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I am writing a story that takes place in an alternate universe in which the timeline is all screwed up. The society this question is about (let's call it Rome) has lots of futuristic technology, such as ray guns, force fields, nanites, ect. However, due to a bit of handwavium, it has made next to no advances in the field of travel. Sure, they have carts and wheels, but those are used to carry things, not people. They still walk pretty much everywhere.

Anyways, this is also before any kind of 'global civilization', so the separate continents (of which there are multiple) have no idea that there are others out there. In fact, this story takes place just as Rome discovers the other land masses and the people on them.

It is then that Rome decides to conquer and kill them all.

The people on all the other continents are very behind in the technology department, scoring at around Middle Ages level. They also don't know that Rome or any other continents exist until Rome basically shows up on their doorstep to kill them. However, Rome knows that these other continents will still put up quite a fight if Rome's invading army isn't prepped well enough.

This is where things turn ugly.

Rome is trying to turn its people into the perfect, robotical machines it needs, void of any empathy or compassion. Its government body (being the corrupt, self-absorbed legislature it is) has no qualms emotionally, physically, or psychologically abusing its soldiers to get them to become this. They also don't care about the people's well-being, so they can conscript anyone into the battle, young or old, and give them as many or as few resources as possible, depending on whether this would further the agenda.

Now, given all of this, What kind of 'techniques' could Rome use to dehumanize its army?

A couple of last things to note:

  • These techniques used should be as cost-effective as possible, as Rome does have a lot of soldiers to employ them on. This doesn't necessarily mean costing a low amount of money, but on the other hand, time is a rather important resource to them, especially since travel consumes a lot of it.

  • Rome wants these people as machine-like as possible, and they don't draw the line anywhere. Chatting with fellow soldiers? Gone. Stories around a campfire to pass the time? Gone. It may not be logical to take it to this level, but Rome isn't bound by that. It doesn't have a very logical group in power.

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    $\begingroup$ You mean, techniques which are not already in use in all militaries around the world? Becoming a soldier already involves having a big chunk of your individuality stripped away. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Apr 15 at 7:40
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    $\begingroup$ I think you should watch the anime Eighty-Six. It involves an extremely dehumanised military. The government claims that their tanks are autonomous weapon systems, but there are pilots inside them. $\endgroup$ Apr 15 at 9:25
  • $\begingroup$ Most answers here had a consensus of '"Don't dehumanize the army, dehumanize the enemy." While I agree that that would probably be a good course of action, I feel the answer I approved helped me the best for the specific problem I had. To anyone looking at this question to help them with a similar problem, I suggest you look at all of the answers, as they are all very detailed and well thought out. $\endgroup$ Apr 16 at 15:21

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Encourage a cut throat society with few resources, and lots of motivation to betray each other.

You want them to grow up in a place where empathy and compassion pays off poorly. Make society short of resources, and have lots of reasons why that blame groups inside the society, and give people the ability to report their fellow citizens for this.

You want everyone to feel constantly on edge and afraid of being reported by others, and offer strong incentives to betray each other, like rewards for reporting unpatriotic behaviour.

This way almost everyone will learn to restrain their empathy and compassion, or get sent to a work camp.

Set up the army with multiple competing factions competing for scarce resources.

This is what Hitler did with the nazis. Rather than having a clear line of command, you have multiple competing factions fighting over money, people, equipment, and time from the leadership.

This encourages lots of backstabbing, brutality, and a lack of positive communication.

Punish success and reward obedience

All of this is a terrible model for a technogically advanced army- a lack of empathy or care means the maintenance of the complex weapons of war that give them an advantage over their enemy will be minimal. There's gonna be a big push to give generals who are more successful some leeway to do what works.

You can't allow this. Any general who is successful by deviating from the commanded methods should be sent to a prison.

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Take a social approach to war and culture

Wars aren't just fought by soldiers, its waged by an extensive support network that eventually leads to the people of a faction.

