William Brennan, 1995,

Loyola University Press, 3441 North

Ashland Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60657

William Brennan’s book Dehumanizing the Vulnerable compares the language used against seven of the most victimized groups in the modern age.  These are unborn, Native Americans, African Americans, European Jews, women, enemies of socialism in Soviet Russia, and those who rely on others physically and mentally.

The similarity in oppressive language used against each of these is quite remarkable, and quite frightening.  The scale of injustice and violent persecution suffered by each of these is difficult to even comprehend, Brennan indulges in no rhetoric, he simply documents in unequivocal language how the aforementioned groups have been branded as deficient, non-human, parasite, animal, object, waste, and most damaging of all, non-person.

What comes to mind as Brennan quotes the perpetrators of such lies is the veneer of respectability each could present to the public, enabling them to claim, with the Nazis, “We’re not monsters.”

The book begins by discussing how language is used, both to explain truth and to conceal.  In the service of the latter, new terminology for the more venerable practice of lying has been developed called “semantic gymnastics,” a phrase coined by an editorial in California Medicine in 1970 which enabled abortionists to “…deny fundamental scientific facts, which include the facts that human life exists before birth and that abortion kills human lives in the womb.”

Organized public violence is not a random occurrence, it is based on ideology; and in spite of differences in time and culture, one constant can be identified:  All of these ideologies, whatever their idealistic and benevolent guise, share one essential ingredient—they are based on an elitist definition of the human race.  And it is this deplorable notion that underlies the explosion of derogatory language directed against vulnerable populations today and in times past.  (p. 14)

A sense of irony pervades this book.  Modern radical feminists, who ostensibly are fighting to end the very real persecution of women that has occurred and still is occurring in our society, indulge in the same rhetoric suffered by women to victimize unborn children.  Women have been described and treated as animals, property, parasites and non-persons:

No contemporary institution has had a more disastrous influence on male perceptions on women, the treatment of women, and women’s perceptions of themselves than the pornographic Goliath, an empire that thrives on unremitting portrayals of women and young girls as dehumanized “objects,” “property,” “things,” and impersonal “matter” upon which males act out their aggression and lust.  (p. 198)

In her analysis of images of debased sexuality (1987) Playboy, Hustler, and Penthouse, Dr. Judith A. Reisman includes copies of cartoons depicting female bestiality published in Playboy during the 1970s and 1980s.  (p. 93)

We see these same images employed by Ann Druyan and her husband Carl Sagan who described the unborn as a worm, a reptile, and “’pig-like’ at the end of the seventh week,” (p.90) as well as a parasite that “destroys tissue in its path (and) sucks blood from capillaries.”  (p. 193)  The reduction of women to being simply property is one of the major reasons that violent husbands give to justify abusing their wives.

Similarly, this very view is echoed by the pro-abortion Rachel Conrad Wahlberg, who believes about the fetus, “It is hers.  It is her possession.” (p. 134)  Radical feminists have also used the parasitic imagery against other women, particularly married women who choose to raise their own children at home.  Simone de Beauvoir called such “leeches” who “live as parasites.”  (p. 104)

In the American West, the U.S. Cavalry justified the murder of Native children with the parasitic label.  “Nito make lice” was the phrase of choice with certain officers in order to spur their men on in their duty.”  (p. 194)               

The branding of people as legal non-persons removes the protection of the law from the victimized so that “…no longer is one’s humanity a sufficient basis for meriting the right to life.”(p. 147)  In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that “…the unborn have never been recognized as persons in the whole sense.” (p. 148)

This has enabled the unborn to be dismembered, starved, experimented on, harvested for  body parts, and in general suffer what can only be described as wholesale warfare.  The category of non-person is now being used to label newborn children and handicapped children.

Ethics professor Earl Shelp states that “all newborn human infants fail the test for personhood.”  (p. 154)  In 1936, the Reichsgericht, the highest court in Germany, stripped Jews  of their rank as persons, thus enabling them to be starved, dismembered, experimented on,  harvested body parts, and suffer wholesale slaughter.  In the Soviet Union under Stalin, in excess of twenty million were starved, slaughtered, and used as raw material (their bones mixed in concrete as an aggregate), having been stripped of their personhood.

In 1857, Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney of the U.S. Supreme Court declared in Dred Scott v. Sanford, that Negroes “…are not included, under the word ‘citizen’ in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States.”  (p. 160)  In 1881, the American Law Review published an article by George Canfield stating that:

…an Indian is not a person within the meaning of the Constitution.  (therefore) Congress     

may prevent an Indian from leaving his reservation, and while he is on a reservation it may deprive him of his liberty, his property, his life… (p. 162)

The last part of Brennan’s book is entitled Towards a Vocabulary of Life-Affirming Images, wherein he demonstrates the power of language to defend life, and to resist the victimizing propaganda that society has indulged in.  Language has played an important part in enabling people to recognize the humanity of the persecuted.

Finally, Brennan places the Pro-Life movement in its correct historical context, part of “a longstanding tradition of human rights advocacy on behalf of society’s most vulnerable individuals.” (p. 228)