Faceless War and Dehumanization


Over the centuries of the human experience, war has changed in technological, ideological, and psychological ways. Gone are the days of young men seeing war as a personality building adventure. Although we are living in the most peaceful times, this peace is incomplete, and it was preceded by some of the most inhuman and deadly conflicts in the history of warfare. Often, an idea of a faceless war is discussed in relation to how one side always tries to dehumanize the other. I propose a project that will cover not only this point of view but also how warfare can deface the victims of war, both soldiers and civilians, as well as the technological side of this idea that became relevant these days with the advance of drone warfare.

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I believe that this project should focus mostly on the wars in the last 117 years. I think some time should be dedicated to the origins of early ideas about warfare, like the notion of war as a journey that builds a young man’s character, but to keep the project focused it would be useful to focus on the evolution of the so-called “modern warfare.” This choice is due to the proliferation of propaganda that became a critical part in the dehumanization of people during wartime. Nations quickly realized that media could be used to turn the populace against the opposing country through posters, books, films, etc. (Welch, 2015).

Subsequently, the never before seen numbers of casualties during the first and second World Wars led to dehumanizing of not only the enemy combatants but everyone who died during these wars. Perhaps, because the numbers were so incomprehensible, the idea of every digit in these figures being a unique person became detached from the number itself. Only people directly affected by those losses still have a proper perspective on this situation (Cohen, Daniels, & Eyal, 2015).

Technology is the third aspect of the faceless war that I would like to include in my project. With the invention of gunpowder, people have gotten farther and farther from seeing the people they fight on the battlefield. Even the first pilots had no way of seeing the faces of the enemy, and with time this disconnection has only grown. During the Second World War whole cities were erased from maps through bombings, with only a few bomber pilots realizing the consequences of their actions. Same thing could be said about artillery. An artilleryman almost never sees the enemy. Therefore they can only perceive them as an abstract idea of an enemy, rather than people. This situation eventually evolved into the ultimate horror of the 20th century – nuclear war. End of the world could have happened with a press of a button.

Weirdly enough, these stakes have weakened the effect of dehumanization. There was no guarantee that an ICBM operator would be willing to launch the missile knowing that it would only lead to more deaths, and would not prevent deaths of his friends and family (Lovekin, 2016). Recent years have presented a new kind of technology that was previously only imagined in science fiction. Unmanned and even autonomous weapons have become a reality with flying drones being used for air support and recon, and automated defense systems being used by South Korea on the DMZ. We live in a world where people have been killed by algorithms. There is nothing more dehumanizing than removing the human out of the equation (Podins, 2013).


I believe the evolution of dehumanization is the central controversy of this project. It is possible to see how people went from dehumanizing enemies to dehumanizing their armies through technology. I would like to address those rarely talked about aspects of it and present the most current perspective on this issue.


Cohen, I., Daniels, N., & Eyal, N. (2015). Identified versus statistical lives. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

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Lovekin, D. (2016). Technology and perpetual war: The boundary of no boundary. In J. Shaw & T. Demy (Eds.), Jacques Ellul on violence, resistance, and war. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers.

Podins, K. (2013). 2013 5th international conference on cyber conflict (CYCON 2013). Piscataway, NJ: IEEE.

Welch, D. (2015). Propaganda, power, and persuasion. London, UK: Tauris.

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