Description from California Newsreel:
As relevant today as when it was first released, Faces of the Enemy follows social psychologist Sam Keen as he unmasks how individuals and nations dehumanize their enemies to justify the inhumanity of war.
Using archival news footage, public service announcements, and editorial cartoons, Keen unveils the same frightening pattern in conflict after conflict – World War II, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, Islamic and Christian Fundamentalism – and prefigures the current War on Terrorism. First we identify ourselves as victims. Then we blame, demonize and finally dehumanize our adversaries, rationalizing our murder of other human beings.
Faces of the Enemy contends that before a drop of blood is spilled we must ‘think each other to death.’ It is a story replayed on the nightly news, in Islamic Fundamentalists’ characterization of the West as the ‘Great Satan’ and our own stereotyping of Muslims as terrorists. In a revealing examination of the images and iconography of war Keen interviews the nation’s leading editorial cartoonists. They discuss how they use an almost universal language of stereotypes and prejudices to tap into readers’ most visceral emotions.
In a chilling example of the psychological roots of enmity, we meet David Rice, an unemployed welder now an inmate on Death Row. Influenced by far-right propaganda, Rice decided communism was responsible for his personal problems. He bludgeoned to death a family of four whom he (mistakenly) thought were communists. He remains without remorse regarding them as ‘collateral damage’ in a war against the Evil Empire. The Christian Fundamentalist leaders who inspired Rice are only too happy to explain that they are in a holy war against communists and any non-believers.
By contrast, William Broyles, a Viet Nam veteran and author, returned after the war to personalize the individuals who had been his enemies’ to humanize the abstractions. He explains how racist terms and images can be used to turn human beings into monsters. These epithets and images extend the circumstances of war into terrible brutality. But he also explains how we can move beyond these dehumanizing thoughts and seek out the humanity of others.
Psychologists Robert Lifton and Steven Kull explain how war and artificial enemies provide people with the moral and mental certainties they crave, giving them a sense of purpose in a sometimes-ambiguous world. Mythologist Joseph Campbell, providing a note of hope, suggests that underneath the mask of the enemy we ultimately recognize ourselves. This, Campbell further contends, may be the origin of compassion, brotherhood and altruism, in other words the inverse of war.
Watch the full film on Kanopy.