In the Dhammapada, the Buddha says
All beings tremble before violence.
All fear death.
All love life.
See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?
Part of the secret of unleashing violence on others is precisely countering the ability of people to see themselves in others, in eliminating empathy. Often this involves seeing the other as the Other--someone totally different from oneself.
In his book On Killing, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman refers to this as "emotional distance." Often, this is done by means of emphasizing cultural distance, which creates what he calls "emotional hooding."
As he puts it,
It is so much easier to kill someone if they look distinctly different from you. If your propaganda machine can convince your soldiers that their opponents are not really human but are "inferior forms of life," then their natural resistance to killing their own species will be reduced. Often the enemy's humanity is denied by referring to him as a "gook," "Kraut," or Nip." In Vietnam this process was assisted by the "body count" mentality, in which we referred to and thought of the enemy as numbers. One Vietnam vet told me that this permitted him to think that killing the NVA and VC was like "stepping on ants."
The best known example of a militaristic policy based on cultural distance is the Nazi idea of the master race, but it has shown up many times in many guises. Obviously, this kind of thinking can promote atrocities.
Grossman notes, however, that the use of cultural distance to promote killing often rebounds on those who promote it. If one does something to one's opponent, one should not be surprised if the opponent does the same given the opportunity.
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