Considering the contents of the different class texts reviewed for this assignment, it can be said that Maus I depicts the strongest anti-war message. The book does not explicitly state the stance of the author against war. Instead, the narration of the characters experiences from adolescence to the end of the war provides a succinct comparison that can help one to effectively understand the effects of war, the contrasts between a peaceful life in which one has no previous experience of war and a peaceful life following a war experience. Through these comparisons, a reader gets to understand the effects of war, to develop individual anti-war feelings and to synthesize emotions and contexts associated with war to such as extent that the anti-war message becomes entrained in the reader. It is deductible that unlike other books that use words to discourage war, Spiegelman uses the interplay of emotional effects and suspense to implore the reader’s ethos, pathos and logos, towards the development of intrinsic anti-war feelings.
The described life before the war gives a description of what would be considered as normalcy, and the condition in which every individual would desire to live. Particularly, the progress from childhood through to adulthood provide evidence of the comfort that people get in choices and the need to always recall certain elements of life. For instance, the author’s father at one point tells him that in defining friends, he should consider the argument that, “If you lock them up in a room with no food for a week, then you could see what it is, friends!” (Spiegelman 6). This position is a clear message that no matter the level of comfort one has with friends, they always have to be wary of what those friends can do to them. This is confirmed during the war when individuals considered friends of the family deliver Spiegelman and Anja to the authorities to be taken to prison on the pretext that they would be helping them escape to Turkey (Spiegelman 71). A clearer confirmation of this is seen in the report that, “They thought it was to Theresienstadt they were going, but they went right away to Auschwitz, to the gas” (Spiegelman 87). Such incidences provided clear perspective into the fact that during war, things do not happen as expected, and no one can be really relied on to save the others.
Other narrations of the period before war give clear indications of the kind of life people get used to including, having goals in education, business and even marriage; having options to choose from for wives and those with whom people interact. From the events preceding the war, one can built up perspective about what people miss as a result of war, and can be able to notice the difference between emotional and social relationships before and after war. The clarity of these differences is what implores readers to abhor war.
From the narration on the war itself, it is possible to see the negative impacts of war. Frist, it is clear that unlike the period before the war, the life during war is characterized by fear and suspicion. Vladek Spiegelman says “another fellow told us of a relative in Brandenberg- the police came to his house and no one heard again from him” (Spiegelman 33). Such incidences instil fear even into the reader, bringing to mind the level of fear and emotional instability that war causes. For individuals who have not experienced war before, the thought of war is initially alluring as indicated by the admission that, “for three months, I ate only salted herring and no water to lose weight” (Spiegelman 46). The anti-war perception is developed clearly through a comparison of such admission of enthusiasm for war with the eventual feelings of the same individuals who are initially hungry for war. From excitement to being prisoners of war and being constantly fearful of the war camps “it’s dangerous though, the Nazis take you off to a work camp for breaking any minor law, worse, even if you don’t break any laws! And those that are taken away, they are never seen again” (75). Such transitions and incidences are sufficient for imploring both the logos and pathos towards anti-war perspectives.
Additionally, the effects of war on various aspects of life are used to foster anti-war perspectives. From various situations in the book, it is evident that war disrupts the social status such as by weakening relationships between people as evidenced through breaking families. It also disrupts the economy by destabilizing businesses as indicated, “I went to our factory in Lodz and they said, “better go home today old man…tomorrow we’ll carry you out”” (Spiegelman 76). This comment is a confirmation that war forcefully disrupts the economic status of those in it as well as those who are not interested in war.
The transition from normalcy to stress and absent-mindedness during the post war period significantly gives an anti-war perception. The level of stress as one recalls the death of friends, changes in attitudes towards life in general as depicted by Spiegelman’s case, and general disinterest in life are all outcomes associated with war. By clearly seeing how war can completely turn around the life of someone who was previously exuberant and generous to be boring and stingy, one develops a perfect understanding of the negative effects of war and can pursue changes.
PART 2: DEHUMANIZATION IN WAR
The theme of dehumanization is inevitable in all discourses on war. Dehumanization in this context is described as the treatment of humans in a way that is not befitting for humanism. According to Bruneau and Kteily, dehumanization has been prevalent in all wars across the ages. Contexts such as in wars between Israelis and Palestinians, blatant acts of dehumanization were observed, associated with outcomes that portray the hostility of one group to another (1). Similarly, several other historical narratives give the explicit characterization of war as dehumanizing, and historical books on the same events report specific acts of dehumanization as experienced. Books such as Maus I and Maus II clearly give the impression of war as dehumanizing based on the exemplification of various incidences that occurred during the Second World War. The illustrations in the book particularly reflect this consideration of other groups as animals. Moreover, the book’s illustrations augur with the argument that since war begins in the minds of humans, all humans who would participate in a war inevitably exhibit their animalistic tendencies (Bruneau and Kteily 2), and not only dehumanize others but are also dehumanized in the process.
The theme of dehumanization in war is exhibited through various features. For instance, one of the ways through which war dehumanizes is by subjecting people to circumstances that are degrading, and in which human dignity is violated. Crawford’s report describes various such circumstances as observed in the war in Iraq. An example of these is the coercion of the enemy to endure humiliating torture and abuse, and to pose in embarrassing homosexual positions (Kowalczuk 1). These practices are indications of the violation of human dignity by the perpetrators of those acts, who additionally find it funny to pose alongside their victims, making various gestures and facial expressions that are aimed at confirming their prowess in dehumanizing others (Kowalczuk 1). Such incidences not only give the impression that some humans are more important than others and that the victims do not deserve to be accorded any human respect as the others. Similar incidences are described in Maus on the way the Nazis treated the Jews during the holocaust. A perfect example of this degradation is seen when Jews were subjected to degrading conditions in a bid to hide from their oppressors. In particular, in Maus II, Spiegelman describes one such situation as: “they took away our papers, our clothes and our hair” (25). This kind of treatment indicates that the victims were not only inferior to the oppressors, but also had no power to resist even the extraction of part of their being, namely the hair.
