11 November: Sacrifice in War II: Dehumanising the Enemy-Victim

 

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Neither war comics, nor old films nor computer games could remotely be described as subtle: the enemy does not appear as a fellow human being. The Great War poet Wilfred Owen’s describes a dream encounter in a Western Front tunnel:his  dawning realisation of the humanity of his visitant in ‘Strange Meeting‘ illustrates the dehumanising that allows industrial slaughter to take control.

It is not clear whether this enemy, the man he had recently killed, was a German or perhaps his peaceable true self:

With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,

Lifting distressful hands as if to bless.

Wilfred Owen,  Strange Meeting

That ‘slaughter’ should be personified as taking control shows how war de-personalises, de-humanises people. War, conflict and death are seen as irresistible, superhuman powers, sweeping away combatant and civilian alike, powers that were indeed personified by the ancients, like John’s four horsemen (Revelation 6), or in Shakespeare’s play:

… Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,

With Atë by his side come hot from Hell,

Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice

Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war …  Julius Caesar III.i. 270-273.

While War and Death are personified, the enemy is depersonalised. But for the industrialist selling arms to his own or any other country’s forces is a source of profit. The individuals whose lives are at risk do not enter his mind or heart.

MMB.

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Filed under Daily Reflections, poetry

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