Dehumanization

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
ignored.

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.

28 thoughts on “Dehumanization

  1. “Scumbag” is more direct – but it has to be something that can go on the nightly news. “Thug”, maybe? Nothing romantic about that.

  2. One thought about labeling the enemy– Those that complain about dehumaization are right, but for the wrong reason. If you dehumanize an opponet, you can wind up underestimating the opponet at a critical time. That does not mean you cant have some fun at the enemy’s expense, though. And to cmpare these enemies of humanity to werewolves or orcs is to do a disservice to werewolves and orcs.

  3. My point isn’t that I can’t conceive of evil people. It’s that you’re saying that all people attacking our soldiers in Iraq are doing so because they’re evil or psychotic. Call Baathists & those who bombed the UN & ICRC whatever name gets your jollies off. Just don’t imply that everybody attacking our guys is a Baathist with a sociopathic personality.

    s/n:r

  4. You’re right, snr. The holdouts aren’t all pyschopathic Baathists. Some of them are psychopathic Islamists.

  5. You’re right, snr. The holdouts aren’t all pyschopathic Baathists. Some of them are psychopathic Islamists.

    And some of them are dads whose sons got shot up by overeager GIs, or lemon growers whose trees got pulled up for no good reason, or uncles & sons & nephews. It’s not all orcs & werewolves. You remember the 80s movie Red Dawn with Emelio Estevez & Charlie Sheen? Remember what they called themselves?

    Wolverines.

    s/n:r

  6. I like the nickname, and it’s not at all dehumanizing. If I was dehumanizing them I’d want a game reserve established for them and live-trapping used to maintain a sustainable population. Since I consider them fully human I want them all killed.

  7. Since I consider them fully human I want them all killed.

    You want to kill the whole country?

    s/n:r

  8. I don’t think anyone wants to kill the entire country. Just all of the scumbags who are taking shots at soldiers, UN buildings, and even a hotel full of reporters.

    No one is advocating killing innocent Iraqis. Not since Saddam had to take a break from the shredder to run and hide.

  9. I don’t think anyone wants to kill the entire country. Just all of the scumbags who are taking shots at soldiers, UN buildings, and even a hotel full of reporters.

    We need to recognize that not all attackers are Baathist partisans or Islamic extremists. Some of them are attacking for personal reasons, in retaliation for things American soldiers did that have no justification.

    If an Iraqi picks up a gun after his lemon trees got uprooted because some American soldiers got shot nearby and the Americans want to punish somebody, is he a scumbag?

    If an Iraqi father picks up a gun after American soldiers drive through his town shooting at houses they “suspect might be harboring whoever shot down the American helicopter the day before” but instead hit his 10 year old son, is he a werewolf?

    s/n:r

  10. snr, when you can provide any evidence that any of the people killing our soldiers have an ethically legitimate motive, then this discussion might be worth having. But speculation is not evidence. The character of the Saddamite regime means that we are entitled to assume its “loyalists” are evil scum until proven otherwise.

  11. The Guardian story isn’t even internally consistent.

    “‘I saw the missile come from the west and hit the helicopter. After the crash, people got their weapons to shoot the US soldiers, but they were stopped. Everybody here hates the US.'”

    Um. If everybody hates the Americans, why did they stop the
    people who wanted to kill U.S. troops?

    Looks to me like a hit-piece by a typical leftie Grauniad reporter. Not even a very competent one.

  12. If everybody hates the Americans, why did they stop the people who wanted to kill U.S. troops?

    Who says it was Iraqis who stopped them? As I recall, there were 2 helicopters travelling together & the second one had a General in it.

    Looks to me like a hit-piece by a typical leftie Grauniad reporter. Not even a very competent one.

    Ad hominem, & not very good at that. Admit it, you’re playing Calvinball to cover your ass. Just because it’s not on FauxNews doesn’t mean it’s not real. I’ve seen a number of similar stories in multiple newspapers. There is real resentment and there is a real resistance building, not driven by Baathists or al Qaeda. Don’t blame me because you’re not paying attention.

    s/n:r

  13. I don’t think anyone wants to kill the entire country. Just all of the scumbags who are taking shots at soldiers, UN buildings, and even a hotel full of reporters.

