Marja Vuorinen
Enemy Images as Inversions of the Self
Chapter 1 of Enemy Images in War Propaganda is below:
To read the complete Chapter including footnotes, click here.
Enemy Images in War Propaganda
Enemy Images in War Propaganda Editor: Marja Vuorinen

Pages: 170
ISBN: 9781443836418
Publication Date: 2012
List Price in USD: $45.99
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Dr. Marja Vuorinen is a Researcher in the Department of Political and Economic Studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland.
A researcher must steer clear of the allure of taking sides. While events unfold, all involved parties typically believe that they are in possession of a right cause and a legitimate interest.

In a conflict, and its ensuing historiography, there are winners and losers. Neither party is in themselves a reliable witness, regardless of their position on the post-conflict stage. In an optimal situation we have access to tales told by each side and can eventually judge for ourselves.

Historians possibly do best if they just describe what happened, letting the past events and attitudes speak for themselves. Even a modicum of what has been called methodological empathy, a willingness to try and understand a group typically cast as evildoers as they at their time understood themselves, is recommendable for any student of enmity.
Inventing an enemy begins with the invention of the self. The inclusion of some into a limited-membership community, e.g. a national, political or an ethnic group, necessarily presupposes the exclusion of certain others. An in-group identity and an out-group identity therefore become understandable only in relation to one another.

The logic of opposites being best defined by one another does not necessarily imply an inequality, let alone open disrespect or acts of violence between the parties, but it can be used to motivate just that. Indeed, the human tendency to define the self as good and the opposing other as less so only too often leads to exactly such practices.

The idea of otherness is based on the social psychological concept of projection coined by Sigmund Freud. Projection begins with splitting what is considered evil, destructive, weak or otherwise faulty apart from the more acceptable psychological and cultural features, and continues by removing the unwanted features from the self by placing them into an other (usually someone who actually is slightly different) in order to mentally protect the self.

A famous illustration of this phenomenon is the 19th century notion of the Orient. Edward Said demonstrates that the historical Orient was created by colonialist Europeans as a counter-image of everything Western, holding the features the westerners did not wish or dare to include into their cherished self-image.

Creating others is typically done by establishing stereotypes, based on convenient exaggeration of select features. A multiform reality is recast into few simple patterns. The resulting banal categories determine how people belonging to a stereotyped group are perceived. A vicious circle forms when negative presuppositions gain evidence through seemingly spontaneous, neutral observation, making them seem natural and eternal.

Every community has members whose behavior is less than perfect; sometimes they even resemble the negative stereotype. This so-called kernel-of-truth argument provides ground for negative characterization and makes the negative stereotypes appear partly true.

Enmity and otherness, two identity-creating, identity-reversing concepts of exclusion have a lot in common. Every enemy is an other, but all others are not enemies. The process of establishing an enemy-image through first creating an other can be illustrated by the following conceptual sequence.

In the beginning there is a perception of difference in comparison to the in-group self, producing a preliminary division into Us and Them. This is followed by a process of othering, i. e. projecting unwanted features away from the self and onto the out-group, preconceived as separate and different, which thus becomes a negation of the self.

From then on they are everything that we don’t wish, or dare, to be. A counter-image is formed when the self, in turn, gets to be defined more and more as the negation of the other—what is perceived or deemed typical for them cannot be included in the image of us anymore.

At this point the division into categories of Self and Other is complete. If the other it is perceived as threatening, at a certain historical moment, it can easily be formed to represent an Enemy. A long-established enemy- image may be developed into an Arch-enemy, a standing threat that seems to be always present.

The starting point of any politics of hate necessarily is the definition of the self as good. As the idea about what’s good varies but little, all in- groups tend to be imagined along fairly similar lines. Goodness, honesty, righteousness, purity, proper manners, hard work, right religion, high but not over-ripe culture and decency are the hallmarks of the Self, while the Other is accused of being evil, untruthful, crooked, impure, ill-mannered, lazy, superstitious, barbaric or decadent, and immoral. What is natural and normal, genuine and legitimate, are always ‘our’ qualities.

Correspondingly, the imagined others and enemies also resemble one another, as the available assortment of vices projected upon them is also universal. The self-explanatory notion of placing the defining Self into the centre of things is susceptible to alterations vis-à-vis the location of its definitional opposite.

The defining in-group is not actually quite as neutral a zero point as it likes to suggest: it is constantly re-molded and shifted about by the ideological opposites it creates for itself. In the end image and counter-image create one another: they make sense only in mutual relation. Enemy-images become inverse images of the Self.

The image of an enemy is essentially an image of threat. It represents an imminence of unwanted acts towards the Self, and motivates a subsequent need to remain vigilant, to plan defence or even to actively engage in a pre-emptive first attack. The main difference between Other and Enemy lies specifically in their respective activeness—an enemy is perceived, or imagined, to be actually menacing, while the other is deemed unthreatening.

When unwanted features are projected into an imagined faulty Other, the set of bad features is captivated into a separate form that is distant, passive and relatively stable, mentally located not only outside but also way below the Self. As a result, the Other can be observed safely, and is rarely perceived as actively threatening.

