War Atrocities and Dehumanization

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There is an old saying which states, "murder becomes easier the second time".

What is meant by this is that taking another man's life becomes easier the more often you

do it. If it only becomes easier after already killing once, how does one manage to

succeed in committing that initial murder? By studying events in history, most historians,

psychologists, and criminologists believe it is through a process called dehumanization.

1Dehumanization is the psychological process of demonizing the enemy, making them

seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatments. In his novel Faces of

the Enemy, Sam Keens describes the different personas people use to demonize their

enemies. Keens believes that by refusing to acknowledge the enemy as a human being

and viewing them solely as "the rapist", "the savage", "the subhuman", etc., people are

able to commit murder, and other such crimes. This process is often used during war,

where soldiers are taught to dehumanize their enemies so that they may feel justified in

killing them and are free of guilt. Consequently, learning to dehumanize not only makes

it easier for soldiers to kill their enemies, but torture them. By feeling their actions are

justified, soldiers are free of remorse, and are motivated to exceed simple murder. This

eventually leads to whole armies being encouraged to commit war atrocities such as

violating the human rights of a nation, committing war crimes, and causing genocides.

An army is unable to commit war atrocities, such as these, unless some process of

dehumanization occurs. Thus, war atrocities are the result of dehumanization. This can be

examined through the genocide in Australia, the genocide of Herero and Namaqua, and

the genocide in Bangladesh.

When Britain began their settlement in Australia in 1788, they used

dehumanization to ethnically "cleanse" Australia of its Aboriginal inhabitants by viewing

them as savages, subhumans, and "the blacks". The British settlers considered themselves

to be much more civilized when compared to the Aboriginals, and thus more worthy of

the land. The British felt that since the Aboriginals only consisted of savages, they were

justified in committing war atrocities against them: 2The Aboriginals were viewed by the

settlers as primitive, savage, and unchanging…so in addition to warfare killings, water,

flour, and sugar were poisoned. By viewing the Aboriginals as savages instead of human

beings, the British were not only able to commit war atrocities against them, but felt their

actions were justified. The British settlers also viewed Aboriginals as being subhuman in

comparison to themselves. This led them to believe that because the Aboriginal race was

lesser, it was "natural law" that they be killed and replaced. 3Aboriginal destruction was

reasoned to be natural law, as shown in this comment from a settler in 1849: ‘Nothing

can save the dying away of the Aboriginal race, which Providence has only allowed to

hold the land until replaced by a finer race'. By viewing the Aboriginals as a subhuman

race, the British settlers felt their actions were justified by natural law, or rather, the

notion that since their race is better, it is their right to replace the Aboriginals. Lastly, by

personifying the Aboriginals as "the blacks", the British settlers felt they were ethnically

"cleansing" Australia, not committing mass murder. 4In Tasmania…marshal law was

declared to solve ‘the black problem' and every single native inhabitant was slaughtered.

Since the settlers only saw the Aboriginals as "the blacks", they felt that killing off their

race was not murder but ridding Australia of a problematic race. So, by viewing the

Aboriginals as savages, subhumans, and a black race, British settlers were able to justify

the atrocities they committed against...
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