MOANING NOISES AND TRICKY GHOSTS
Dr. James J. S. Johnson
Like a crane or a swallow, so did I chatter; I did mourn as a dove; mine eyes fail with looking upward: O Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me.(Isaiah 38:14)
Therefore I will wail and howl, . . . I will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls.(Micah 1:8)
America’s top-secret “Ghost Army”, during World War II, used cleverness and technology to fool German forces, by masking military vulnerabilities.(1) Yet the main fakery used was not camouflage. Rather, daring deception involved threat reversal mimicry.
During September 1944, the Ghost Army masqueraded as a large force of “Super Sixth” Sherman (M4) tanks, in order to intimidate a German Panzer division near the Moselle River.(1) It was a high-stakes bluff—employing rubber dummies (inflated to resemble M4 tanks), audio-recordings broadcast by loudspeakers, and bogus radio transmissions. And it worked!
Their mission was to put on a show, with the German Army as the audience. They were plugging a hole in General George Patton’s line by pretending to be the Sixth Armored Division, with all its tanks and might.
But the [“Ghost”] men of the Twenty-Third had no tanks—no real ones, anyway—and precious little might. In fact, they carried no weapon heavier than a .50-caliber machine gun. This cast of artists, designers, radio operators, and engineers was equipped instead with battalions of rubber dummies, a world-class collection of sound-effects records, and all the creativity the soldiers could muster.
They understood all too well that their own lives depended on the quality of the performance—if the Germans saw through their deception, they could attack and overrun the small, lightly armed unit. “There was nothing but our hopes and prayers that separated us form a panzer [tank] division,” Lieutenant Bob Conrad recalled. But thousands of lives were at stake as well.
If the Germans realized how thinly held the sector was, they could break through and attack Patton from the rear. In other words, it was just another day in the life…of what became known as the Ghost Army.(1)[Quoting Beyer & Sayles, citation below]
Notice: the Ghost Army’s main ploy was not using camouflage concealment tactics. Rather, its purposeful play-acting was designed to be noticed—and to be misinterpreted as a viable threat.
This kind of shrewd trickery, if successful, appears to reverse the roles of attacker and target. The target fools the attacker into fearing the target–bluffing deters the attack. The boldness of the vulnerable target, in feigning readiness to attack the attacker, is a brilliant reversal of predator-prey roles, but only if the prey successfully fakes out the predator.
Such is part of the ordinary life for the Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura).
Known also as “turtle-dove” and “rain dove”), it routinely feeds on the ground, and nests within shrubs, on buildings, in trees—the same kinds of places where opportunistic (and omnivorous) rats, like the Black Rat (Rattus rattus) and the Norwegian Rat (Rattus norvegicus), roam for food.(2) Consequently, mourning dove eggs and hatchlings are sometimes vulnerable to prowling predatory rats.(2)
But how can Mourning Doves intimidate the neighborhood’s rats?
God invented and installed the Mourning Dove’s acoustical mimicry, benefiting countless doves, generation after generation. Their doleful moanings (cooOOoo-woo-woo-woooo) sound sad to humans, like someone mourning.(3) But to rats, that moaning impersonates an owl hooting(3)—and owls eat rodents!(2)
When the Ghost Army used threat reversal mimicry, in 1944, it was truly clever—so we give credit where credit is due (Romans 13:7). However, when Mourning Doves make noises like rat-snatching owls—practicing threat reversal mimicry—God’s cleverness all-too-often goes unseen, unacknowledged, and unappreciated.
God’s Creatorship is not a military secret, so let’s give Him due credit, for all of His cleverly made creatures—including Mourning Doves—whose needs He has caringly and cleverly provided for. God is good – and truly magnificent!
1.Rick Beyer & Elizabeth Sayles, The Ghost Army of World War II: How One Top-Secret Unit Deceived the Enemy with Inflatable Tanks, Sound Effects, and Other Audacious Fakery (NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2015), quoting pages 10-11. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops (“Ghost Army”) activities are now declassified. Having a lifetime-termed Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit (since A.D.1985), issued by the Federal Communications Commission, this author (who previously served at a Christian radio station in Texas) can appreciate — at least to some degree — the technical wizardry of the Ghost Army.
2.David J. Schmidly, The Mammals of Texas, rev. ed. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994), 438-441. Rat diets include bird eggs, including chicken eggs. Owl “pellets” routinely include rodent bones.
3.Mourning doves and owls sound alike. (Compare Isaiah 38:14 with Micah 1:8.)
Dr. James J. S. Johnson formerly taught ornithology, avian conservation, and ecology (etc.) for Dallas Christian College. ><> email@example.com