The horrors of 9-11 ten years ago introduced many Americans for the first time to the real truth about devastating destruction and our national vulnerabilty. Over the ten years since 2001, we have learned more about the fragile relationship of politics, ideology, power, and money. Now, few things seem impossible.
Paul McKellips is the Executive Vice President for the Foundation for Biomedical Research in Washington D.C. He is a motion picture and television producer who served as a State Department war correspondent in Iraq. During his tenure in Iraq, McKellips traveled with army veterinarians throughout the war-torn country, observing the U.S. effort to restore conditions necessary for the proper care and treatment of large animals.
In a 30-minute interview on Pet-Life Radio McKellips provides a full and informative description of the work of the FBR. I recommend this audio interview to the reader in order to understand the experience and knowledge which informs McKellips’ perspective in the book.
Uncaged is a work of fiction. It is however an entirely plausible, if not likely, scenario in which the devastation of 9-11 would unspeakably be dwarfed in size.
If the perfect storm of politics, activism, science, greed, and ideology were brought together in a single moment in history, an apocalyptic event could be unleashed (uncaged) all over the world in a matter of days, not years. It is chilling, but as McKellips aptly applies the perfect storm scenario, it becomes not just plausible, but believable as well.
The political trigger is pulled when a clandestine animal rights activist group creates a widespread public health scare by causing severe illness and death among the nation’s meat consumers. This fear forces the U.S. president to declare a full one-year moratorium on animal research of any kind.
Simultaneously, a South Korean pharmaceutical company, funded by private Russian investors, violently obtains farm livestock in the United States in which advanced testing has been done, giving the new company the fast track for producing a vaccination and treatment for possible future outbreaks of Ebola.
Working with Al-Qaeda, pirates seize commercial tankers bound for American ports. The pirates perpetrate some relatively minor theft and then send the ships on their way. Their purpose was not to enrich themselves with a ransom, but to uncage infected rats. The rats, more precisely the fleas from the rats, begin claiming victims within hours of their presence at port.
The story’s main characters, a veteran male military doctor nicknamed “Camp,” and a military expert in infectious disease, a woman named “Leslie,” are teamed up to gain the necessary intelligence to counter the impending threat. In their travels to Algeria, Yemen, and finally Costa Rica, they encounter the enemies. Suffering several brushes with death, they emerge from a combative personal relationship to one which is implicitly one of love. The relationship between Camp and Leslie gives the story the necessary character depth to keep Uncaged from being a one-dimensional military special-ops novel. The relationship is far from distracting to the reader and serves the fundamental story expertly.
Uncaged raises many issues about the use of animals in medical research. Among medical researchers and animal activists a great chasm of perspective exists, though the work of the Foundation for Biomedical Research is seeking to close that gap. Extreme positions on both ends of the issue’s spectrum are brought to this book in a hypothetical situation in which the question of the value of human life vs. the value of non-human animal life, is raised. It is a question that is not resolved easily.
Uncaged is a thought-provoking and thrilling read. McKellips’ obvious personal credibility allows him to raise right issues, and he leaves the reader with perhaps a broader understanding of the dilemma posed by biomedical research and the treatment of animals.
Americans, no longer doubtful about our vulnerability after 9-11, hear whispers about bioterrorism from time-to-time. After reading Uncaged, the whispers will become shouts.