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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Language of Hate: 1. Animal Attribution

This series of postings will look at some rhetorical devices used in extremist propaganda. In this first installment, we will look at the use of animal imagery ("animal attribution") to characterize enemies. But first some introductory remarks.

Introductory Comments on the Language of Hate

Why do people hate ? Why do they hate so much ? Why do they seem to hate everywhere ? Why do they kill for this hatred ? I have no answer and will not attempt one. But first, I must call attention to a disturbing article by Jared Diamond of UCLA in the New Yorker of April 21, 2008, "Vengeance is Ours," which tells of the deeply-rooted tradition of deadly revenge killings in a non-literate culture in New Guinea. It is a story with which we are familiar, in its manifold variations, from Nazi Germany, from Ireland, from Bosnia, from all over Africa. But Diamond's account from a culture that has no connection to the familiar racial, religious, and ethnic hatreds of Europe and Africa gives a jolt. Does it point to some sort of universal human propensity ? I will not speculate.

Back to Europe and its hatreds.

In this occasional series of postings, I hope to discuss some of the peculiarities of the language that is used by those who incite hatred. I do not know enough about the Bible, or the Greek and Roman Classics, although I have been told that hatred can be found there. At some future time I may have something to say about the hate texts of Martin Luther, say his 1543 opus On the Jews and their Lies, but this is not for now. For some postings, at least, I intend to take a look at some of the details of the Communist and Nazi propaganda of the twentieth century.

The rhetorical devices of hate of these two movements differed in important ways, but had even more important similarities. Overall, there is the remarkable violence in this propaganda: the enemy is seen as being evil in all possible ways, with the implied and often express message that he should be physically eliminated. This is perhaps the most important distinction between these extremist movements and moderate opinion. The latter can muster respect, no matter how grudging, for a common humanity of the opponent while the former will make no such allowance.

Among the devices of hate used by both Communists and Nazis in the twentieth century, there is only one that I will describe today:

Animal Attribution

It is common in our colloquial language to express disapproval by way of attributing animal characteristics or even animal identities: 'he is a pig,' 'she is a bitch,' 'a louse,' 'a swine,' and so forth. But such expressions are generally taboo is formal discourse. Not so in the propaganda of extremist movements. Here is a recent statement by Hamas about Condoleeza Rice:
With the arrival of that black scorpion with a cobra's head, Condoleezza, I began to worry that she would use her venomous fangs and hiss to kill this initiative and new spirit that we should protect.
Both Nazi and Communist propaganda used the idea that an enemy is not at all human, that he is, in fact, a vicious or dangerous, or sometimes merely ridiculous animal. On the Communist side, the speeches by the prosecutor of the Moscow show trials of the 1930's, Andrey Y. Vyshinsky, form a handy source of Stalin-era Communist hate rhetoric. In particular, I have used Vyshinsky's 1936 and 1938 court summaries, to which I happened to have easy access.

In the so-called Moscow Trials of 1936, 1937, and 1938, the Stalin government accused high-ranking members of the Communist Party of treason and disloyalty to the Soviet government. Almost the entire top level Bolshevist leadership was eventually killed by Stalin and his collaborators. Vyshinsky was the chief prosecutor at these trials (later he would represent the Soviet government at the Nuremberg trials). No serious historian today gives credence to Vyshinsky's wild accusations against his erstwhile comrades.

The trial of 1936 had Zinoviev and Kamenev as the chief defendants. Both had been top Communist leaders under Stalin. All sixteen defendants were sentenced to death and executed. Vyshinsky's prosecution summary , in English translation, is available on line.

The trial of 1937 had seventeen defendants, including the old Bolshevik Karl Radek. Thirteen of the defendants were shot, but Radek escaped with imprisonment in a labor camp.

The trial of 1938 had twenty-one defendants, all of whom were eventually killed by the Stalin government. I happen to own the 1938 English-language, official Soviet publication "Anti-Soviet 'Bloc of Rights [sic] and Trotskyites'," which contains Vyshinsky's summation for the prosecution.

Vyshinsky's conclusion in the 1936 trial was as follows:

"I demand that dogs gone mad should be shot -- everyone of them !"

As we have seen, the court obliged, and, indeed, all sixteen defendants were executed. Rarely does hate speech have such immediate effect.

Here are some other excerpts from the 1936 document:

"These mad dogs of capitalism tried to tear limb from limb the best of our Soviet land."

"Liars and clowns, insignificant pigmies, little dogs snarling at an elephant, this is what this gang represents !"

"All their bestial rage and hatred were directed against the leaders of our Party...against Comrade Stalin, against his glorious comrades-in-arms."

"We will now pass to Kamenev, the second pillar of the so-called Zinovievite group, this hypocrite 'in an ass's skin,' as he himself expressed it ..."

Here are excerpts from the 1938 document:

"And Bukharin -- that damnable cross of a fox and a swine -- ..."

"Our whole country, from young to old, is awaiting and demanding one thing: the traitors and spies who were selling our country to the enemy must be shot like dirty dogs !

Our people are demanding one thing: crush the accursed reptile"

I will seek to demonstrate the Nazi use of animal attribution in a future posting.

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