Propaganda & Mass Persuasion: Defeating Barbarism with Dehumanization

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Defeating Barbarism with Dehumanization

In Paul Fussell’s Wartime, Fussell notes that Americans were involved in some very shameful and inhumane practices during World War II. Besides a dirty war of words and imagery demonstrated through propaganda, American acts during the war proved that we were also fighting an extremely-foul war in the most literal sense; some soldiers were using body parts as souvenirs, and acceptably so, as “Japs” were not considered a human, or in other words a worthy “white man.” Fussell demonstrates this point, as well as the exact reasoning for dehumanization of the Japanese in the following quote:

“The Japs are like animals…They take to the jungle as if they had been bred there, and like some beasts you never see them until they are dead…What harm, then, in cleaning, polishing and sending home their animal skulls as souvenirs …(pg.116 - 117).”

For Americans, this point of definition of the enemy is a dangerous place to have arrived. As Americans, our mission more or less, was and still is, to save the world from inhumane politics and practices in societies of which we have been handed or rather, taken the “burden”. Yet, the example that the U.S. had set, especially at this most despicable moment of cruelty, by exploiting, dismembering and defiling other human beings, is not one of honorability and rationality, but of filth and brutality. The dehumanization of the Japanese went too far beyond persuasive words and catch-phrases, when soldiers sent home body parts as keep-sakes and this, speaks volumes about the malice of war where in the trenches, almost anything goes.


Blogger A. Mattson said...

A good post.

The dehumanization of the enemy is an important part of war. It makes killing possible and it maybe unavoidable if we wish to train soldiers to kill without hesitation or moral qualms.

As your selection from Fussell shows, this dehumnization of the enemy can lead to excesses and brutality, war crimes that are hard to justify.

What part does propaganda and the "typecasting" of the enemy play in making this brutality acceptable? Did the atrocities of the Japanese military justify our own excesses? Can we mobilize a population for war without typecasting and the dehumanizing racism that comes with it?

3/29/2009 11:23 AM  

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