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This is the a research paper written for one of my college courses, due to it’s academic nature it is presented with full citations and a bibliography, exactly as it was turned in, because this is the internet and the denizens therein are a distract-able lot I did add a bunch of pictures to keep everyone’s attention in between the long boring bits with the words 😉 this is the first of two academic papers I’ll be publishing on this site, because A. ready made material and B. I’m particularly proud of both documents.


The act of dehumanization is defined by Miriam Webster as “to deprive of human qualities, personality, or spirit”. More fluidly in its applied state, dehumanization is the act of a country reducing their enemy to a status of less than human both in the eyes of their soldiers and their citizenry. (1) It has been a facet of warfare since we first evolved social groups. (2)“They are foul pagans!” “Look at the tone of their skin!” “They do X, Y and Z like filthy barbarians!” Those three sentences in one form or another have been at the heart of dehumanization from the very start finding the little lines that separate, making the foe seem brutal and alien, classifying them as “the other”.
As an academic I first became aware of the process of dehumanization as I studied and learned about the Second World War. I was bitten by the bug early and the study of that particular era of history remains my abiding passion. Even as a boy and young man I was taken aback by the sheer amount of negative backlash I received when I expressed interest in the German side of the war. To my mind the German Soldiers were merely men, soldiers like I wanted to be, fighting for their country. As I read further in to their stories, books like “Soldat” by Siegfried Knappe and other biographies and collections of information, I found the vast majority of the German Wermacht to be utterly honorable warriors by even modern civilized standards.

That the Third Reich was inherently an evil entity is not in discussion, especially embodied by the SS, the main instrument of many of the Nazi party. Having said this where does the hatred and spite for the common German Soldat (Soldier, also the equivalent rank of “Private”) come from? In the words of Oberst (Colonel) Hans Ulrich Rudel “Can’t you see? I never fought for a political party, only for Germany”.

"Slap a Jap"

The Second World War is filled with powerful examples of dehumanization on all sides of the conflicts with the Soviet propaganda machine depicting Germans as “ravening beasts” (4). Other examples hit far closer to home with US propaganda depicting the famously buck tooth and near sighted “japs”. Even before the war a lot of attention was given to the Japanese treatment of the Chinese with actions that were declared to be beyond the pale of civilized warfare. (5)

That is the start of dehumanization, of making an enemy something “else”. They are cast as purely evil, lower in the eyes of your civilization and in the harshest light possible. The psychology behind it all is that it will allow soldiers to kill easier, and it will lend more support from the civilian population. Indeed in many interviews and quotes from the Second World War and the wars following it such as Vietnam, the distance created by dehumanization is what allowed many troops to continue fighting the enemy, to safely process what they were inflicting and what was being inflicted upon them.

One point of note for dehumanization from the Soldier’s perspective during both World Wars is that for the most part veterans of both sides will say that they respected their enemy after the fact and that they fought with honor. While this is much more common during World War Two in the European theater of war as opposed to the Pacific, this can be ascribed to conduct on the battlefield and conduct towards POWs through out the conflict. Where the majority of the Wermacht conducted themselves by “civilized” rules of warfare and tended to treat allied POWs fairly well. The Japanese were following in their own standards of warfare and their own dehumanization propaganda which built the Japanese up as a superior race over inferiors and regarded captured and defeated enemies as honor-less dogs and treated these unfortunate captives accordingly.

The Japanese conduct of war was much more brutal over all during the war both against US forces and during the invasion of China earlier in the conflict. As an example of some of their methods, Japanese troops were taught to cry out “Corpsman! Corpsman!” in English if they were wounded and left on the battlefield and to kill the responding US medic with a grenade or other weapon upon his arrival. This and other tactics lead to an entrenching of the dehumanization propaganda spread by the United States that the enemy was “uncivilized” and “barbaric”.

