Humanize the Enemy

"How many men does it take to defend Paris?—Nobody knows. It's never been tried!" - told by my then-curate when France had made itself politically unpopular again.

I was involved in one discussion about various aspects of the conflicts in the holy land, and one person posted about a disabled person, giving a picture of him in his wheelchair and giving him a name, before talking about the carnage when he was murdered among other Israeli Jews celebrating Sukkot.

I collected together my contributions to that conversation, and was going to post it, but it came together as too haphazard, not a coherent post in itself. However, I would like to stitch together what was of merit in what I said.

The movie Four Weddings and a Funeral (one friend said he knew it would pack a nasty whallop when he heard how highly it was praised) has a happy ending, of sorts, that hinges on a bride being betrayed by her groom, publicly jilted at the altar. And very interestingly, we don't know the bride's name. Her name is presumably under the strategically placed flowers in front of her wedding invitation, but it is completely blocked out and not even a part of one letter was clear to be seen. And her face was never shown. The closest was her turned-away head after she slapped him.

One friend talked about a war movie showing U.S. and Japanese pilots in dogfights, and the camera always showed the faces of the U.S. citizens and never those of the Japanese.

One of the things that happens in war is to demonize the enemy: to show the human faces of "Us" and not give a human face to "Them". I do not now assert as significant what I asserted about the original article: that it gave a human face to Israeli Jews and not Arab Muslims. He intended only to post a tiny sliver of the picture and really give one human face as a stand-in for many more faces (like Nobel Prizes honor one e.g. physicist but more generally honor physics in general by picking out one physicist as having made an exceptional contribution). It seems possible to me that if he had things to do over again, he would have given a human face to one representative of Israeli Jews and one representative of Palestinian Muslims. And when I had raised my concerns, one person whom I take for an Israeli Jew humanized one Palestinian who had served him as a translator and had become more than that, a friend, whom he named.

In wartime, the enemy, whomever that may be, is demonized and denied a human face, and this should never be. I do not here advocate for or against the Western conception of just war or any sides in the Russian-Ukrainian and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. But I note that when people are being goaded to war, one of the first things that happens as they are denied a human face, like the Japanese pilots, like the betrayed bride.

I was raised in a Mennonite peace church. Now Amish may be regarded as quaintly conservative (if a little less quaint when supply chain disruptions hit almost everyone else), but the Anabaptist movement from which both came was called the Radical Reformation, and was an anarchist wing, arguably as far from Rome as you can get and still believe the Trinity and the Incarnation. But I have moved far from my roots here, and I stopped being a pacifist, not because I became convinced that the Sermon on the Mount is a nice ideal but sometimes we need to compromise, but from recognition that I was an Orthodox in communion with warrior-saints and passion-bearers and I hold no authority to reject a saint the Orthodox Church has glorified as pleasing to God. I started believing that the Incarnation manifests in icons and sacraments, an Orthodox foundation that is totally alien to the Radical Reformation.

But one thing I believe the peace church was absolutely right about was in giving everyone, friend or foe, a human face. Even if it means, like one Marine I spoke with, manning a camera that guides drones that are shooting at people, and watching as Jihadists turn and "wave for the camera" before being killed. That was difficult work, but it should have been difficult work.

The work of dehumanizing opponents makes it easier to dismiss what is theirs and easier to work at killing them, but it dehumanizes us in the process. This is not just in military conflicts. When I was studying at Fordham, having traveled by a route that had passed through reading Roman neo-conservatives in First Things at length, I heard assertions made about neo-conservatives that I could not in fact deny, but neither could I connect it with the face of Roman neo-conservatives as I had read them. But denying the human face of neo-conservatives makes it far easier to dismiss their arguments without considering them.

One Orthodox counselor and priest I met talked about working about a Mennonite counseling practice where, in World War II, the Mennonites had waved no flags when our boys went out to the war, but when they came back, the Mennonites said, "These are walking wounded!" I mentioned to him a documentary that had me feel something like patriotism when it discussed, for Mennonites who were doing alternative service as conscientious objectors in lieu of military service, and the authorities decided as an ultimate degrading punishment for those yellow-bellied cowards was to put them in charge of an insane asylum. One vignette had a man who was in a straitjacket (trying to) take a swing at one of the Mennonites, and then quivering because he knew that when he did that he would get beaten. In fact he did not get beaten; the Mennonite whom he had tried to hit said, "Now, Bernie, we don't do that," and that was the full extent of disciplinary action he received. Within a few months the conscientious objectors, on no formal training beyond "Love your neighbor as yourself," had everybody out of straitjackets and had a community life going. The counselor I was speaking with said, "I believe it."

