While I was writing my Vietnam Seabee novel, Asphalt and Blood, I read a number of memoirs by former soldiers in the conflict. I was somewhat surprised to learn that the U.S. Army purposefully trained its troops to consider the Vietcong and North Vietnamese soldiers as lesser forms of humans. I suppose that I shouldn’t have been surprised. The depiction of the Japanese enemy during World War II had been even more racist. In fact, the depiction of Germans in World War I as rapacious “Huns” was part of the same process.
The psychological purpose of such demonization is to make it easier for the trainee to kill the enemy in combat. If one is taught to hate the other side, killing becomes a reasonable reaction. Many of the electronic warfare games of today originated in military training programs designed to condition the user to “zapping” another human being.
While the military usefulness of such approaches may be understandable in times of war, why have we seemingly extended “demonization” to include just about anyone with whom we disagree? The practice has been particularly virulent during the recent U.S. election cycle. The practice was not exclusive to either party but extended across the spectrum of politics.