Anti Jew WW2 Propaganda

To the politician dehumanization can be used for civil tasks as well. Back in the old American South, African Americans were reduced to the level of livestock or furniture, dehumanization working culturally to make the South’s “peculiar institution” acceptable and normal to the local populace, and the wider population of the United States at large before the country started dividing over the issue. Even after the American Civil War it took numerous decades to reverse the generations of dehumanization that resulted in massive prejudice against African Americans in the US. Similarly dehumanization was a powerful tool in Adolf Hitler’s Germany with massive amounts of propaganda aimed against the Jews was well as other so-called undesirables such as homosexuals, gypsies and the mentally infirm. This was mixed in with a strong nationalist message and many people willingly went along with what Hitler was selling especially in the financially and spiritually broken Germany after the First World War.

Modern dehumanization doesn’t exist on the same scale that it did in previous wars. Even as recently as the Vietnam war, the US propaganda machine has for all intents and purposes been shut down and replaced with twenty four hour news services such as CNN. Concepts such as “tolerance” and “political correctness” have all but ended outright dehumanization in the propaganda sense of our enemies. It does still exist but it is in a more direct format, broadcasts depicting beheadings and other brutal acts by the Insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken the place of the “Slap a Jap” posters of yesteryear and the culture of both nations is under constant scathing fire for things such as women’s rights, and other forms of religious and social oppression. This has much the same effect as depicting them as beneath the wise, far more progressive Americans but it does it in a manner that is more acceptable and palatable to the times.

Inside the Armed Forces things have also changed to be more reflective of the times, instead of showing propaganda films and cartoons that dehumanize the foe to make the GI, Marine or Sailor more likely to engage the enemy in a lethal manner, the service branches give cultural sensitivity briefings and offer computer based classes and study units based on the nations and regions that units are deploying to and encourage or order service members to learn from them. All official dehumanization of a specific foe is completely forbidden, and the distribution of material in that vein could easily result in a court martial or other serious form of punishment.

Standard anti-german propaganda, note the over exaggerated features and characteristics

The dehumanization has instead gone underground to the smoke pits and after hours chats in the barracks, especially amongst the enlisted troops. Slang terms such as “hadji” and “raghead” are in common use for troops of all races and racial slurs and jokes against the enemy are extremely common. Mixed with stories of combat and the enemy’s behavior during it, and reports of the latest murder of civilians by suicide bombing, or the torture and beheading of a fellow serviceman is more then enough to keep the process of dehumanization alive and well, if underground.

To really investigate the modern scope of what I’ll refer to as propaganda or social dehumanization without leaning on my own experiences in the military I conducted a series of interviews with fellow servicemen of all ranks and grades, some with combat experience others without and got a “snap shot” of the general condition of dehumanization in today’s armed forces.* All of the responding individuals reported dehumanization of enemy forces as common place, but none of it official in any format. The one officer interviewed pointed out that referring to the enemy forces as “Taliban”, “insurgents”, “targets”, “hadji” and so forth are actually also a method of dehumanization by separating the enemy from terms like “people” or “person”. (6)

The majority of dehumanization took the form of jokes and banter as previously stated mostly focusing on real world aspects of native behavior that is found distasteful to western sensibilities and morality such as what one respondent called “the dreaded left hand of hadji” a reference to the native version of toilet paper. Similarly incidents such as snipers on a night post catching a native performing an act of beastiality with a donkey has been blown up, exaggerated and turned in to legend that it’s common practice, whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter at this point. These people are animals and barbarians just look at these things they do!(6)

Enemy combat tactics were also derided in disgusted tones by all respondents, even those who had not seen combat. All of them saying they had absolutely no respect for the enemy in the slightest because of their cowardly hit and run tactics, their treatment of prisoners and their willingness to hide behind women and children to avoid return fire from allied forces. The officer responding in particular with his higher grasp of the tactical picture pointed out that the only advantages enemy forces in his AO had were their ability to hide amongst the civilian population and the political hamstringing allied forces faced from back home.(6)

