Few cases in the history of military punishment have aroused as much controversy as the execution of Private Spot, the only dog ever shot for treason in time of war. The debate still rages half a century later, and the only point of agreement is that in this case man’s best friend was his own worst enemy.
Spot was the only puppy of poor Dalmatian immigrants. His father, a sailor, ran off with a French poodle while Spot was still on the nipple. His mother abandoned him soon after, leaving on a one-way ticket to Hollywood to try to break into the glamorous world of pet food commercials. Alone and with nary a bone to his name, Spot joined the US Army Canine Corps when he was barely old enough to walk without a leash.
The Army became more than just another doghouse — it was his whole life. It not only fed and groomed the callow cur; it also de-wormed him, removed his ticks and gave him a flea collar to call his own. The Army was there to pet and to scold him, to occasionally rub his tummy, to give him a sense of purpose. Whenever Spot piddled, the Army stepped right in, and it was tough Army discipline that finally housebroke him. Under its firm care he grew to a tremendous size, sitting four feet tall and weighing 250 pounds in his stockinged feet.
Spot tried to be a good dog. He learned to sit, beg, roll over and play dead in record time. In advanced training he soon mastered the fine arts of pointing, fetching and — in due course — killing. But his traumatic puppyhood had left him with a sharp temper. Woe betide the comrade who playfully pulled his tail or called him “Spotty”: Spot was inclined to disembowel those who teased him. Though he always gave the corpses neat, regulation burials, it was still bad for morale. He was reprimanded time and again, to no avail: the more they called him a very bad dog the more he believed it, until Spot would actually wag his tail at the approach of his Master Sergeant bearing the rolled-up copy of Stars and Stripes.
He began to seek bigger game and, like so many dogs, he found what he sought. When war broke out in Korea, his was one of the first units sent overseas. There he seemed to be in his element: He was always first to advance and last to retreat, and whenever there was a dangerous job to be done it was Spot who raised a bedraggled paw to volunteer. He won a Silver Star for gallantry and — his greatest pride — a liver-flavored doggie treat for obedience. General MacArthur himself once walked him around the block, even sharing the same tree. And yet, behind the cheerful façade of gore and slaughter, all was not well. Unbeknownst to his fellows, Spot was becoming dangerously unstable.
Perhaps it started when his best friend was captured and eaten by the North Koreans, or else the time half his platoon was run over while chasing a tank. Or was it the day his tail was shot off by an enemy sniper? It was only a light wound but he took a lot of kidding about it, at least until he buried his fangs in the neck of the chief kidder. The Army fixed him up with a prosthetic tail, but Spot never really felt like a whole dog again.
Then there were the enemy propaganda tactics. Every day leaflets were dropped on the tired, hungry hounds, claiming that just over the communist side of the lines were all the treats a dog could dream of, and promising unlimited use of exotic chew toys for those who surrendered. Every night Madame Poochee, the Peking Pekinese, tormented them with her fiendishly personalized broadcasts. “Hello, dog soldiers,” she would whisper sexily. “This message is for all of you across No Beast’s Land, but especially for Duke, Rover, Spot and the other brave boys of Company B. It’s so, so sad that you must lie out there in the cold, cold mud, when you could be warm and cozy with Madame Poochee. Why waste your lives for all the fat, lazy ones at home? Does your sweetheart even think of you? Whose bone is she chewing tonight?”
“The bitch! The bitch!” Spot would mutter. In time he might well have cracked under the strain, but events soon took a dramatic turn for Private Spot. During a surprise enemy attack he was cut off from his unit, and was last seen atop a pile of North Korean soldiers, madly tearing off the exposed limbs of the foes who swarmed about him like ants. Presumed dead, the courageous canine was awarded a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor; and his story would end there were it not for one last trick that fate had to teach.
One day a great bald beast wandered into the American lines. It limped along on three legs and a prayer, had a mad gleam in its good eye, and carried a half-splintered wooden stick in its bloody maw. Close examination revealed it to be a dog, and the dog tags told the rest: It was Private Spot. Diseased and delirious, Spot was unable to respond to the joyful yaps of his comrades for some time. When he did it was to denounce them as “enemies of the pooch proletariat” or other snippets of communist dogma. He was soon found to be carrying pictures of Chairman Mao and an autographed copy of the Little Red Book, not to mention fleas.
Every cur has his breaking point, and Spot had reached his in a prison cell in Manchuria. Captured by the North Koreans then handed over to their Chinese masters, he was tortured daily, and twice on Sundays. Though their methods were known to be barbarous, the full extent of the Communists’ depravity was not grasped until his comrades realized that Spot’s woof was two octaves higher than before. When he finally cracked he was made to sign statements condemning capitalism, the New York Yankees, mom, apple pie and flea collars. As if this were not enough, he was then subjected to a final indignity: the Chinese threw a stick and told him to fetch and return it to his own countrymen and face their ridicule and the inevitable punishment that awaited him at home.
At the court-martial, the defense doggedly tried to prove Spot innocent by reason of insanity. They showed that he had been so systematically brainwashed that he would only eat fish and rice, calling everything else “the decadent bourgeois fodder of the capitalist running-dog lackeys.” They also pointed to the recurring nightmare in which he sang a duet with Margaret Truman as evidence that he was no longer a sane animal. All through the hearings Spot refused to defend himself and instead simply drooled quietly or, now and then, snapped at some phantom in the air. Nobody was surprised when a verdict of “guilty” was returned.
As dawn broke the next morning, Spot was carried out to the firing squad, being too weak to walk. But whereas another dog might have begged or whimpered, Spot maintained his proud bearing to the bitter end. Refusing the chaplain’s blessing and a final doggie treat, he managed to sit rigidly at attention as the firing squad took aim. His prosthetic tail wagged almost imperceptibly. Just as the volley was fired, he gave one last salute with his good right paw. Then, for the last time, Spot rolled over.