An Enemy, however, cannot be trusted to keep its distance, but is suspected of—or, eminently worse, perceived as—approaching: drawing nearer and eventually closing in, presumably in order to conquer, kill, enslave, destroy, damage, and/or steal. To discover an enemy one thus has to define where it is supposed to be situated, whether or not it is moving closer, how close by it currently is, and whether it operates openly or under cover.

As the in-group Self typically places itself into the mental centre of things, the different enemies accordingly find their places within concentric zones around the defining centre. The outer circle is inhabited by the geographic, military enemies of the state or nation; they are the enemies from outside.

The outer zone can be further divided into neighbouring states and more distant ones, situated beyond the immediate neighbours or even further away. In the next circle inwards are the intimate enemies: those who live within the same society but outside the defining Self, e.g. ‘the nation’, a particular class, or some other ideologically self-conscious in-group.

This type is easily discerned and therefore relatively easy to deal with. The most sinister case is the enemy within: an invisible threat hiding inside the in-group community, so far unidentified and therefore very dangerous as a potential source of aggression right in the midst of Us.

When the location of evil has been firmly established, it becomes possible to act upon this knowledge. As Gaetano Mosca once ironically put it, ‘with the general perception of evil comes confidence in the possibility of promptly alleviating it’.

Destroying an enemy that has been defined as essentially evil will soon appear rational, legitimate, and even honorable. A situation when it is legitimate to attack, let alone systematically destroy other people must nevertheless be considered extreme, and thus exceptional.

Ordinary peaceful societies function according to the opposite presupposition. The cultural programming of an average civilian is necessarily non-violent, to enable them to live in the society. To bypass this, the enemy must be redefined as inhuman. Immediately after a warlike period the threshold to resume killing is understandably lower than after a long peace.

When a passive enemy-image is activated and made into a motive for action, the situation is apt to escalate into conflict. Most elaborate enemy imagery is related to wars between nations, when propaganda is broadcast by both mass media and official state organs. Such imagery is often of international origin, circulated freely between allies. Sometimes similar imagery is utilized, with minor revisions, by both sides. Internal conflicts of a civil war type rely less on planned, official propaganda and more on spontaneous, create-as-you-go type of ideological messages.

A plausible explanation for emergence and escalation of political violence within a society is a process of scapegoating that eventually leads to a witch-hunt. The progression of events, from the first becoming aware of a set of problems to a full-blown internal warfare has been brilliantly described by David Frankfurter. It starts with a situation that looks ordinary enough.

A community faces problems, which are at first dealt with locally, looking for local explanations—until along comes someone, typically from outside, who brings with him a knowledge of the local situation being a part of a much larger economic, religious, political or ethnic conflict, allegedly caused by a conspiracy of evil people who greatly profit from the present order of things.

The community is thus introduced to a complex, ready-made scheme, that seems to make sense, but actually just offers an easy explanation by renaming the original problem and giving it a universal label. When doing so it points out who are the victims and—more to the point—who is the guilty party, and provides a detailed programme about how to proceed to solve the problem for good.

The newcomers offer to help the locals to destroy the guilty ones, in the bargain becoming their champions, perhaps even permanent leaders. A witch-hunt ensues, organised by these self-appointed, self- styled heroes. Even non-violent political battles often resort to similar rhetoric, urging the followers to eradicate an opponent. Political uses of hate speech thus include the same hero factor as actual battles.

Political enemy images are particularly useful for upwardly mobile groups. Carl Schmitt went so far as to suggest that any political movement, to define itself, has to discover—perceive, define or imagine—an enemy, to know not only what they stand for but also, what they oppose.

To know who we are, what we strive for, whom we protect and what we cherish, it is necessary also to know who doesn’t belong, what will not be tolerated, who is to blame and who may have to be destroyed. Enemy images are the paragon of negative stereotyping.

Universally, stereotypes need not necessarily be either negative or unchangeable. As cognitive structures they enable a relevant comparison between categories and make individuals understandable as average members of a group.

Even though all stereotypes definitely are not enemy images, all enemy images are stereotypes in the most negative sense of the word. Imagined enemies are necessarily simplified and purpose-oriented images, put up to cover only such aspects of those who they are supposed to portray that motivate the aggression of the defining party.

In them a multifaceted, changing reality is reduced into a few features blown out of proportion and presented as innate and permanent. To be convincing an enemy-image must be easily recognizable, openly threatening, rationally or at least pseudo-rationally justifiable, and emotionally touching.

Discourses of enmity are created, maintained, negotiated and modified within the community. Enemy images can appear spontaneously whenever there is a crisis involving separate groups. However, the most powerful, clear-cut images of enmity usually come into the world as conscious creations of propaganda machinery, and are aggressively spread through available media.

If they are internalized by the community, they may become a permanent feature of popular thought, continuously renewing themselves within a culture. Images that reinforce and unite the community by acting as a safety valve, relieving pressure e.g. by allowing the people to blame some obvious social evil on an uncontrollable outside force, tend to become the most popular.

