A reader, responding to the suggestion that we call the Baathist
holdouts in Iraq
werewolves, asked rhetorically whether the intent was to dehumanize
them. Lurking behind this question was the theory that war supporters
like me need to make our enemies into un-persons in order to justify
continuing to kill them.
This question displays a kind of self-absorption by a person who
cannot really imagine a moral stance different from his/her own. In
such tender-minded thinking, the world is neatly divided into humans
that one must treat pretty much as though they were one’s next-door neighbor,
and non-humans who are not part of the moral community. The possibility
that a human being could be outside the moral community is essentially
But there are human beings who are outside the moral community by nature.
We call them psychopaths. They lack the wiring for empathy and reciprocity
that makes it possible for most human beings to cooperate; they can (and
often do) commit sickening atrocities for pleasure. Fortunately, most
psychopaths have other kinds of neurological deficits as well and are
therefore not very bright.
Some people who probably were not born with psychopathy make themselves
into psychopaths. Consider, as a relevant example, Saddam Hussein and
his sons. They fed living people into shredders for amusement. No semantic
debate over whether that sort of monster is “human” or “dehumanized”
is going to change my judgment that that it deserves a violent
death as quickly as that result can be arranged.
The Baathist holdouts in Iraq are the hench-monsters of the
Husseins — the men who tore infants’ eyes out and strapped women
to tables in rape rooms. Calling them “werewolves” or “orcs” is not
an attempt to dehumanize them; that would be pointless, since they
have already dehumanized themselves.