War and Dehumanization
Wars force people to act in a way that they might think of doing at the times of peace. Jade Ngoc Quang Huynh discusses his experiences of being dehumanized in the hands of his own government and people in his book “South Wind Changing.” He was born in Vietnam to farmers with enough to eat and living with 17 of siblings. He continued his education despite the war in the country but when the North Vietnamese took over in 1975, Huynh was arrested for being a student and losses contact with his family. He is sent to the camp and the dehumanization starts. The South Wind Changing tells the story of Jade Huynh who was sent to a labor campus to re-study for being a student where he was dehumanized in the hands of fellow Vietnamese. The paper will examine dehumanization of people in the Vietnam War that was inflicted by the fellow Vietnamese for political gains. The paper argues war destroys not only families but affects rationality and humanity in people through the experiences of Hunyh in South Wind Changing.
In most of the wars, political gains are intended and the Vietnam War intended to achieve control over the Capitalist South and to minimize the capitalist influence in their country. Although North took over the South, it was tainted with horrifying memories and losses. The South Wind Changing discusses the damage the war inflicted on the people in Vietnam South and North. It killed thousands of people, damaged families, tortured people, destroyed lands and homes of thousands of the people making them vulnerable and homeless. The political gains cost to Mr. Huynh six siblings and other relatives with scattered family members. The lands where Huynh had grown and played were destroyed. The home where his mother used to cook for the big family and his father strongly controlled was destroyed in the war. The mother who had seen only the smiles of her children had to bury six of her children and the other one she could not meet for decades. It was the success story for the politicians but for Huynh and many others, the war had destroyed. It had destroyed their peace of mind torturing them and separating them from their families. It had dehumanized them in many ways.
The only crime Huynh had committed to end up in the labor camp was his education. The Hanoi government ciminalized the basic human rights of an individual to get education. The camp surrounded with “barbed with wire fences” to keep the prisoners from escaping and the barracks packed with 500 hundred human bodies with no toilet and place to wash reduced their needs and humanity. It so called “re-education camp” intended in dehumanizing the individuals. The set-up of the camps did not resembled to the places where humans could live. It did not even resembled the prison cell where washroom and food is provided to the inmates. In the barracks 500 people were forced to live in a group of 20 with no toilet or other basic facilities. The “re-education” was to force them to believe that they are nothing more than machines who need to listen to the orders and work without proper food and rest.
The working conditions of the camp implied that either the people there work as machines or they will die the painful death. The first experience of the Huynh in the camp was to “convert the whole air field into a garden” (1). The only tools available were three axes. They were forced to work throughout the day without resting under the “boiling sun” with “blistered hands.” The prisoners were ordered to build dams in the cold winters. Even though the prisoners were not willing to go into the cold water, the fire shots made them run into the water (). Moreover, clearing the jungles to create rice fields and gardens (). The constant work from five in the morning to the seven in the evening every day without rest or food was inhuman but it was the “re-education.” The re-education that gave no choice to the prisoners, treating them as machines even worse than machines because machines would get fuel or necessary oiling to for maintenance but the prisoners were the tools of the government. The tools who would work throughout the day to make the country beautiful and build the country. It was a way to get the rebuild the country without paying for the labor. It was a way to let them die slowly with improper died and excessive work and lack of empathy was difficult to endure and it was slowly killing the prisoners. They worked hard and produced the crops but they were not allowed to eat and enjoy any of them. They were not allowed to be proud of their work (). They were the tools who they were using to produce and after the production of the crops, the tools were not needed until next task. They could not speak nor discuss any of their concerns because of the fear of killing punished or killed.
The soldiers in the camp shot anyone as if their life did not matter at all to anybody to show them insignificance of their presence and life. Although it is argued that human lives matter and important, the camps were taking that significance from the people killing them. The rules in the camps was to obey or be killed and punished. The people showing resistance to obey the orders were shot “in front of all” showing them their insignificance (). Punishments and killings left people with no hope to return to family and normal life. Beating and punishments become part of routine “we were beaten whenever the guards felt like it” (73). The harsh treatment confirmed every day that they were no individuals, no humans and not worthy.
On top of all the humiliation, the socialization was restricted. The people were not allowed to discuss or talk about anything. They could only communicate through whispers or eyes. Although the prisoners were living with hundreds of others, it was difficult to build personal relationships with anyone. The only brief discussions the people had were about their previous lives. And one of the reasons for overworking was to keep them busy so that they “never have any time to scheme against them” (). Humans socialize but that socialization factor was removed and they were treated worse than animals. The guards made the prisoners fight each other as a punishment and that would not stop until “we could not move our hands” (74). All the techniques used were to reduce the human contact and the humanness in the individuals.
Additionally, they were forced to criticize themselves every night in front of everyone to humiliate them in front of others. It aimed at taking away the remaining pride and humility in them. The self-criticism raised questions regarding the self-worth of the person taking away the hopes and adding to negativity in the prisoners. The humiliation and tortures forced Huynh and other to think that they were “being punished for being cruel to others in the past lives” (ch 6). They felt guilty for something that they never did and accepted the violence as if they deserved it. It destroyed their self-respect and confidence making them all sinners.
Thus, the examples and the discuss shows the irrationality and cruelty that the war instigates on people. In the novel South Wind Changing Huynh, discuss the irrationalities in the Vietnam War. For instance, people were criminalized for being students, they were forced to re-education which focused on hard labor, people were working fourteens hours without proper food and resting, they were tortured and punished for other’s crimes and they were expected to obey everything, they were forced to self-criticize and they were shot. And they were not even allowed to eat lizards and other animals without permission. Additionally all these irrationalities contributed to dehumanization of the people who were keen to learn and work for their country and who were waiting for the peace to return. Regardless dehumanization was used to control the people and in order to control the guards and everyone involved was dehumanized detaching empathy, care and compassion that are required to be a human being.
To conclude, dehumanization is employed as a war technique to inflict force, and torture to control the people and obey the orders. It is used to produce some order in the chaos. However, it is a technique that destroys individuals, humiliates them, discourages them, tortures them and debilitate them for their whole lives. The abuses and tortures become nightmares for the people who suffered them and the story of Huynh illustrates through his experience as a prisoner in the South Wind Changing. Each example show irrationality but that dehumanizes them making them insignificant and worthless in their own eyes as well as in front of the state. The techniques of control during wars become derogatory for human beings and their humanity destroying every factor and characteristics that they cherish as humans.
Huỳnh, Jade Ngọc Quang. South Wind Changing. Graywolf Press, 2000.