This same officer however volunteered more information on the subject of respect and an honorable opponent saying “Just because a force is enemy is no reason for me to lose respect for them. For example, the Waffen SS fought for the worst regime ever, in my opinion. Still, they fought with honor and earned respect, for the most part. At least on the Western Front against the US/UK/Canada.” This sentiment was much the same across the numerous interviews I conducted. The social dehumanization of the Germans by the Allies was brutal and comprehensive, but after the fact the German’s battlefield conduct, treatment of POWs and so forth was such that the allied troops respected their German counterparts perhaps derailing the dehumanization process. The Germans were given this reputation for brutality but instead proved to be honorable combatants leading to the thought process, “if they act like that they really can’t be that bad”.

This dehumanization process continued in later wars, such as during the Vietnam war, with both the Viet Cong and the NVA being targeted. Both groups were perceived as cowards, hit and run fighters more akin to murderers then proper soldiers. Both groups engaged in the mutilation and torture of allied forces, and hide amongst civilian populations. All of these groups “lived down” to their dehumanization propaganda reputations and cementing the view point that they were “less then human”.

So far in this discussion of the process and function of dehumanization we haven’t really touched on the focus of what dehumanization is aimed at, allowing a functioning normal human being to kill easily and with minimal moral difficulty. Killing other humans is not something that comes naturally to people. Even for men and women raised around firearms who have been hunting for years the skill to successfully kill someone is there but the heart and intent are for the most part not.

Consider the average person who can take a human life in modern American society, there are people who have dehumanized through conditioning to be able to kill such as a gang member who grew up in that environment and lifestyle where killing was normalized and even encouraged. A soldier or a police officer who has been conditioned to be able to shoot and kill also falls in this category albeit through a very different process. Removing that type of individual we have crimes of rage and passion, these are very dissimilar from the soldier’s task or the conditioned criminal, with a crime of passion it’s all on chemicals, many people don’t actually go forth with the thought of killing someone according to the interviews after the fact.

There is only one category of person who has the ability to kill others of their species with out concern, we call these people sociopaths. They have a variety of critical mental illnesses that result in them dehumanizing everything and everyone, there is no emotion to the act of killing, no more then a normal human being does washing their hands. Thankfully these individuals are few and far between and this level of dehumanization is the last thing one would want in a soldier. That’s the point where soldiers lose their sense of who the enemy is and civilians go from people to be defended to just more targets.

The warrior and the conditioned criminal for the most part must do their killing in cold blood, going forth with the intent to kill. Situations can arise to change that, the wounding of a close friend or comrade for example but for the most part the soldier must go about his business as a competent professional in the arts of warfare, this detached coolness is literally the difference between life and death in many cases. Which returns us to that same dehumanization of the enemy, the soldier cannot be worried about if the man shooting at him has a wife or child, he is merely the enemy and must be eliminated so the soldier may be himself preserved and the mission accomplished.

WW1 I believe but still applicable

Even in an environment with high dehumanization of the enemy like in WW2 that doesn’t mean the soldiers in question are conditioned to killing the enemy. After World War 2 Brigadier General S.L.A Marshall discovered that in the European theater of operations that individual riflemen only took shots against exposed enemy soldiers 15-20% of the time. (7) Firing rates increased when ordered to by a superior or when firing from a crew served/key weapons system like a machine gun or flamethrower but for the individual combatant they appeared to be unable or willing to kill. This research was correlated by numerous other studies of foreign armed forces and by FBI studies of firing rates amongst Law Enforcement Officers. (7)

The US military and indeed armed forces world wide responded by introducing conditioning techniques to their marksmanship programs. This condition exists to this day, when Marines learn rifle marksmanship the basic target at the 200 yard line for the known distance course of fire is a standard bulls eye, but all the other targets are human silhouettes, as are all the targets provided during combat marksmanship training, where coaches also provided pinpoint instruction on these same human silhouettes on where to aim for chest, head and “mobility” (the hips and pelvis) shots. LtCol Grossman in his article “On Killing II” that the Army system where silhouette reactive targets are used, that is targets that fall down when you hit them are actually a perfect model of what is called “operant” psychological conditioning. (7)

This new method of conditioning lead to increased firing rates in Korea and even higher in Vietnam, Other countries such as England has similar results in their own conflicts. (12) Considering the methods for conditioning are still being used by the US armed forces today to condition and prepare troops for combat, I’d say the effectiveness of the methodology and the psychology behind it can’t be questioned as far as an increase of combat efficiency is concerned.