There are a few unintended consequences that I am going to try to address.

First, by all intents and purposes an army of Rome that you described should be able to blitz its way across any foreign land with relative ease. During the Civil War Sherman and Grant marched great distances across the battlefield and covered a significant portion of land, and this was in the CSA where they used a different gauge for railway compared to the Union. Even the German army of WW2 which is often erroneously hailed as a mechanized monster relied heavily on horse and infantry trudging through mud (The armored spearhead of Blitzkrieg tends to overshadow the infantry following behind).

Essentially a foot mobile fighting force cannot be counted out and are more than capable of mounting a quick campaign across enemy territory. This is compounded by the fact that Rome's enemies aren't close to a peer threat or even capable of establishing a modern guerilla style campaign. The level of dehumanization required to fight against this type of enemy probably doesn't need to be as high as you think it is if you can quickly wage your campaign and be over with it.

An emotionless and robotic fighting force doesn't mean that said fighting force is the most competent or best at carrying out orders. A sociological approach to dehumanization would probably work better than technology. The shared ideology shared by a group can be very powerful. The Nazis didn't need technological solutions to dehumanize the Jewish and Slavic people. The Japanese didn't need technological solutions to dehumanize the Chinese and Koreans.

Really what you have is a Manifest Destiny situation on your hand. Where the US parallels Rome in your situation. Cultural attitudes towards westward expansion trumped Native American claims to land. This was reflected even in the military.

A cultural expectation that promotes expansion over the lives of any foreign inhabitants would create a self-feeding cycle where your population both pushes war/armed conflict while at the same time continually demonizing outsiders. Given that Rome is essentially isolated in this setting, you don't have the free flow of outside information to bring forth competing ideas. You have a vacuum in which not only the government can heavily push forth its own ideas, but external influence is nonexistent. The government would have its people doing its own bidding by culturally spreading the propaganda themselves. The people themselves would be able to reject home grown ideas that run counterproductive to the social narrative. Things like Feminism and Abolition didn't just gain popularity overnight and become mainstream. It was a slow and grueling process that had multiple watershed moments across it. Had a government and society at large intervened more heavily against such movements, it's unlikely they would have become mainstream. In a similar vein, during the Cold War there were communist groups in America but being outed as one or being accused of one could end one's career especially during the 50s (oversimplifying a lot obviously).

Dehumanizing only your soldiers to the point of emotional neglect and a total lack of emotional maturity leads to massive problems reintegrating into the population once they come back from their tour or are injured. If there is a massive cultural divide between the soldiers and the civilian populace you are going to foster a major "us vs them" mentality. Only in this case it would be more extreme than what is going on currently. Having a populace on the same page across the board about its views on the "enemy" would make reintegration back into society easier.

Lastly, dehumanizing Rome's enemies does not mean that Rome is no longer capable of being over the top bad if that's what you want. One of the things that we learned from the Nazis and the multiple ethnic conflicts during the fall of Yugoslavia is that culture plays a huge role in taking seemingly normal men and then having those same men commit heinous crimes against humanity. If you create a strong "us vs them" mentality, then it creates the scenarios and conditions for war crimes and brutality. At the same time, it creates a homogenous cultural expectation and view of war and the enemy. In this way your Roman soldiers follow orders to the letter and are "mindless" in the sense that they willingly follow orders because they have been socially conditioned to. That the war and deaths of their enemies is acceptable. The Nazis fought to the bitter end in WW2. Even when the Red Army surrounded Berlin and the Reichstag, the Nazis fought to the bitter end.

From a narrative point of view, if you are writing and framing it any way not directly from the Roman point of view, you can argue that as a culture Rome is more than fine and even encourages brutality and horrible treatment of its enemies in war. That as a society and even all the way down to the squad level, they are eager and ready to commit a brutal land campaign. If you're taking it from the Roman perspective, then you have a lot more room to explore their psyche towards war.

