Inhumanisation of War by Huck Gutman

A Brief Introduction to the Author
Huck Gutman is an English professor at the University of Vermont. His reputation is built on works such as Mankind in Barbary and Technologies of the Self. In 2001, Gutman was a visiting professor at Calcutta University.


Following the 2001 Afghanistan War, the essay ‘Inhumanisation of War’ was published in The Statesman. Huck Gutman compares and contrasts the many modes of warfare in the past and current. The old, traditional warfare characterised by courage, reciprocity, and symmetry has given way to unparalleled mechanisation and inhumanization of war. Today, there is no open conflict between the opposing groups; instead, everything is automated, with robots and computers running the show. As a result, genuine human beings are kept in the dark. Such irresponsible warfare is not just brutal and destructive, but also ominous. Terrorists on the one hand and dehumanisation of war on the other, the twenty-first century does not bode well for the world’s people. The author leaves us to explore the consequences of this evolution in the twenty-first century.

Questions and Answers

Q.1. What is the point of comparison between Walt Whitman and Melville as war poets?
Ans. The writer addresses two renowned American war poets, Walt Whitman and Herman Melville, in his essay ‘Inhumanization of War.’ Both of these writers wrote sensitive and painful poetry about the tragedies of war, particularly the American Civil War of 1861-1865.

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Both of them, though, created poetry about the war in distinct ways. Walt Whitman wrote poems inspired by his personal experiences and firsthand knowledge of battlefields and combat hospitals. His encounters with the tragedies of war inspire compassion in his writing.

Herman Melville, on the other hand, had no direct experience with war yet felt its sorrow strongly. He noticed that the war had become highly mechanical, with machines constantly taking the place of soldiers.

Melville and Whitman both wrote about the horrors of war, though in different ways.

Q.2. How does Huck Gutman trace the growth of mechanization in warfare?
Ans. In this essay, Huck Gutman explores the various stages of the developing mechanisation of warfare. The mechanisation of warfare started during the American Civil War (1860-1865). Machine guns were also used by British troops throughout the British colonies. During World Wars I and II, there was even more mechanisation and automation of war, as well as an increase in the use of atomic and nuclear bombs. The new American attack on Afghanistan paints a more bleak picture of the evolving battlefield condition. Nowadays, war is a one-sided affair dominated by computers and robots. Bravery and heroism have passed us by, and what is ahead is a long black lane. With industrialised battlefields and robotic weaponry, war has become increasingly dehumanised, resulting in widespread death and destruction. Something sinister has happened.

Q.3. “What Melville foretold has come to pass”, Gutman remarks.  Explain with illustration what he is referring to here.
Ans. Herman Melville was a well-known war poet in the United States. He saw the American Civil War as a watershed moment in human history. In one of his poems, he stated, “War yet shall be, but warriors are now but operatives.” What he was attempting to imply was that conflicts will be fought in the future as well, but with a difference in that war would be more mechanised in the future. What Melville predicted has come true.

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Mechanization began a long time ago. To maintain their dominance, British troops deployed machine guns in their colonies. During World Wars I and II, contending forces used atom and nuclear bombs to further mechanise warfare. During the 2001 war in Afghanistan, mechanisation was taken to its logical conclusion. This approach has led to widespread death and damage, putting one warring party at the mercy of the other. Nowadays, war is a one-sided affair characterised by dehumanisation and a lack of reciprocity and balance.

Q.4. Draw a comparison between the wars of the past on the one hand and the Afghanistan war (2001) on the other.
Ans. In this essay, Gutman undertakes a comparative examination of conflicts of the past on the one hand and the Afghanistan war on the other.

In the past, men engaged on the battlefield and both soldiers and armies achieved victory by risking defeat. But the new combat is characterised by total mechanisation. This process of mechanisation had set in long ago. World wars I and II witnessed the development of fighter planes and nuclear bombs respectively. Nevertheless, the war hadn’t yet become a one-sided affair. But the Afghanistan war of 2001 has presented before us a new sort of warfare. American bombers and missiles unleashed havoc on Afghanistan without suffering much loss themselves. They exploited all their technological advantages in this war. They dropped bombs from a height of 16 kilometres above the enemy ground and secured a safe position for themselves. The obvious thing about this war has been the dehumanisation of the aggressor. The Afghanistan war, therefore, demonstrates the increased industrialization and dehumanisation of modern combat as compared to the conflicts of the past centred on valour and heroism.

Q.5. Summaries the main argument of the essay.
Ans. The essay ‘Inhumanization of War’ sheds light on the increasing industrialization and dehumanisation of war throughout the years, with particular reference to two renowned American war poets, Walt Whitman and Herman Melville. Gutman explains how, over time, the human element in war has been steadily replaced by the technological element. Previously, men demonstrated bravery on the battlefield, and armies won by risking defeat. However, bravery and valour are no longer valued, and the emphasis is instead placed on robots and invisible weapons of attack. The increased and growing mechanisation of warfare is bad news for humanity as it promises to bring even more devastation than before. The author concludes that the twenty-first century, with terrorists on one side and the mechanical war on the other, confronts us with a world wrapped in darkness.

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