The Corner

More Re: Snakes

Apparently venomous snakes, like the individuals who read The Corner on a regular basis, are an extremely diverse lot. My attempt to be fair to reptiles elicited these and similar responses:

Mr. Owens,

While I generally agree that there is a common misconception that snakes have malicious intent, there is an exception to that rule. The exception being the Cook’s Tree Boa and several other tree boas. Corallus Cookii and other members of the Corallus genus are hands down the most evil animals in the world. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single one that would prefer to run away from a chance to strike at any moving object. This is especially true of the Cook’s Tree species of tree boa. Not only would they not turn up a chance to strike, they actively pursue the opportunity to strike, and seem to take great pleasure in repeatedly striking anything that moves. This is not a venomous species, and the strike of a full grown adult hurts little more than a bee sting, but it is still amazing how many strikes a cook’s tree boa can get in a matter of just a few seconds.

And this:


Generally, the comments on the behavior of venomous snakes is true; there are, however, some notable exceptions.

The mamba (black in S. America, green in Africa) is both extremely fast and extremely territorial. In Liberia, the American Embassy is located on a psuedo-penninsula called “mamba point.”

My father was a diplomatic communicator, and we were posted to AmEmb Liberia when I was a teen. There was a very particular cry of “waaarrgghh” emitted by a sprinting man that in that location is understood as a call to drop whatever you are doing, grab a machete, and help a brother out. I’ve never had to try to out run a mamba, but I’ve seen people running from them–with the snake close on their heels–screaming “waaarrgghh!” It is the stuff of nightmares. I am making no claim to any specific knowledge on matters of herpetology, but I’m telling you that mambas are fast, mean, and just plain scary. I would definitely face three armed Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah before one pissed off mamba on his home ground in Liberia.

And this:

Mac, I’ve seen cottonmouths who DID stalk people. “They only bite as a last resort” is true of the rattlers and coral snakes I’ve come across, but not the cottonmouth. They’re sonsabitches.

And finally this:

Oh, Mr. Owens! You are not familiar with the water moccasin, which is a

critter so aggressive that it will swim across a pond to attack you. Happily,

this activity leads naturally to rifle practice with Grandpa’s old .22, making

for generations of good shots.

Actually, I am familiar with water moccasins. But to refine my position, the Fallujah insurgents are like tree boas, mambas, cottonmouths, and water moccasins.

Mackubin Thomas Owens is senior national security fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in Philadelphia, editing its journal Orbis from 2008 to 2020. A Marine Corps infantry veteran of the Vietnam War, he was a professor of national-security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College from 1987 to 2015. He is the author of US Civil–Military Relations after 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain.


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