Dehumanizing an abstract enemy is far easier than dehumanizing your own people. Dehumanizing your enemy, while working your own people through the propaganda mill will result in a brutal campaign from one side if you want. The major downside is that it is highly unlikely that you will change this society unless you completely topple it. Rome's enemies aren't going to be able to change Rome's mind or its soldier's mind. You are more likely to hit a situation where the general populace rejects all notions of peace, and if things continue for long enough, they could outright deny the humanity (as in species) of their enemies. Which at that point, well the cats out of the bag.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a very well-thought out answer, which is why I upvoted it. Sadly, it probably won't work in my case. The story behind Rome's conquest and the dehumanization of the army is heavily simplified in the question, but in the context of the story, the dehumanization of the people themselves provides an integral plot point later, when the soldiers are reintegrated to the population. Like you point out in the answer, this causes a lot of conflict, which is used to the main character's advantage. $\endgroup$ Apr 15 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ Moreover, the dehumanization is also used to show the corruption and apathy of the government officials, and how dedicated they are to truly killing the other societies. $\endgroup$ Apr 15 at 0:36
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    $\begingroup$ Ah in that case my answer does fall short. In that sense, however, if you are trying to create a separation between soldiers and the rest of the society. Intense reeducation/internal propaganda in the military might help you on that front. Such that the soldiers dehumanize your enemy, while at the same time fall victim to socialization of the military system. This would only heighten the cultural divide between the soldiers and civilians. And would serve to create a massive divide between the people and the government/military. $\endgroup$
    – FIRES_ICE
    Apr 15 at 1:01
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe the career of soldier is intended to be a one-way-road. If there is no viable way for veterans to ever rejoin society, that will make these forcibly conscripted soldiers unable to leave, forever obliged to stay part of the military as they have no other place to go. This is similar to how many real world cults operate, brainwashing their people to such an extent that they will be unable to ever go back to a normal life. $\endgroup$
    – Sinthorion
    Apr 16 at 13:12
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The government wants its soldiers to be like robots -- why not just make them... robots?

As you say that the civilization has a lot of futuristic technology, the most apparent solution is if they created/obtained a control system in which they could make their soldiers controllable by a few generals -- who are the only ones who need to be loyal, thinking... people. (For example, you could use a brain implant or just teach hypnotism to your generals.)

Potential drawback: The tech needed could be costly/inexistant.

That said, another option is:

Train them from when they were born to be soldiers.

If someone is trained to be a cold-blooded killer from when they were born, they will not know anything else, and will do as their commanders say. This could be similar to some warrior races in which children are reared to become generals or officers in an army. This will also not allow them to develop empathy or morality and instead the need to obey and kill will be drilled into their heads.

Potential drawbacks: Time consuming, outside influence could provoke mutiny.

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    $\begingroup$ This is pretty much the Republic's Clone Army. It worked somewhat well but there were major problems that resulted in the Empire abandoning the project in favor of a more conventional army of indoctrinated individuals. $\endgroup$ Apr 15 at 13:53
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To expand the @Atif answer:

You don't dehumanize the army, you dehumanize the enemy.

You have a handy example right now in the news.

(Well, I learned to read some 40 years ago. Since then, there was constantly an example in the news.)

Once the enemy is demoted from human beings to cattle, your army will slauthter them without the need to be un-civilized at home.

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Careful interviews.

In contrast with normal military operations that prioritize victory and harmonious function of the military unit, the persons organizing this army are more concerned with having soldiers with specific character qualities. They will interview persons looking for individuals who have those character qualities. It will be possible to identify individuals who have no interest in talking with their peers and persons who are void of empathy or compassion. They are out there, those folks.

The piece about allowing persons of any age or condition potentially be soldiers will greatly increase the number of candidates. Some of these persons will have pre-existing brain damage or serious mental illness that has conferred the qualities desired for this army; so be it.

