Thursday, April 12, 2012

GlobalMedia: Sam Keen, 9/11, War and Metaphor (U8-P1) [VID]

Why is it that during times of war people see the enemy of as animals, as monsters, as barbarians, as devil or death?  Put differently, why do people dehumanize the enemy?  What purpose does it serve?

Social psychologist Sam Keen offers some answers.

How do we dehumanize?  Why do we dehumanize?  Why do we make the enemy less than human?

According to Keen, there are a dozen or so common ways that the enemy is seen.
  • Enemy-as-Animal, 
  • Enemy-as-Barbarian, 
  • Enemy-as-Death, 
  • Enemy-as-Enemy-of-God, 
  • Enemy-as-Criminal, 
  • Enemy-as-All-the-Same
  • etc.

Keen argues that the enemy is dehumanized because it justifies the killing of the enemy. If the enemy is not a civilized human like us, then, according to Keen, the guilt associated with killing then enemy is greatly lessened and killing is easier.

Faces of the Enemy: Reflections of the Hostile Imagination : The Psychology of Enmity by Sam Keen

During World War II the Nazis dehumanized Jewish people. Notice the dehumanization of Jewish people in the Nazi propaganda film called the "Eternal Jews".  Watch at least the first five minutes of the film.  What was the purpose of this dehumanization of Jewish people?

Note: See in relationship between dehumanizing an enemy in war time and racism?

Spot any dehumanization in the following U.S. training film from World War II?

The following is a 1945 World War II propaganda film released by the U.S. War Department entitled "Know Your Enemy: Japan"

Even Dr. Seuss took part in the propaganda effort.  See the presentation "Dr. Seuss Goes to War:The World War II Editorial Cartons of Theodor Seuss Geisel" (see specifically 35:00-44:00).

Dr. Seuss Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel

Other examples from WWII, Cold War, etc.:


So, dehumanization of the enemy was done in the past all over the world.  Does it still happen in the 21st century?  That's the question that my co-author and I asked in our study of editorial cartoons of bin Laden and the Taliban after the events of 9/11.

Hart, W. B. & Hassencahl, F. (2002). Dehumanizing the enemy in editorial cartoons. In B. Greenberg (Ed.). Communication and Terrorism: Public and Media Responses to 9/11 (pp. 137-155). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

The study began with the observation of the way that President Bush talked about the enemy and how editorial cartoonist subsequently depicted the Taliban and bin Laden.

NBC News: Days of Crisis: George Bush and 9/11
(see 20:45-24:55 using the above link or see video clip below.)

In short, our study found that people (U.S. leaders and editorial cartoonist, in this case) continued to use the dehumanizing visual metaphors identified by Keen -- enemy-as-animal, enemy-as-barbarian, enemy-as-criminal, etc.

We closed our book chapter in the same way I'll close this blog post.

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