Dehumanizing or demonizing the other is a particularly common form of moral disengagement, especially during wartime or other types of conflict.
Another moral disengagement mechanism described by psychologist Albert Bandura, it refers to portraying your enemy as less than human, as some sort of vile creature.
During World War II, all factions in the conflict created posters of the enemy as a subhuman monster. In addition, propaganda and feature films of that era–as well as during the Cold War and the Vietnam War–stereotyped, sub-humanized, dehumanized, and demonized the enemy.
Consider this quote: “…[This nation is] aiming at the exclusive domination of the [world], lost in corruption, [characterized by] deep-rooted hatred towards us, hostile to liberty wherever it endeavors to show its head, and the eternal disturber of the peace of the world.”
Who do you think said that? To what nation was he referring?
The answer to the first question is Thomas Jefferson, in 1815, when he was President. The nation in question was Great Britain. Imagine what might have happened if weapons of mass destruction were available back then. Suppose Jefferson, as President, pushed Congress for a preemptive strike against Great Britain. Would a more peaceful world have been achieved?
Kathie Malley-Morrison, Professor of Psychology
Note: This post was adapted from my previously published article in Peace Psychology (a publication of the American Psychological Association), Spring, 2009.