The psychology of dehumanization is therefore a dual edged sword, conditioning dehumanization or the process of conditioning a human being by training, to kill is necessary to allow soldiers to perform their duties properly in the field, thus increasing their own survival rates as well as the success rate of their missions. That same conditioning opens up the door to dehumanization of ALL human beings. Similarly with the earlier style of propaganda/social dehumanization which has now moved in to the barracks and work spaces of the military, while it can provide amusement and make it easier on the mind of a soldier to do battle with a particular enemy when it’s an enemy the soldier cannot respect at the very least as a fellow soldier it opens up the door to truly seeing the enemy as subhuman animals which could potentially lead to human rights abuses such as the Abu Ghraib scandal.

The challenge presented by the problem of dehumanization in the armed forces is a daunting task for any one to consider and as a veteran it’s my personal opinion that it’s not going away any time soon, instead of trying to “cure” dehumanization. But as Col Grossman says in one of his papers “…conditioning which overrides such a powerful, innate resistance (not taking human life) has enormous potential for psychological backlash.” (7) It’s strongly possible that the conditioning that has been running full steam from Vietnam on is one of the roots of the massive increase in PTSD cases among combat veterans since the 1970s. Which leaves us a bit of a catch 22, the conditioned dehumanization is vital to ensure the success and survival of the soldier but it is also contributing to psychological damage further down the road.

Dehumanization in both the social form and the conditioned form are fundamental parts of current military culture and military training. We need to more directly asses and study the effects of these processes to ensure the mental health and well being of members of the armed services which will allow them to accomplish their missions over seas and and abroad more effectively.

*To preserve the anonymity of the interviewees, several of whom remain on active duty, mixed with the sensitive nature of this subject, all names are being kept confidential. All references to specific locations have been scrubbed for operational security purposes. The author of this blog will not divulge personal information, reveal sources or release any of the original transcripts of aforementioned interviews in an unscrubbed format. Any release of any format of these interviews will be extremely limited in nature and at the author’s sole discretion.


1. Spencer, Dustie. “Dehumanization and Demonization of the Enemy.” dustiespencer. Dec2007. Web. 30 Jul 2011. < and-demonization-of-the-enemy>.

2. Tigerhawk, . “On dehumanizing the enemy in war and the nature of victory.” Tigerhawk. Blogspot, 16JUL2007. Web. 30 Jul 2011. <;.

3. Maiese, Michelle. “Dehumanization.” Beyond Intractability. Beyond Intractability , Jul 2003. Web. 28 Jul 2011. <;.

4. Beevor, Anthony. The Fall of Berlin, p. 199

5. “WW2 Dehumanizing the Enemy (Clip).” Web. 28 Jul 2011. <;.

6. Names Redacted, . Personal Interviews by <Redacted>. 28/29 JUL 2011. Private Collection. 28 Jul 2011.

7. Grossman, David. “On Killing II: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill.” David Grossman, n.d. Web. 28 Jul 2011. <>

The following poem is included purely to please the author’s own aesthetic sense and should not be considered a formal part of the paper. It was written by the author during the research process of this paper.


