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Is the Enemy Human?

I just heard this song for the first time about five minutes ago. I will have to find out more about this artist.

I read a story in the latest issue of Newsweek (December 13, pgs. 31-32) that caused me to be a bit disappointed in myself. It raised the question of how common it was for Afghan insurgents to suffer from some degree of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This article then proceeded to give some examples of specific Afghan insurgents who showed all of the signs. Strangely, this story caught me completely by surprise. Over the last few years, I have heard and read several stories about American soldiers suffering from PTSD. But for some reason, I never considered the possibility that the “bad guys” might suffer from the same problem.

So how do I explain my cluelessness? Whether I like it or not, it is actually pretty simple. I have apparently bought in to the common American public perception of our enemies in the “War on Terror.” Because our enemies are supposedly all a bunch of religious fanatics looking to die a glorious martyr’s death, these must be people who actually relish warfare. So if you follow this “logic,” then there is no reason why people would be traumatized by an experience that on some level they enjoy. By characterizing the enemy in this way, they essentially become a different breed of human. In fact, they are hardly viewed as human at all.

Dehumanizing an enemy is perfectly natural during war, particularly when fighting an enemy that uses such brutal and nasty tactics. Still, as a History teacher who has read tons of accounts of societies dehumanizing their enemies, I thought that I was more aware of this potential tendency in myself. Apparently, I am not as insightful as I had hoped. You would think that I could recognize that people are people. Regardless of ethnic, ideological, or cultural differences, all human brains react to extreme trauma in similar ways. And all of us, regardless of who may be the “good” or “bad” guy, are conditioned by surroundings and experiences that may cause us to dehumanize others.

This little post, believe it or not, is not designed to make a statement about the war in Afghanistan or about politics in general. I’m not trying to argue that we should somehow feel sorry for our enemies or seek to treat them for mental illness. But whatever your views on our current wars or on war in general, it is important to recognize the danger of dehumanizing an enemy. Portraying an enemy as a different type of creature, a sort of “superwarrior” with no regard for himself or for the lives or others, can lead to excessive pessimism and, possibly, unnecessarily prolonged fighting. After all, how can you defeat, outlast, or negotiate with people who love to fight so much? In addition, it can lead your society to justify acts of violence that might be counterproductive. If you view large numbers of civilian casualties - so-called “collateral damage” - as an acceptable cost of war, then you may create as many enemies as you destroy. It will, after all, give the dead civilians’ loved ones good reason to dehumanize the society whose military did the damage.

1 comment:

  1. wow, amazing song!
    and you wouldn't be the first, it never crossed my mind that Afghan insurgents suffered from PTSD as well.


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