Book review

Faces of the Enemy: Reflections of the Hostile Imagination

Reviewed by Jack Wikoff

Faces of the Enemy is a collection of over three hundred political cartoons, posters and artwork showing how enemies have been depicted in twentieth century war propaganda.

Accompanying these illustrations is an extensive text by Sam Keen, contributing editor to Psychology Today. Mr. Keen's idealistic message is that war can be abolished if human beings “change the way we think about enemies and warfare.”

In the first paragraph of the introduction he writes:

In the beginning we create the enemy. Before the weapon comes the image. We think others to death and then invent the battle-axe or the ballistic missiles with which to actually kill them. Propaganda precedes technology.

In chapter after chapter, Keen elaborated upon this theme referring to what he calls “archetypes of the hostile imagination.” Sections and illustrations are divided into groups such as “The Enemy as Stranger,” “The Enemy as Aggressor,” as “Barbarian,” “Criminal,” “Tortured,” “Enemy of God,” “Rapist,” “Death,” “Worthy Opponent,” and so forth.

Keen's theory that we can “think” away warfare and conflict will have great appeal to many people today, especially the politically immature. But the reader who retains the ability to think rationally will see through Keen's pop psychology.

Keen erroneously labels as “paranoia” all consciousness of “enemies” as in the following passage:

Consensual paranoia — the pathology of the normal person who is a member of a war-justifying society — forms the template from which all the images of the enemy are created. By studying the logic of paranoia, we can see why certain archetypes of the enemy must necessarily recur, no matter what the historical circumstances.

Paranoia involves a complex of mental, emotional, and social mechanisms by which a person or a people claim righteousness and purity, and attribute hostility and evil to the enemy. The process begins with a splitting of the “good” self, with which we consciously identify and which is celebrated by myth and media, from the “bad” self, which remains unconscious so long as it may be projected onto an enemy.

Keen defines the normal person's thinking about warfare as “paranoia.” He is saying that everyone is “sick” and that he has the solution to our mental illness. While it is true that war propaganda frequently contains paranoia and self-deception, it is an error to think that political conflict arises entirely from negative aspects of the so-called “collective unconscious.”

Keen's postulation that all manifestation of the “warrior psyche” is “paranoia” contains an inherently hypocritical contradiction. In a section he calls “the normal citizen's version of the Paranoid's Confession,” we find this confession of the author:

If some incarnation of evil as unambiguous as Hitler appeared again, I would have no moral qualms about killing the enemy. But in the modern world of moral murkiness, I prefer to keep my hands as clean of enemy blood as possible.

In later chapters he claims:

Any depth understanding of the social function of war leads to the conclusion that it was the “good” Germans who created the social ecology that nurtured the Nazis.

It is not difficult to see the roots of the Nazi sadism in the normal methods of German child rearing. I recently did seminars in Germany and found that almost every one in my group had been beaten as a child.

Thus we find that even Sam Keen, the committed peacemaker, ultimately cannot abandon the concept of the “good war” fought against an “evil madman” like Adolf Hitler (or Saddam Hussein).

Faces of the Enemy could have been a valuable book on the methods of propaganda and disinformation if the author had left out his utopian schemes for eternal world peace. The book does contain informative examples of how war propaganda can distort people's thinking.

One illustration demonstrates how “The first casualty when war comes is truth,” as U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson said in 1917. A six-panel cartoon depicts a spy in trenchcoat and hat saying:

Our enemies make nerve gas. So will we.
They squander their wealth on armaments. So will we.
They spy on their own citizens. So will we.
They prevent their people from knowing what they do. So will we.
We will not let our enemies impose their evil ways on us. We'll do it for them.

Propaganda is created and distributed just like any other industrially manufactured consumer product. Those who “manufacture” propaganda are usually far more sophisticated in the technique of pyschological warfare than those who are being targeted.

Modification of normal language into euphemism is one kind of pyschological warfare. Killing civilians becomes “collateral damage,” defoliating entire areas with Agent Orange is “an environmental adjustment,” a nine-megaton warhead is transformed into “a potentially disruptive re-entry system.” The United States invasion of Grenada was described first as a “rescue mission” and then as “a pre-dawn vertical insertion.”

Keen gives examples of how we demonize the enemy. War propaganda tends to claim that only the enemy kills civilians, tortures POWs, and practices aggression and imperialism. The news and entertainment media, which have great power in creating public opinion, tend to suppress all reports that “our boys” are committing similar atrocities to win a war.

Faces of the Enemy is ultimately a disappointing and disturbing book. Some naive and unsophisticated souls will wholeheartedly believe this misguided manifesto for “world peace.” Keen's preaching fails to recognize that conflict is a perpetual reality in this world. Conflict precedes propaganda and the technology of warfare. Not all enemies are figments of our imagination.

True pacifists are extremely rare in this world. The reason for this is that aggression, a competitive nature, and group solidarity are traits that confer distinct advantages for survival to animals and Homo sapiens alike.

The existence in the modern world of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons does not change the dynamics of conflict and competion. What is changed is that the “game” of politics is now a lot more serious and dangerous. This is made abundantly clear by the current situation in the Middle East

Certainly there are often ways in which conflict between individuals, groups or nations can be resolved peacefully. Yet the psychological and political solutions advocated in Faces of the Enemy are ultimately subversive. At one point the author proposes that we should “let the familar become strange and the strange familar — the two rules of creativity.” He is advocating the total inversion of all values.

In addition to his radical program of “behavior modification,” Keen recommends “effective world government and international law” as the political solution to warfare. The subversive character of Keen's thesis comes in his psychological undermining of the organically structured groups in which people normally function. These are family, religion, community, race and nation. His sugar-coated proposals would eventually destroy these, leaving only the alienated indiviudal and the all-powerful world superstate. This “new world order” would be the end of Western Civilization.


Source: Reprinted from The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 10, no. 4, pp. 487-490.