The dehumanizing effect of opposing war

Yes, you read that right: The dehumanizing effect of opposing war. Say what?

A vast amount has been written on the dehumanizing effects of war — essays, commentary, treatises and works of literature many of which deserve to be required reading in every school and college around the world.

Yet the dehumanizing effect of opposing war is a subject on which I haven’t I’ve read a single word.

But how could opposing war be dehumanizing? Isn’t opposition to war one of the most humanitarian of expressions?

Certainly it should be, yet here is where such opposition frequently deviates away from its humanitarian roots: opposition to war morphs into opposition to war makers.

Once the focus becomes the war makers — the governments, the corporate interests, the political lobbies, the opinion makers and so forth — then it becomes possible to view something like the chemical attacks in Damascus as some kind of manufactured event.

Having made that shift, it then becomes that much easier to become emotionally disengaged.

Here’s a small boy struggling for his life:

Do you wonder whether this has been ‘faked’? Are you afraid that the propagation of videos of this type is happening purely for the purposes of political manipulation? Do you think that this kind of suffering reveals something about the barbaric nature of the Middle East? Do you feel that Americans are being coerced into giving attention to an issue that should not involve Americans?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might want to consider whether you are suffering from the dehumanizing effect of opposing war.

The other day in response to an op-ed on the chemical attack in Damascus, someone wrote a comment on this site which included this:

I do not think any Western government has any moral standing to say anything about the killing of citizens given its own view on killing its own citizens. I’m appalled by the whole mess and the West’s economic and ideological entanglement and the simpering nonsense feed [sic] to the public by the elite media outlets. I just want to stick my head in the ground and not think or know anything about the snafu that is our Western vision, just now, of international affairs.

There is a disarming level of honesty and sense of frustration in anyone admitting that they would prefer to remain ignorant. But to object to the hypocrisy of Western governments does not require that we prevent ourselves from having a human reaction to the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Just because Barack Obama and David Cameron make sanctimonious statements about the use of chemical weapons being intolerable doesn’t mean that we should do the reverse.

If we do that — if we come to regard the slaughter of thousands as somehow inconsequential — it’s time to ask whether our opposition to war is truly that or whether it’s merely a desire that war not intrude on our lives, eat up our tax dollars, and fill our TV screens.

Has opposition to war been reduced to nothing more than a desire that it would go away?

(The videos in this post came from Joanna Paraszczuk’s latest post at EA WorldView.)

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6 thoughts on “The dehumanizing effect of opposing war

  1. bobs

    Not sure whom you’re talking to here. I think I speak for many when I say:

    1. At this point, I believe the chemical attacks were ordered by Assad’s forces. I could be wrong, but all the evidence I’ve seen point that way. Why the hedging? Because one would have to be a fool to believe news from the region — any news — is not filtered through massive propaganda on both sides. Remember the baby incubators, remember the slam-dunk case for WMDs, the “these are not assertions,” the mushroom clouds, etc. To say that skeptics have been dehumanized is too easy.

    2. Fine, so let’s punish Assad. How do you do that? And how do you know what you do will not prolong the conflict? Luttwak was on to something the other days when he said the West’s objective should be to drag out the conflict as long as possible. Is that what you want? If not, then what would you do?

  2. Giovanna

    are the attacks confirmed? do we know who perpetrated them? i need to know. does anyone know for sure?

  3. Paul Woodward

    I’m talking to people who have an unshakable conviction that for the last two years, the West has been searching for a pretext to launch military action against Syria; who every time there is an atrocity immediately declare “false flag”; who believe that a US-Zionist conspiracy lurks behind every conflict; and who believe that everything that appears in the mainstream media is a lie and that anything that appears on or Press TV is worth talking seriously.

    Skepticism is fully warranted — that’s why I posted Zvi Bar’el’s analysis where he runs through the plethora of theories on who perpetrated the attacks. But skepticism must be applied with consistency and with a realistic understanding that the differences between a state-controlled media such as Syria’s and a free press are not trivial.

    The scale of the casualties in Damascus points firmly in the direction of Assad’s forces and the use of industrially produced weapons. This wasn’t a sequel to the Aum Shinrikyo subway attacks in Japan in 1995.