    You must be very confused — Iraquis, just as anyone else, will resist what they see as an occupying nation.

    Iraquis don’t necessarily need/want/deserve democracy — maybe it’s time for us to realise this simple fact.

  14. You priority should not be renaming things but ending conflict.

    People who are irretrievably lost to the idea of peace will need to be dealt with in a regretably harsh manner, for nothing else would achive anything. But while doing so, you have to ensure that you don’t poison future prospects of peace by acting like a bully or whatnot. That future peace is presevered, that the bulk of the populace believes in the goodwill of the UN, is top priority.

  15. Again, I wouldn’t care that much what names you used if you were just talking about people who attack the Red Cross. But you already know the problem with identifying your enemies as “being” X. I think the conversation illustrates my point. It didn’t take five minutes for the old set of comments to reach Godwin territory.

  16. I just heard the CIA report mentioned on FauxNews, so you’re officially allowed to believe it’s real.

    s/n:r

  17. Nuno: I’m not “very confused.” Not ALL Iraqi citizens are up in arms over the United States being in their country. If they were, things would look a lot worse for our troops, wouldn’t they? Why is it that when a few Iraqis are against Saddam, it’s no big deal because it’s just a few, but a few crazies attacking our soldiers is suddenly the entire nation?

    snr: I don’t care WHY they’re attacking our soldiers. If our soldiers are violating any kind of laws and doing things to innocents, then those soldiers should be found and court martialled, not random soldiers shot or blown without any kind of trial. (…And who mentioned Fox News? Not everyone who thinks the Guardian is nuts thinks Fox News is wonderful. You talk about recognizing that not all the people trying to MURDER OUR TROOPS are terrorists, yet suddenly all people who don’t like the Guardian are right-wing Fox News nuts?)

  18. If our soldiers are violating any kind of laws and doing things to innocents, then those soldiers should be found and court martialled, not random soldiers shot or blown without any kind of trial.

    That’s the solution I’d prefer too, but the CPA’s not doing it. How do you propose the Iraqi people set about making them? These people are angry so they take action. Plus they have 40-odd years of pent-up aggression to get out. I wish it wasn’t so but I understand the motivation.

    s/n:r

  19. “trying to murder our troops” != “terrorists”.
    If they’re targetting civilians, then sure, they’re terrorists. But calling citizens defending their homeland against occupying soldiers “terrorists” just dilutes the word.

  20. I vote for orcs… :-)

    Instead of attacking US troops out of anger, why aren’t they attacking (or helping US Troops to flush out) the elements in their society who want to return them to the oppression of Bathist rule? Unless we are getting completely false information from ALL of our media,
    the majority of people there welcome the change. As is usual, a small but much louder minority are shaping the situation for the entire nation.

    Werewolves are only terrorists when it’s a full moon….
    Call them orcs.

  21. Innocnets are being/have been killed by these attacks, which makes them terrorists.
    Or, even: They’re trying to terrorize our troops and cow the US into backing out.

  22. “Collateral Damage”
    “Shock and Awe”

    By either of those arguments your military are terrorists too.

  23. Instead of attacking US troops out of anger, why aren’t they attacking (or helping US Troops to flush out) the elements in their society who want to return them to the oppression of Bathist rule?

    That’s a good question. I think they see the Baathists as a threat they can handle. They’ve lived under them for 40-odd years & now they have equal firepower. And although Iraqis are the target of some attacks, we’re the ones occupying them now so we get the attention.

    I think they see it as their problem & they’d just as soon see us out the door.

    s/n:r

  24. The difference being: The US Army goes out of its way, generally, to avoid civillian casualty, whereas terrorists don’t care at all. Plus, I don’t see them jumping on the “rebuild” train after blowing something up.

