When the enemy is all too human
Somewhere along my journey of understanding violence, oppression, conflict, and hate, I heard that the basis behind humankind’s destruction of one another lies in the dehumanization of the other. Don’t get too close; don’t look them in the eye. In fact, stay as far away as you can, be afraid, the enemy does not feel, the enemy cannot relate to you. Better yet, give them animal traits and savage characteristics that help you reason your superiority in relation to them. Create a right and wrong polarity complex and put them on the wrong side, creating a moral responsibility to which you must respond by eliminating them. Us vs. Them. Game on.
And it works. Which is why the tactic has been used in many conflicts throughout history and continues to be used in more terrifying ways today including nuclear bombs, missiles, and drones. You know, that push of a button phenomenon, the ultimate disconnect to humanity. Research tells us that it’s generally difficult to convince a human being to commit an act of violence against his or her own species. So more and more of our warfare technology prevents the enemy from representing itself before you as a human being. Out of sight, out of mind. A magical trick we play on our psyche to excuse the fact that we are literally self-combusting.
But the situation I have observed here in Colombia has taken me by surprise. The enemy here is very human. The enemy here is a friend and schoolmate from the neighbourhood. She is a former co-worker. He is an uncle and a step-father. The enemy here hurls insults across the fence at you, watching you struggle to survive every morning while they steal your food, throw fireballs at your houses, beat up your young men, and threaten to rape your children.
I understand the disconnect of the CEO to the labourer, the drone operator to the civilian casualty, the policy writer to the subsistence farmer. I get it. And so the tactic then is to enlighten the CEO with a visit to his company’s factory, invite the drone operator to live with the casualty’s family, have the policy writer work on a small farm that attempts to make a living while in competition with the global market. But how does one move forward when the enemy is in your backyard? The enemy already knows your family, your working conditions, and the value of your day’s work, but continues to make your life impossible?
I have no solutions, I boast no ‘one size fits all’ bandaid to an ever-evolving dynamic of conflict and it’s intricacies. But I will continue to ask questions, walk alongside those seeking justice and peace, and refuse to let a lack of answers deter my commitment to action.