allowed to smoke and purchase beer before they are allowed to drive cars. Children aren’t shielded from the world, especially sexuality and matters of the body. Though to a lesser degree than their peers in Norway, Danes love to be out in nature and kids play outside no matter the weather. Recess isn’t held inside unless there is a hurricane on the way. The giraffe incident notwithstanding, one could argue that Danes have actually softened in their approach to educating children about nature. When I told my mother that I was writing this article, she told me the story of when she and her fellow scouts were given a live chicken in a sack and told to prepare it for dinner. She was twelve. And according to my sources, the chicken was delicious. I would ask Americans who consider this sort of thing barbaric whether or not they consider how we entertain children here in America. I would wager that the average American brat precious hope of tomorrow has seen enough simulated human entrails on their TV screens to roughly equate the psychological scarring of watching a professional veterinarian explaining the marvels of the physical world as exemplified in the body of a giraffe. How are we so numb to showing violence against humans depicted in our media and so sensitive to the killing of one animal?
Now to be fair, I know that some of my Danish friends were also disappointed by the incident, my former roommate and close friend Magnus went as far as to apologize for the “unimaginative” naming choice of the giraffe in question. Magnus was, like many other Danes, surprised by just how vitriolic the response has been from around the world. In typical irreverent fashion, an article appeared on a Danish satire site decrying “a new giraffe murder in the Serengeti.” The article’s author wasn’t clear on whether it was a local giraffe or an American giraffe there on vacation, but quoted Obama administration officials as leaving the door open to sending peacekeeping forces, i.e. drones with bombs, into the area. Danes will debate this matter amongst themselves, but if the comment sections on Jyllands-Posten or Ekstra Bladet are indicative of national sentiment, I don’t see any great measure of censorship coming forth from the Danes anytime soon. Thank goodness.
One closing note: giraffes are mean.