Marines in Afghanistan Accused of Desecrating Dead Enemy: The Consequences of Dehumanization

marinesShocking as it may be to see soldiers desecrating the bodies of the fallen enemy, we need to recognize a natural cycle that has always been the hallmark of war. Whereas the killing of humans is something society frowns upon, people and their governments create armies to aggressively protect their interests or co-opt the interests of others. To gain the moral high ground in this pursuit, a process is begun that dehumanizes the enemy. Given this, we are left to question the following: can a society dehumanize a people, train a force of soldiers to annihilate them, and then react with moral indignation when the corpses of those we demanded be killed are desecrated?

Former Army officer and Iraq War veteran Andrew M. Exum summed it up by saying, “The degree to which a squad or platoon in combat becomes calloused toward the enemy that they are facing is almost always high. There is always, always, always the temptation to abuse a detainee or pose for a picture with some dead fighter. And that’s why noncommissioned officers and commissioned officers have to be extra vigilant.”

Mr. Exum’s point is as valid when talking about the troops at war as it is when we dehumanize groups within our own society. Once begun, we have no choice but to attempt a series of checks and balances to control the far-reaching ramifications of this process. Thus, for example, we create laws that protect against discrimination by race and religion. Legislation upholds rights for the disabled, women, and LGBTQ persons as a protection against those who devalue them and would like to limit their full participation in society.

The only route to future societies that are peaceful is the universal rejection of the process of dehumanizing our fellow man—even in those cases when this process appears the most expedient means to a desired end.

by William Repicci

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