    Even so, to be fairly confident that Assad should be held responsible doesn’t imply that cruise missiles are the answer. Western military action at this point will certainly have the appearance of doing little more than serve the vanity of Obama et al in satisfying a short-term desire to stand tall and avoid the risk of “red lines” looking like hollow threats.

    That the policies of the US and its allies may indeed have had the effect of prolonging the conflict is not the same as suggesting that they have had this purpose. It is probably more accurate to describe the Western approach as representing a lack of any coherent policy, driven by a vague hope that with a limited amount of external interference an internal resolution would be found in which the Assad regime would be toppled and replaced by something preferable that had the appearance of being democratic.

    If I was to predict what will happen now, it seems quite likely but far from certain that Obama will order the launch of cruise missiles — a large enough number that in the view of the White House and Pentagon, Assad has been sent a stern warning not to use chemical weapons again. Whether it has that effect or any meaningful effect on the course of the war is highly debatable. More likely is that it will a bit of American muscle flexing that is quickly forgotten.

    If Obama was courageous and imaginative (and envisioning that possibility itself requires a big leap of imagination) then he would jump on the opening that has just been provided by Iran’s President Rouhani who acknowledged and condemned the use of CW. If the US didn’t stand in the way of Iran’s participation, Iran and Turkey could be the driving forces in the search for a political solution.

  4. Paul Woodward

    Given that even Syria’s closest ally, Iran, acknowledges that a chemical weapons attack occurred, the fact that it took place seems beyond debate at this point.

    Given that the Syrian government has never disputed that it possesses CW — it has merely disputed the circumstances in which it would use them; given that the possession of CW by any rebel group is a matter of pure conjecture; given that the areas where the CW attacks occurred were already under artillery fire; and given the scale of the casualties suggest the use of industrially produced weapons, the weight of the evidence leans heavily in the direction that the attack was launch by the Syrian military. That still leave open the possibility that the attack occurred under the direction of a rogue commander — but that doesn’t seem particularly plausible.

    When questioned in the Russian media about the attack, Assad said this:

    We stand accused that our army used chemical weapons in an area that is under the control of militants. In fact, in this area there is no clear front line between the army and militants.

    And how can the government use chemical weapons — or any other weapons of mass destruction — in a place where its troops are concentrated?

    Those assertions might have carried a bit of weight if as soon as reports about casualties started appearing they included videos of Syrian soldiers suffering the effects of the attack. If such videos existed, there’s little doubt they would have appeared in the Syrian media and on the internet by now. As far as I’m aware, they don’t exist.

    Do we know for sure who launched the attack? No. But Assad’s actions subsequent to the attack have only added to the suspicion that it was launched by his forces. He had the opportunity to rush UN inspectors to the site shortly after the attack, where they would have had the opportunity to gather evidence proving that it was not been carried out by the military, but instead he chose to keep the inspectors out and continue hitting the area with artillery fire. See also my response to bobs

  5. bobs

    Giovanna: Once you factor out all the noise, it’s hard to come up with any other conclusion: Assad did it.

    But even if he didn’t, I am not sure it changes matters fundamentally. Someone did it. Assad’s opponents include a bunch of nasties, so who knows? This is a few hundred dead on top of a pile of 100K. What’s happening in the region is a carnage and the only decent question to ask is: What can we do to stop it?

    I think Paul nailed it. The solution is a negotiated settlement involving all parties, with Iran and Turkey leading the charge. There’s a clash of the tectonic Shia-Sunni plates playing out before our eyes and the big question is how to defuse that tension.

    My fear is that many of the actors (e.g., Saudi Arabia, US) see this as a vehicle to destroy all Shia influence in the region. At the same time, the ascendancy of groups like the Al Nusra Front terrifies them, so they might work for a replay of the Iraq-Iran war and make sure it goes on as long as possible.

    Certainly as long as Iran is not defanged, the US will keep the conflict active.

  6. Giovanna

    “If Obama was courageous and imaginative (and envisioning that possibility itself requires a big leap of imagination) then he would jump on the opening that has just been provided by Iran’s President Rouhani who acknowledged and condemned the use of CW. If the US didn’t stand in the way of Iran’s participation, Iran and Turkey could be the driving forces in the search for a political solution.”

    yes. and thank you both.

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