Enemy-Making in a Time of Peace

If I had one book that I could force everyone in the world to read (and I know that I cannot…) it would be Sam Keen’s “Faces of the Enemy.”

Besides the Bible, it’s hard to name a single book that has had a more profound impact on my life. I reread it often. I preach about the concepts that are within it. I’ve even written a song about it, using the title as a line in the chorus (“The Birches of Moscow”)

Every few years, and with increasing frequency these past few years, I pull it out and remind you, dear friends, of its wisdom. Today is one of those days. Sit back, friends. This is a long post. But I believe it will be worth your time…

“Faces of the Enemy” posits that there is a very specific process of dehumanization that governments and leaders use, especially in times of war. The Nazis were, most definitely, the leading experts on it. However, we Americans have used it against our enemies (such as the Nazis and the Soviet Union…). Iran and Iraq used it against each other when they were at war with one another.

It’s the process of using propaganda (in all its forms) to slowly, gradually, sometimes imperceptibly, change “an adversary” into “an enemy.”

Slowly and surely, increasingly vile and heinous names are used to describe the enemy, until at the end of the process the enemy is considered sub-human…and finally an “demon” (The enemy of God and, therefore, OUR enemy…)

Sam Keen offers a poem that describes the process, which I offer to you now:

To Create An Enemy, by Sam Keen
Start with an empty canvas
Sketch in broad outline the forms of
men, women, and children
Dip into the well of your own
disowned darkness
with a wide brush and<
stain the strangers with the sinister hue
of the shadow.
Trace onto the face of the enemy the greed,
hatred, carelessness you dare not claim as
your own.
Obscure the sweet individuality of each face.
Erase all hints of the myriad loves, hopes,
fears that play through the kaleidoscope of
every finite heart.
Twist the smile until it forms the downward
arc of cruelty.
Strip flesh from bone until only the
abstract skeleton of death remains.
Exaggerate each feature until man is
metamorphasized into beast, vermin, insect.
Fill in the background with malignant
figures from ancient nightmares – devils
demons, myrmidons of evil.
When your icon of the enemy is complete
you will be able to kill without guilt,
slaughter without shame.
The thing you destroy will have become
merely an enemy of God, an impediment
to the sacred dialectic of history. “
(from the book: “Faces of the Enemy”)

So, the process moves in the following way….

First, we fail to see the flaws and sin in our own hearts…
Then, a human being becomes “the other”
“The other” becomes an “animal”<
“The animal” becomes a “devil” (or, enemy of God)

And an “enemy of God” may be killed without guilt, shame, or explanation…because they are now no longer human, but sub-human.

Keen suggests that we do this because of something actually very lovely about the human condition: It’s HARD for us human beings to kill others. It’s actually NOT in our nature to do so, and more certainly not in our nature to do so on a large scale.

We turn our enemies into “the other” and “the demon” because otherwise we cannot train soldiers to kill them. It’s against the nature of a human soldier to kill an “other,” in regular, normal life.<

This, btw, is why “re-entry” into civilian life is so very difficult for men and women in the army. It’s a big part of where PTSD comes from. Both reentry and PTSD are not only an UN-learning that there are bombs in the roads, but also an unlearning that that “guy behind the 7-11 counter?”

He’s a friend, not a foe.

I hope you hear the Good News in this: It’s actually hard for us to kill one another on a mass scale. It takes training to do so.

The Bad News?

This process of “enemy-making” is universal. It knows no nationality, political ideology, religion, race, gender. It’s a part of our deep-level brain wiring. It’s a part of the genetic learning that helped us to survive as a species.

Learning how to defend my “tribe” from “that tribe over there” is how human beings out-performed all others and became the dominant species on the planet.

But it no longer serves us well today.

I’ve taken the liberty of uploading a few examples of “War Propaganda” which show the process. Some of them are from Keen’s book. (These are actually screenshots of my powerpoint presentation on Keen’s book, so some of them are little grainy…)

Here’s one of US propaganda against Germany….and one of German propaganda against the US.

One of the US against Russia (Note how Russia is harming our women…protecting “our women” is a recurring theme in propaganda…)

I’ve included several “octopi.” That’s a popular recurring animal-theme in the history of propaganda; because, visually, it’s an animal that can been as taking over the entire world.

(Note” the Russian octopi says it’s from 1938, whch means it could’ve been created by Nazis. But it would also date from America in the 1950s!)

Finally, one example from the Middle East…from the Iran/Iraq War. (Side by side, the slide show propaganda from both sides…)

The picture of the Ayatolla is used on the cover of Sam Keen’s book. Note how the Ayatolla in the picture has a Star of David in his eye! (Message: Saddam Hussein can protect you from evil Iran, which is being run by the Jews….)

But! Note how Iran’s own propaganda suggests that Iraq is a “dog” being held on its leash by America!

There’s much more than this. I strongly urge you all to Google “war propaganda” and search around for a while. It’s eye-opening to see just how common this process is..and how it cuts across all lines of gender, race, religion, class.

have other slides that show some of the early proganda slurs against Christians by Romans…Protestants against Catholics…Catholics aginst Protestants….

The final “move” of enemy-making is that  our enemy becomes ‘the enemy of God.”

