War and the Abstraction of Human Beings
Ha Jin's heroic novel War Trash has the following insight:
- To be able to function in a war, an officer is expected to view his men as abstract figures so that he could utilize and sacrifice them without any hesitation or qualms. The same abstraction was supposed to take place among the rank and file too—to us every American servicemen must be a devil, whereas to them, everyone of us must be a Red. Without such obliteration of human particularities, how could one fight mercilessly? When a general evaluates the outcome of a battle, he thinks in numbers—how many casualties the enemy has suffered in comparison with the losses of his own army. The larger a victory is, the more people have been turned into numerals. This is the crime of war: it reduces real human beings to abstract numbers.