Science fiction stories are fables for the modern era. Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles is really about Colonialism, District 9 is really about racism and refugees, and C.S. Lewis' Out of This Silent Planet is really about jingoism. In The Word for World is Forest, Ursula K. Leguin writes about the great mistake so many soldiers, armies and societies make again and again: making/believing their enemy is inhuman.
Of course, in Leguin's novel the "enemy" literally isn't a human. The novelette, which even Leguin described as moralistic, turns the normal science fiction conventions on their head. Humans are the invaders and the en-slavers of the Athsheans.
We first meet the small, green ape-like Athesheans from the point of view of a military officer Captain Davidson. He and the other colonists don’t believe the aliens--nick-named “Chreechies”--feel pain, sleep or have any intelligence. Most of all, they consider them harmless and dumb, mere animals. “The fact is creechies are a meter tall, they’re covered with green fur, they don’t sleep and they’re not human beings in my frame of reference,” Captain Davidson tells another officer. Introduced as savages, the reader views them as such. I did so on my first reading.
Of course, Le Guin reverses this view a chapter later, and destroys the preconceptions and biases of Captain Davidson and the other officers. A xeno-anthropologist explains how each stereotype is merely a misconception. While the Athsheans lack technology, they have developed a nuanced, complex culture. But only one human is even capable of understanding this; the others merely want to cut down their forests.
The Athshean are not innocent of dehumanizing their enemies either, with most of the Athsheans referring to the Earthlings as crazy--“They are backwards, Selver. They are insane.”--or evil--“If they are men, they are evil men.” This gap between Earthlings and Athshean only grows, and eventually leads to political war, a liberation insurgency on the part of the Athsheans.
By the end of the novel, anatgonism and segregation has replaced possible integration and cooperation.So how does this affect us today? The human instinct to marginalize/dehumanize the enemy has not dissipated. No matter how holy we like to believe ourselves, we persist in stereotypes. Like WWII propaganda depicting the Japanese as rat-like, a nation at war seems destined to dehumanize and hate their enemy. Today is no different. I've met soldiers who told me--in hushed tones or in boisterous drunkenness--that they hate all Iraqi's/Afghanis/Arabs/Muslims, or some variation thereof. Googling the words “Islam barbaric” yields 400,000 hits, and who knows how many hits Western invaders would yield in Arabic.