What it is: Making people brutal, cruel or careless of the feelings, needs or even life of others. People can be brutalised when they are treated brutally or are caught up in brutality and other profoundly uncivilised behaviour.
What it means: There is plenty of evidence that war and fighting lead to brutalisation. Though high-minded people talk about going to war 'for a just cause' or for 'the defence of freedom', the actual business of war can make both soldiers and civilians, caught up in it, carry out dreadful acts of injustice and harm, often because they are driven by fear as well as war-induced hatred. When 'freedom is defended' by war, both soldiers and civilians can become prisoners of terror and brutality. Soldiers are trained and taught to kill, after all, and in war they are ordered to put sensitivity aside. Such brutalisation may lead to such acts as the massacres during the Vietnam War, when groups of US soldiers killed many unarmed women and children without stopping to think what an atrocity they were committing. These appalling events are only known because a few soldiers were horrified enough, and brave enough, to report them.
Think about it: Maybe it's hard to imagine how hatred and fear can make people so desperate that their normal humane feelings disappear. Some films and books have tried to show it, but we can always stop looking and make a cup of tea. The reality is very different. Many soldiers who have recovered (as far as that can ever be possible) from their experiences have felt deeply ashamed by what they did under pressure of fear and hate. Should any human being be asked to do what soldiers do? Should any human being be at the receiving end of what soldiers do? And there's something else to remember: modern technology means that many soldiers never see the people their weapons are killing. