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Nico D’Amico-Barbour

Revised Essay #3

December 19, 2008

Language and Humanity

From a very early age we are taught that language is precious

and important. Many philosophers, anthropologists, archeologists, and

historians, will insist t hat the human ability for language is what truly

sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. We see every day

how language is used to create; it is used to create the fantastical

worlds of fiction we give to our children, to share our innermost

feelings, and to explain how to build a house or a car or a toaster oven.

But while language can be used to create, it can also be used to

destroy and harm. Dr. Haig Bosmajian warns against these dangers in

his essay, “Dehumanizing People and Emphasizing War.” Dr. Bosmajian

explains that while language is what makes us human, it can be used

to dehumanize others and make truly cruel and bloody acts against

them seem glorious and heroic. This side of language is seen

throughout history in Kings, Generals and other leaders who persuade

their subjects to commit inhuman and monstrous acts. While language

is the basis for our perception of the world, and creates our identity as

human beings, it can be used to take that identity away and

desensitize us to the pain we cause others, unless we are aware of how


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language is affecting us.

Language is the go-between for humanity and the world around

us. We use words to make the world real. If one man sees a rock

formation, that rock formation is real to him, but he uses language to

make it real to those who didn’t see it. We put so much faith in words. I

can say that I know that matter is made up of different atoms from the

Periodic Table of Elements, but I only know this because I have been

told. Our view of the entire world, of all of existence is there because

we have been told about it. So language holds great sway over us,

more so than the physical world even, because language creates the

physical world for us.

Language creates our human image. Our personality, our beliefs,

and our little quirks are all conveyed with language. So if language can

create our image, it can be used to destroy it. Throughout history

humans have committed horribly violent acts against each other, yet

the perpetrators, who we would think to be sociopathic monsters, have

been able to have caring and loving human interactions. Hitler, one of

the most hated and despised leaders in our history books, had gentle

interactions with friends and colleagues. He even became an uncle of

sorts to two children of one of his generals. This did not make him a

good man, but it does illustrate how individuals can view other groups

of people as less than human, while still treating their own with
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respect. Hitler viewed the Jews (and many other groups of people) as

inferior, and he was able to make much of the German population to

feel the same way. Those in a position of power have to use these

tactics during any war, even ones that are remembered as just. This is

because there is no other way that soldiers would be able to take the

lives of so many human beings, and for the citizens of a country at war

not to feel affected by the deaths of so many at their country’s hands.

When we hear of the death of a complete stranger, most of us

are barely affected, while the death of a close friend can have us

grieving and stricken with powerful emotions for weeks or months. This

is because the more we interact with someone the more we appreciate

and value him as equals. The leaders of countries at war use this to

their advantage in regards to their enemies. If they only introduce

negative images of their enemies, that don’t depict them as equals

deserving of rights, then few will object to their deaths. In World War I,

the U.S. military put out recruitment posters showing a German soldier,

depicted as a large gorilla, being subdued by three handsome U.S.A.

army men. The soldiers who had joined the army with images similar to

this in their mind would never have an issue killing the enemy German

soldiers, as they would never see them as fully human.

These dehumanizing techniques have been used in one form of

another during every major conflict in human history. In the modern


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age, however, communication technology allows those in a position to

speak with the masses to use these techniques on anyone who is

listening. No one is really sheltered from dehumanizing images and

words. In the case of the Iraq War over the last six years, the main

image of the Iraqis given to the American people was that of a terrorist

who wants to destroy America. Many Americans were swayed by the

images of the media and the words of our politicians, and saw the

Iraqis as a violent threat, not capable of peace. This is a great power in

the hands of our leaders and the media, even greater than our

weapons or our army. The ability for violence is meaningless, if

everyone is against these actions. The government would have a

difficult time going to war at all. Our weapons are not all that

dangerous, but the ability to get countless people to use those

weapons is.

It is not impossible to avoid being affected by dehumanizing and

manipulative language. Being aware that everyone around us, from

friends to newscasters on TV, has an effect on us is half the battle. The

subtle and sometimes not so subtle messages that can lead people to

view certain groups as lesser beings are almost never realized in an

epiphany. It is much more subtle than that, so being aware of how

language effects us, we can prevent ourselves from buying in to

propaganda and dehumanizing language.