The media plays a crucial role in the mobilization of the masses. In the modern, democratic society where ideological power is wielded by way of persuasion, the media takes on a lion’s share of both the creating and the broadcasting of propaganda. In the early days of the mass society this role was given to print media, newspapers and books of both fact and fiction, then to cinematic film and later on to radio and television. Latest innovation in the field of communications is the internet, differing from the previous in its disintegrated nature. It has recently shown its applicability for both political mobilization and stirring up riots.

New groups that rise into fame and power by surfing a revolutionary tidal waves typically end up defining themselves as those who overthrew an enemy of the people. For them the enemy, even when vanquished, still has its uses. By keeping up the memory of a former threat, allegedly still lurking in the shadows, they can by one stroke create a permanent mobilizing myth, deny their own quest for power and at the same time legitimize it by referring to a greater evil that has to be kept constantly in check. And, as Anton Blok has pointed out, highlighting such differences is all the more vital when the actual differences between rival groups are small, even verging on nonexistent.

The enemy categories discussed in this book are typically seen from outside, as instruments of negative identification: as others, who at a certain point of time have become somebody’s enemies. What we are about to witness are thus essentially tendentious, distorted ways of thinking. In each case it remains with the reader to decide, whether the expressed threats were genuine or not. The in-groups are referred to as the holders of the defining centre, often representing a so-called ironic we: a self-identity that is imagined to be constant, but whose essence and position change as enmities change.

On the other hand, those who have successfully brought out and even put into action a violence-inducing hate speech are often themselves treated, by the posterity, as enemies of the public good. The in-group self can be pronounced rational and good, and the enemy respectively irrational and evil, but others may later reverse this judgement.

Yet the problem of evil concerns everybody. The issue simply cannot be boiled down to saying that evil people do evil deeds. Both good and bad things are done by ordinary people. Sometimes the worst evil is born out of what might be called goodness-gone-bad.

A self-righteous motivation allowing someone to deal out allegedly justified punishments, in the name of a chosen group of suffering victims, may well lead to attacking relatively innocent parties as surrogate enemies. It is easier to point out scapegoats, to have someone to blame, instead of slowly and painfully working out how to actually solve a problem for the good of all. For scapegoats, when unjustly blamed, also eventually end up as victims.

A researcher, more than anybody else, must steer clear of the allure of taking sides. While events unfold, all involved parties typically believe that they are in possession of a right cause and a legitimate interest. In a conflict, and its ensuing historiography, there are winners and losers. Neither party is in themselves a reliable witness, regardless of their position on the post-conflict stage.

In an optimal situation we have access to tales told by each side and can eventually judge for ourselves. Historians possibly do best if they just describe what happened, letting the past events and attitudes speak for themselves. Even a modicum of what has been called methodological empathy, a willingness to try and understand a group typically cast as evildoers as they at their time understood themselves, is recommendable for any student of enmity.

In a world where more and more people are concerned about the unchecked spread of hate speech, the old flippant definition of the ideological opponent as ‘those whom we love to hate’ may be about to be reversed. It is tempting to define those who think differently, e.g. those who criticize the current politics of multiculturalism, immigration or globalization, as ‘those who only hate’, whereas the self-styled tolerant majority pronounces itself as ‘those who choose to love’—the object of such an ideologically motivated love of course being those who, according to the defining party, truly deserve to be loved.

The inclination to see one’s opponent as being full of hate, not just as a political adversary with differing—opposing!—opinions, typically goes with a tendency to see one’s own in-group as the epitome of love. This so called sentimentalism is based on a moralistic notion that there is right and wrong kind of thinking and, respectively, good and bad people.

It brings about an offhand division of social phenomena into acceptable and unacceptable, instead of seeing them as equally legitimate options, thus allowing people to be divided neatly into victims and oppressors.

As such, it is liable to produce black-and-white thinking, particularly when it comes to tolerating—or, not tolerating—differences of political opinion. When the opponent is classified as evil from the outset, there is no need to negotiate, or even to listen to the other’s point of view.

Truly democratic discourse, on the other hand, is based on the exact opposite: expressed differences of opinion are acceptable, necessary, even indispensable. The best possible solution can only be reached after a genuine and detailed argument, taking into consideration as many different sides of the matter as possible.

Even though they at a first glance seem immensely distant from one another, hate speech and love speech constitute the opposite ends of one and the same continuum. Both can be used equally for separating Us from Them. A good example of such practice is evident in the long history of nationalist ideologies: whom the nation is urged to love directly indicates whom it must hate.

Most bluntly this mindset has been called, by theorists on fascism, the ‘Gardening state’: an inclination to try and dictate which groups, or ideologies, are allowed to grow within a certain state or society, and which must be uprooted.

Research on hate speech in general suffers from a phenomenon that might be called the backwards path. A retrospective glance always reveals a preceding process. Every outbreak of violence can be followed back to its source: to the hate speech that appeared and developed, decades in the making, slowly gained momentum, and eventually sprouted a deadly bloom.

Yet, not all stereotypes are negative and not all discourses of hate ever result in actual violence. Hate speech can at times be a fairly safe way of letting out hot air in a social conflict. Born out of an initial friction, in a newly formed contact situation, it can peter out speedily enough without causing considerable damage. Opinions can and do change and differences can be settled without bloodshed.