June 17, 2004
Murder Made More Palatable
In time of war it is important to convince the combatants that they are killing the enemy and not murdering other human beings. There are a number of methods that accomplish this goal, and that can be used to good effect to distract the troops from what they are doing to their fellow man. The simplest of these devices is the ancient art of depersonalization. In the American Experience this process began during the Revolutionary War. The colonists were not shooting down other men; they were just killing Redcoats. We also killed French (Frogs) and Indians (Savages). We dispatched some Pirates and some more English (Limeys). In the Civil War, vast numbers of Johnny Rebs killed and were slain by Damn Yankees. This fiction was then a little harder to maintain since there was a possibility that a soldier would stumble over the corpse of his father, brother, or uncle on a battlefield, but we brought it off.
It has also proven useful to refer to the act of killing by using certain code words and phrases. In Vietnam, it was much easier to tell someone to "grease them," "waste them," or "hose them" than it was to point out a group of human beings and order someone to tear their flesh apart with projectiles and other assorted ordnance.
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Last updated on June 17, 2004