Culture Fail – Dehumanizing the Enemy

After the terrible events of the recent shooting in Wisconsin, many are left with questions. “Why?” being the most prevalent. What kind of person can just open fire on strangers? The answer is- for better or worse- a soldier. Wade Michael Page was an aggressive neo Nazi, he was racist, violent and unbalanced. And then he spent 6 years in the military being trained to kill. Now make no mistake, this is not an indictment of the military as a whole. It’s naïve to think that we should all just throw down our guns and give each other hugs. No matter how awesome that would be, it’s not going to happen. The military serves a purpose, but I can’t but wonder if it’s serving its people.


To train a person to kill, you must first detach that person from their humanity, their empathy, and their ability to see their target as a human themselves. Dehumanizing the enemy has been a military tactic for thousands of years, for this reason racism and religious bigotry are rampant within the military. After all, why bother worrying if your soldier is being racist toward the enemy? If anything it makes them more aggressive, easier to control, and less likely to hesitate. Some men and women have been trained this way and walked away from their military experience rather well adjusted. Some are able to leave that mindset behind them and reintegrate back into society. Others cannot.


This is not the first time a former soldier has left the trenches cold, unsympathetic, and unable to differentiate between man and monster. And it won’t be the last. But this entire scenario smacks of training a dog to bite, and then being horrified when it does. This man was already an intolerant bigot, but instead of helping him, we put a gun in his hand and told him to shoot. Now it’s entirely possible that he might have carried out this scenario if he had never served in the military at all. But this kind of violence, racism, and religious intolerance is not uncommon in veterans. Since we’re already spending the ungodly amount on defense that we are, is it so hard to ask that we have more in depth services to help these men and women readjust? To help the find their humanity again? Training someone to kill is not hard, the road back is much more difficult. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

By Magdalen O’Reilly