Here is a video of Sam Keen himself describing this process:



So, here’s the final problem for all of us as human beings, and why I bring this up today….

That process of “tribe-defense” and “enemy-making” can be hijacked, and used against internal “enemies.” It can be turned on any group, class, gender, race, religion, at any time.

It doesn’t have to be pointed at an external enemy in a time of war. It can be used WITHIN a country, during a time of peace.

My friends, Donald Trump is a master at using the rhetoric of “enemy-making.”

Yes, I most definitely want to acknowledge that other political leaders do it too.

For example, Hillary’s “deplorables” comment. At the time she said it, I suggested that it was a horrible thing for her to say. I also suggested that she said something even worse. She said that the alleged “deplorables” were “irredeemable.” (To me, that was far worse. I’ve always been shocked that almost no one, on the Right or the Left, picked up on that…)

That is, most definitely, enemy-making language. She apologized. But the damage was done. It was wrong. I’m very sorry/angry she said it.

But friends, whether you are Republican, Democrat or Independent…no matter your race, religion, or gender… I hope you can at least hear the message that our current President engages in “otherizing” and “enemy-making language” EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Here is just a partial list of names Trump uses to describe his “enemies.”
“Enemy of the people”
“Low IQ”
“Low Quality”
And, of course, “Crooked.”

Here is a more complete list.

Friends, these are not names our President uses to describe actual external enemies/threats to the United States of America. 
These are names he routinely uses to describe FELLOW AMERICANS.

I have not attached any specific names to any of these adjectives, because he uses them against both Republicans and Democrats. He uses them against men and women, and people of almost every race and religion.

He’s called all Mexicans “rapists,” thugs and murderers.

He stands by, night after night, while the crowds at his political rallies chant “Lock her up!” (A blatant attempt to turn a woman and political rival into a “criminal”)

Two nights ago, the crowd at his rally used the same chant (“Lock him up”) against the Democratic candidate for governor in Florida.

Please understand, I am NOT saying that Donald Trump is a Nazi.

In fact, I’m suggesting something more subtle and insidious:
Donald Trump is using rhetorical style and language usually reserved for a time of WAR against our own American people, in a time of peace, and for political gain.

The problem for the nation is that the entire process is corrosive.

The harm comes to US.

The harm comes in how we begin to see each other as “enemies,” and “demons,” and less-than-human.

Eventually, as Sam Keen would remind us, thoughts become actions. If you dehumanize your enemy long enough, the mentally unstable in your society will begin to hear the dog whistle, and lash out against the enemy.

We saw this in the police shooting in Dallas. We saw this in the Synagogue shooting in Pittsburg. The shooter there clearly believed in a Jewish conspiracy led by George Soros. (Which apparently the bomber of last week also believed…)President Trump is playing right into that fear.

Oh, and guess what? Today, he’s also announcing plans to end “birthright citizenship.” He can’t do it by executive action, but he’s announced it anyway.

Remember: He previously called Mexicans rapists and thugs….

So, dear Anglo friends, if YOU were Mexican, a Mexican-American…how would YOU feel about all these developments? Would you feel safe in America right now?

I promise you this: Every black or brown American family, even those who’ve been in our country for generations, they are living in more fear today than they did four years ago.

Were you upset when Hillary called some White people “deplorable” and “irredeemable?”

Of course you were. I was too.

So, imagine how black and brown people feel when, simultaneously, the President sends troops to the border to defend against the “fake news” of small pox, and ALSO announces the end of birthright citizenship.

Friends, all of us as Americans must understand this: Trump is driving the wedges between our culture, our races, our genders, our sexual orientations, our religions.

BETWEEN Americans.

Don’t….take….the bait.

My Christian faith tells two primary stories: Resurrection and Incarnation.

Both speak against this process of otherizing our “enemies.” The Christian story of Jesus’ resurrection says that no human being is irredeemable.

There is no such thing as a “deplorable” human being

There is no such thing as a woman who is a “dog” or a Mexican who is an “animal.”

Jesus’ resurrection challenges us to believe that ALL of us can treat each other with more respect and dignity, because ALL are redeemable.

Finally, and I think more importantly to the topic today, is the Christian story of Incarnation.

Jesus teaches us that all human beings carry within them a part of the divine. Incarnation is a part of our human story too. We are both human, and we carry that light of God within us.

When we love one another, we are actually loving God. That is Christian incarnational theology.

Therefore, we must never see our “political enemies,” as “demons,” or “animals” or subhumans….but as a part of God’s human family. Especially those within the walls of our own nation.

We must never engage in the of rhetoric our President uses routinely. Human beings are Children of God, not thugs, rapists, dogs, animals.

Finally, in case you don’t see things from a reliigous perspective, I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s words from 1861, about “our better angels.”

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
— Abraham Lincoln

Those are perhaps the best political words we could say to each other in our nation today.

No matter what our party or our political principles, we must find a way to see each other as friends, not enemies. We must reject language and actions that cause us to drift toward enemy-making.

My urgency to write all of this comes from my faith….from my strong belief in Jesus’ story of resurrection, hope, and incarnate-holiness in every human being. But even if you don’t come from that Christian perspective, perhaps you can see embrace Lincoln’s words.

We MUST again find ways to see each other as friends, family, neighbors…and not “enemies of God.”

May God help our United States.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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