The consideration of others as less than human is the motivating factors behind the dehumanizing practices that people engage in during war. Describing others as animals, as evidenced in the case of the reference to Jews as rats during the holocaust; reference to Tutsis as cockroaches during the Rwandan genocide and the description of German’s as two legged animals that have mastered the art of war during the Second World War, were all circumstances that promoted the practice of dehumanizing acts on the groups described as animals (Smith par. 1). Similarly, Simpson also asserts that hate speech is the predecessor of war dehumanization (179). For instance, following atrocities committed by Prussia during the Second World War, the tide eventually turned against Germany and the acts performed could not even be considered befitting of animals, for instance, Smith reported that,
“In the course of a single night the red army killed seventy-two women and one man. Most of the women had been raped, of whom the oldest was eighty-four. Some of the victims had been crucified …” (par. 19).
Similarly, various other incidences reflected the characterization that the war enthusiasts ascribed to their enemies. In Maus I, Spiegelman describes the situation in which they were forced to live with his family beneath a coal bin, “and there, we made a brick wall filled high with coal. Behind this wall we could be a little safe” (110). The same hiding place is described as having contained worms and the targeted Jews had to survive in the same environment with both coal and worms, just like the vermin they were described to be. Additionally, the Germans, who made them hide in such an environment, subjected them to further dehumanization by using dogs to hound them (Spiegelman, Maus I 111). Such oppression cannot be practiced without an in-depth conceptualization of others as less than human. Rai, Valdesolo, and Graham describe it best through the argument that dehumanization is the precursor of violence (8513). This implies that for one to be able to mete such dehumanizing acts on another, they have to preconceive the idea that the other is undeserving.
While war is almost always characterized by killings, the blatant violation of human rights is a significant act of dehumanization. This is particularly the case where the targeted individuals have no notable mistake. Hermez particularly states that war needs to be avoided because it dehumanizes so much that it results in the loss of humanity (583). The most glaring evidence of this loss of humanity includes various outcomes such as the killing of the innocent, destroying infrastructure that would be needed by others, and denying others of their basic needs such as food and clothing. The Holocaust for instance, saw some people starving to death, being kept in situations that were unworthy of human habitation, and even being subjected to inhuman work (Spiegelman, Maus II). Each of these is a violation of human rights such as the right to good food, right to shelter, and others.
The final context within which dehumanization is observable in war is the handling of bodies. While disposal of dead bodies is inevitable following war, the dead bodies have to be handled with decorum and with respect for human dignity. However, various reports on war have shown that even the manner in which bodies are handled is quite dehumanizing; for instance, Kowalczuk describes the consideration of various images of disempowered bodies ad genitalia connected to improvised explosive devices as war trophies (1). Collection of such trophies during war is an indication of disregard for other humans, both in life and in death, and thus the most blatant portrayal of dehumanization.
Dehumanization is a common theme in war and is exhibited in diverse ways. From the various books on various wars, evidence shows that in every war situation, the oppressors and war enthusiasts make significant efforts to portray the enemies as less than humans. To do this effectively, different strategies are used including the denial of human rights, violation of human dignity, mishandling of human bodies and mistreatment of victims in general.
Bruneau, Emile and Nour Kteily. “The Enemy as Animal: Symmetric Dehumanization during Asymmetric Warfare.” PLoS One, vol. 12, no. 7, 2017. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5528981/pdf/pone.0181422.pdf. Accessed on 18 April 2020.
Hermez, Sami. “Dehumanizing in War and Peace: Encounters with Lebanon’s Ex-Militia Fighters. American Anthropologist, vol. 121, no. 3, 2019, pp. 583-594. anthrosource.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/aman.13271. Accessed on 18 April 2020.
Kowalczuk, Barbara. ““Some Real War Shit… I Fucking Held the Camera”: Re-Implacing Iraq in Roy Scranton’s War Porn (2016).” Sillages Critique [Online], vol. 27. journals.openedition.org/sillagescritiques/8897?lang=en. Accessed on 18 April 2020.
Rai, Tage S., Piercarlo Valdesolo, and Jesse Graham. “Dehumanization Increases Instrumental Violence, but not Moral Violence.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 114, no. 32, 2017, pp. 8511-8516. www.pnas.org/content/114/32/8511. Accessed on 18 April 2020.
Simpson, Robert Mark. “Dehumanization: Its Operation and its Origin.” Journal of Law and the Biosciences, vol. 3, no. 1, 2016, pp. 178-184. academic.oup.com/jlb/article/3/1/178/1751232. Accessed on 18 April 2020.
Smith, David Livingstone. Excerpt from Less than Human: The Psychology of Cruelty. St. Martin’s Press, LLC, 2011. www.npr.org/2011/03/29/134956180/criminals-see-their-victims-as-less-than-human. Accessed on 18 April 2020.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus II: A Survivor’s Tale – And Here my Troubles Began. New York: Pantheon Books. archive.org/details/MAUSBook2AndHereMyTroublesBeganArtSpiegelman. Accessed on 18 April 2020.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus I: A survivor’s Tale. New York: Penguin Books. uniteyouthdublin.files.wordpress.com/2016/01/maus-a-survivors-tale-my-father-bleeds-history-by-art-spiegelman.pdf. Accessed on 18 April 2020.