He was a German soldier

a boy of 18 years

drafted in the name of Deutchland

to stave off growing fears

He fought with courage and honor

now they spit and call him swine

what justice is this really?

the young soldat wants to know

He was fighting for his country

not some master race

that’s when they throw the pictures

in to his horrified face

bodies burnt and blackened

men who look like death but alive

pain and suffering

that none should have to survive

So now the German soldat

honor shattered and alone

realizes he will never go home

cast out and forsaken

This German soldat’s cry

I fought with honor

for my people

not to murder make

the devastation in his eyes

lends a man’s soul to shake

fighting for your country

does not evil make

So remember the German soldat

not with hate or loathing or fear

they were not the monsters

who fed on the murdered’s tears

Instead give them the dignity

the respect and honor due

a fellow warrior and opponent

who fought and battled true


I want to take a minute, this is outside the standard upload schedule, and it’s not even a true review because I have yet to read the book in question. I don’t have to though, I know this story like it was tattooed on me next to my moto tat. I got this the same way I got a lot of Marine Corps lore and history, via oral tradition and in this case from the best possible source. A man who was on the ground with the unit. It was an important part of boot camp these tales of valor and courage under fire, they taught us the example we had to live up to and not just how high the standards were but why they were so high and demanding.

I grew up with the stories up heroic Marines, Chesty Puller, John Basillone, Dan Daly, Carlos Hathcock they were my comic book heroes, stories passed on or stories gleaned from books I devoured. As I grew and when I enlisted these men became even more heroic and their feats of valor and courage even more astounding. Unlike superman they were only men, frail in the way of thing, short lived and fighting in conflicts that chewed up brave men like a meat grinder and still they persevered, still they never quit. Their dedication though, to a man of these super human individuals was to their men, to the guys around them.

SgtMaj Brad Kasal, United States Marine Corps is one of these heroes from the modern generation of Marines.

You might recognize him from this photo, it was all over the place for awhile and while I could tell you the story I think I’ll just show you all his Navy Cross citation instead.






The President of the United States
Takes Pleasure in Presenting The Navy Cross To

Bradley A. Kasal
First Sergeant, United States Marine Corps

For Services as Set Forth in the Following Citation:


For extraordinary heroism while serving as First Sergeant, Weapons Company, 3d Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Regimental Combat Team 1, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Central Command in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on 13 November 2004. First Sergeant Kasal was assisting 1st Section, Combined Anti-Armor Platoon as they provided a traveling over watch for 3d Platoon when he heard a large volume of fire erupt to his immediate front, shortly followed by Marines rapidly exiting a structure. When First Sergeant Kasal learned that Marines were pinned down inside the house by an unknown number of enemy personnel, he joined a squad making entry to clear the structure and rescue the Marines inside. He made entry into the first room, immediately encountering and eliminating an enemy insurgent, as he spotted a wounded Marine in the next room. While moving towards the wounded Marine, First Sergeant Kasal and another Marine came under heavy rifle fire from an elevated enemy firing position and were both severely wounded in the legs, immobilizing them. When insurgents threw grenades in an attempt to eliminate the wounded Marines, he rolled on top of his fellow Marine and absorbed the shrapnel with his own body. When First Sergeant Kasal was offered medical attention and extraction, he refused until the other Marines were given medical attention. Although severely wounded himself, he shouted encouragement to his fellow Marines as they continued to clear the structure. By his bold leadership, wise judgment, and complete dedication to duty, First Sergeant Kasal reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

Damn, what can you say about something like that, the details reveal that SgtMaj Kasal (he’s been promoted since this event and remains on active duty as of this writing) took seven 7.62x39mm rounds and when he shielded the young Lance Corporal he went in to the building with from the grenade took 43 pieces of shrapnel. Still he kept fighting, still he never surrendered. When he finally got aid, it was estimated that he had lost 60% of his blood. What kind of courage? what kind of untold valor must this man have? What kind of hero must he be? Well when he was called a hero SgtMaj Kasal simply said this “I’m just a Marine doing his job” that last bit right there, unselfish and unwavering devotion, with humility laced in to it that is what truly makes a man a hero, whether SgtMaj Kasal agrees with the description or not he’s becoming a Legend of the Corps, one of the names taught to junior Marines as an example of a warrior spirit and a lion heart.

Semper Fidelis.