The thing about this method is that it is cheap! If you want an army of redheads, only conscript redheads. If you want an army of psychopaths, only conscript psychopaths. And done!

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You said techniques not technology.

Use racism. It worked in past.

There is no trade going on between you and them. There are no foreign workers in your country, not even slaves. Just recently your people didnt even know those other people exist. All ripe for racism.

Use any and all things different from you as 'prove' of superiority of your race.

Remember, you just dont have a country you also have a race. One race. You lived in isolation since time immemorable. Your people would have inter-married so much by now that all of them can now be called one race.

Ancient greeks called all non-greeks barbarians. You can too.

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    $\begingroup$ These are my thoughts, the best way to dehumanize a group of people is to dehumanize the enemy. Claim they're lesser for some reason (race is the easiest) and therefore any inhumane act isn't really inhumane because of course, your enemy is sub-human and therefore unworthy of compassion. Worked for every authoritarian govt in history $\endgroup$
    – Amon
    Apr 15 at 19:06
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    $\begingroup$ barbarian, from greek bárbaros. "The word is probably onomatopoeic in origin, the “bar bar” sound representing the perception by Greeks of languages other than their own" (Britannica) $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Apr 16 at 9:07
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The Jews in antiquity fit the bill. Under Moses and Joshua they genocided everyone in sight. Their soldiers would kill everything. This was done via religious ideas.

The Zulus did it by training their boys from a young age as groups who would do whatever they were told including fighting to the death.

The Romans also indulged in wholesale slaughter. Discipline was absolute in their armies. Mongols the same.

So you can either do it as a religious thing or just train them to kill anything and everything they're pointed at. After the first time I assume it gets easier. But if they balk at the carnage, hang a few of them and the rest will fall in line.

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I think you could simply study human history, any authoritarian govt would do. The simplest way to "dehumanize" your army is to dehumanize the enemy. In this way the army has convinced itself what they're doing isn't actually inhumane, even though they're committing atrocities.

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Propaganda

Soldier! You are fighting barbarians. They speak gibberish that doesn't make sense and has no meaning. They eat raw meat with their fingers and drink this disgusting liquid called ale. They might look like humans, but they lack what makes them human: Roman Civilisation. They are little more than animals.

This actually is what the Romans thought about the Germanic and Gallic tribes. And pretty much any non-roman. The only two kinds of people exempt from this general "they are under-humans" stance was Greek and Egyptian people, the former for their achievements in goods they loved, the latter for they were Ptolemaic ruled and thus Greek.

This brings us neatly to the second part: dehumanizing the enemy results in the own soldiers behaving more gruesomely toward them. This behavior can be encouraged even, resulting in even worse behavior toward the enemy, which results in repercussions and much more efficient propaganda... Wait, where have we heard of such behavior before? Yes, I am talking about the second world war: SS units were known to massacre whole villages in retaliation for a single kill of a Wehrmacht soldier by a partisan. The picture actually became self-reinforcing in some areas: the fiercer the resistance, the harder the grip on the civilians, the harder the attacks on the civilians, the fiercer the resistance.

This can be further enhanced by religion. Claiming the own pantheon demands those others to be killed works very very well to make the own soldiers fight all the fiercer. Crusades. Jihads. Pretty much every religious war, including the 30 years war, always brought out the worst in people.

Readily indoctrinated that they are fighting for the survival of their own people and the will of God and that the enemy is just beasts, the Roman army will behave inhumanly, leaving nobody alive, butchering who they get their fingers on and using the worse weapons they have, such as chemical warfare.

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By conditioning the soldiers, to equate eating dead enemies with happiness. Use drug addiction and infusion of captured "training" enemies with the substance early on to make this the new normal. With a painful withdrawl, and a drug that makes euphoric but not peaceful you get a monstrous bloodthirsty horde willing to fight to oblivion and beyond.

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  • $\begingroup$ +1 This would make for pretty intense book though. $\endgroup$ Apr 16 at 16:08

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