  25. Hi there.

    This is the only piece I have read of yours to which I disagree strongly. You say these guys are monsters and werewolves etc. I don’t particularly have a problem with this, you can call them whatever you like. Where this falls down though is where you say they deserve a sudden and violent death. They don’t. What they, in this case Saddam Hussien, deserve is a fair trial and I can tell you why. There is a spectrum of people in this world and say on the left you have the normal guy in the street, like myself (I think anyway) and for on the right of the spectrum is Saddam Hussein. Now he deserves a sudden and violent death. Just to his left is some other violent psycho who also deserves a sudden and violent death. But as you progress to the left at which point exactly do you stop applying sudden and violent deaths and start applying fair trials? You see you can’t. The same rules should apply to everyone when it comes to justice. About the most destructive thing you can do to a society is apply justice in a selective manner.

    This is not even taking into account some of the very interesting issues about the American war against Saddam Hussein. For instance have you, or any other member of the American public (not the government) ever seen any evidence of what Saddam Hussein is being charged with ? I am talking about before the war began and not what he will be charged with now. I am not trying to defend him but there is something in this which I find deeply disturbing. The American people have been convinced, by their government, that they are better off if they don’t know. This is despite the profound warnings of their Founding Fathers. Have you been shown any evidence of Saddam Hussein’s links to Osama Bin Laden which was the initial drum which was beaten by George W. Bush for the American people to go to war ? This was then changed to say that Saddam Hussein was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, have you seen any evidence of this ? After all of these arguments fall apart someone then pipes up and says “Well yes, he may not have had these things but he was an evil dictator and what happened was good for the Iraqi people.” I say fair enough but by those standards there is at least one evil dictator which should have been deposed first. According to the UN the Tyrant of Egypt is far worse than Saddam Hussien. So after the Iraqi problem is “solved” would you please let me know what your actions will be about Egypt. And as self-appointed do-gooders and meddlers in the world would you please let me know your intentions of the different countries you are planning to invade to save them from nasty men like Saddam, and in which order. I would like to check if the country in which I live is on the list so that I can get out if necessary before the American soldiers come and kill my friends and family. I don’t think I would enjoy it too much if you referred to my mother as “collateral damage”. I don’t think that Egypt has much to worry about, they don’t seem to have much oil, so they’re pretty safe. Just a note to all stable democratically elected governments out there, if you discover oil don’t tell anyone. You will be surprised at how quickly your government will disappear to be replaced by an evil tyrant. But don’t worry you are then the proud winner of the American Freedom Package for Oil Producing Countries. If you have no oil better luck next time.

    This morning, after Saddam Hussein’s capture I saw on the news on the internet that some of the American Senators were now saying that this should be a stepping stone for World involvement in Iraq. Another Senator was saying that the World should get involved as then they can help America bear the cost of this burden.

    I say: “You got yourself into this mess and now you want others to bail you out? Sort out your own mess. Welcome to your third Vietnam (Gulf War I = Vietnam II).”

    And here endeth my rant. I would appreciate any well thought out responses to my statements above.

    Regards, Martin Coetzee.

  26. What a piece of totalitarian bullshit!!! This is probably the most disgusting article in your weblog dear Eric!

    I suppose that when Mr. Husein was torturing and killing Iranians at the Iran-Iraq war, as well as using chemicals to choke the Kurds of the North to death, it was fine with you guys!

    In case you remember, Husein had been in power since 196fucking9(!), and until 1990 when he invaded Kuweit and directly threatened US interests, he was your best ally!! Read some history.

    The same goes of course for Ladden and the Talibans. I seem to remember very clearly the days when these people were being labeled as “rebels” by the media and were sitting side-by-side with your beloved ex-actor president you-know-who.

    All I have to say is what a member of my site wrote recently regarding Saddam’s capture:

    ‘One down and 343 to go.
    One of the most psychopatic, crazy, megalomanic, corrupted, and totally dingbat leaders in the world has been captured by the army of his Nemesis and equal opposite’

    Sheesh!!!

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