Dehumanizing Others Is No Virtue

To hate other humans or to feel no pain at their suffering, it is necessary to dehumanize them, to write them off as less than human. The Nazis are the classic example of this dehumanization. Germans were the obermensch, the master race. Jews, Slavs, Gypsies were the untermensch, the inferior peoples who barely had the right to exist.

The Puritans dehumanized Native Americans, white Americans dehumanized African Americans, Irish Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland dehumanized one another, as do Jews and Arabs in the Mideast, and Shiite and Sunni Muslims. In every case, one attributes to the “other” characteristics that prove that they are not fully human by the use of stereotypes — “illegals,” for example. The American soldiers who tortured, beat, raped and murdered Iraqis dismiss their victims as “rag heads.” The rest of us are able to ignore the pain and the grief of ordinary Iraqis, as I learned from responses to my last column, by arguing that Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 attack or that Saddam Hussein killed far more than have died under our inept and unplanned “occupation.”

The first argument is ignorant. Bush administration officials have admitted in whispers that no evidence has been found of a link between al-Qaida and Iraq. It is also immoral because it assumes that revenge is appropriate. The second argument reveals twisted immorality. Because Saddam was a mass murderer, Americans are not responsible for our failure to protect Iraqis when we have taken charge of their country. He was worse than we are, he killed through commission, we kill (for the most part) through omission. Our only sins were to make war on the basis of false arguments with little understanding of the people whose social system we destroyed and to establish an occupation of arrogant incompetence. Thus the ineffable Paul Wolfowitz, the intellectual architect of the Iraq war, could say, “I think that there are ethnic differences in Iraq, but they are exaggerated.”

Right! The Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites will be too busy celebrating our liberation to kill one another. It is unlikely that Wolfowitz assumes any responsibility for what went wrong.

So you see, the e-mail that makes this argument implies, why should we feel any guilt because Saddam was much worse than we are? Baldly stated, that argument is nonsense and immoral nonsense at that. Yet many Americans are still ready to use it to wash their hands of the pain and suffering, the fear and the horror of innocent Iraqis we have betrayed.

Joel Preston Smith, one of my e-mail commentators, writes he was in Iraq before the war and after it began. “If I hadn’t been treated so well, maybe I wouldn’t feel so connected to the families and friends who sheltered me, fed me, helped me do my work. But I see the vast majority of Iraqis as incredibly kind, thoughtful people. And it is a knife in my heart, every day, to see them suffer.” Many Americans do feel a similar knife, but many others dispense themselves from any feelings of grief or responsibility.

Moreover, when Americans finally “cut and run” — as Ronald Reagan did in Lebanon — there is no reason to think that Baathist leaders of the insurgency (from the safe haven of Syria) will not re-install Saddam or someone as bad as he was.

The man who was to lead the military police contingent into Iraq was promised 20 battalions of MPs. At the last minute, to prove Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s point that not many troops would be needed to dispose of Saddam, his contingent was cut to three battalions. If he had his full complement, he might have been able to prevent the looting that provided weapons for the insurgency. Rumsfeld dismissed the looting as something that was inevitable and not important. “Stuff happens.”

Are all Americans responsible for the administration’s ignorance and arrogance in Iraq? Surely not. Yet those who still defend the war with clichés and phony arguments despite all the published evidence to the contrary are whistling in the dark as they pass the graveyard.

August 4, 2006


~ by r7fel on August 7, 2006.

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