What those successes hinged on is that the Anabaptist practice was to see the human face of everybody involved: to see soldiers returning from war as walking wounded humans, and no less to see people with behavioral health issues (whom it was perfectly politically correct then to regard as sub-human) as having a human face, and with one group and the other to believe "Love your neighbor as yourself," still fully applies.

I would have people see the human face of all people involved: Israeli Jews mowed down by Hamas terrorists, Arab Muslims including Hamas terrorists, and Palestinian Christians for whom the State of Israel has gone beyond their previous bulldozing of Christian homes in Gaza.

Now I do not believe that all beliefs and all practices, or all actions and courses of action are the same. I believe that Jihad is Islam in normal working order and Muslims who seem moderate to the West are a kind of lukewarm "Islam" Israeli Jews and Arab Muslims hate each other and would see most of the other simply dead, and like the U.S. who used the Japan that had attacked Pearl Harbor as a testing-grounds for nuclear weapons in World War II (John Hersey wrote Hiroshima to give the victims of that experiment a human face), we showed the human vengeance that "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" was supposed to temper. The same taking human sin of a worse vengeance today is showing forth in Israel's terrorist acts against civilians in Gaza in response to Hamas terrorists attacks against Israeli civilians, and if Israel pursues its announced course enough to wipe Palestine off the map and leave scarcely any Palestinians left to take revenge, it is not clear to me why Muslims would not seize the opportunity and try to wipe Israel off the map. And under Atheislam in the West, historically Muslim countries may find enough in the West sympathies that extend far further to the Palestinians than to the Israeli. Hatred of Jews may have a bad name in the U.S., but that may be crumbling among sweeping changes.

The Creation story in Genesis 1 says a couple of things. In an ancient world where kings alone were created in the image of God, Genesis 1 says that the entire human race was created in the image of God. But the story of Adam and Eve has another implication: the entire human race has faces as members of the same family. Gandhi's collected autobiographical quotes are published under the title of All Men are Brothers, but this title is no unique pacifist innovation; the idea that one's relative, one's people, and the entire human race are one family is asserted as basic human majesty in C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man. And incidentally Lewis critiques the Jingoist who makes love end with one's people, but he accepts as legitimate what I told a Korean roommate on his asking me: "Love Koreans, and let that be a stretching of spiritual wings to loving the whole human race." Perhaps it is more politically correct to omit this now, but acknowledging a legitimate impulse does not cede it to be the unique possession of Jingoists.

In Terry Pratchet's Jingo, an island of great wealth is started and dominos are falling in a brewing war between New York / London, and the Arab world. At one point the Patrician is asked by people on his side want to own the island, and he says, "They're showing a healthy entrepreneurial spirit, anxious to make the best of every opportunity." Then he is asked why the other side wants to own the island, and he says, "They're just a bunch of thieving, money-grubbing bastards out for every penny they can get." (The Patrician asks if he had gotten that reversed.) But Jingoism is a live danger, seeing the humanity of one's peeps and denying the human face of one's enemies, and a necessary restraint is to present all actors as having a human face. Perhaps human decisions can be far from equal: but the people making, and affected by, decisions all have a human face and should be treated as such.

The admittedly imperfect happy ending to Four Weddings and a Funeral might have rung even more hollow if the movie gave the betrayed bride a name and showed her human face. However, if we cannot get somewhere denying the enemy a human face, perhaps it is somewhere we should not be going. I do not deny that watching hunted men "wave for the camera" makes it harder for a warrior to use a drone to kill people, and I do not entertain much hope that Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims will have a spontaneous truce like the Christmas truce in World War I in 1914. Both fall short of a splendor we were made for as long as they all wish all of the other dead except a few servants. But both should have a human face, as the parties in Russia and all the parties in Ukraine. If I have repented of believing that Christians should not ever kill people, I nonetheless hold something that should be never ceded as a unique possession of peace churches: that all people are made in the image of God and all should be portrayed as a human face.

Could we portray the human face of Israeli children and the human face of Palestinian children?

Yours Truly,
Br. Christos
(C.J.S. Hayward)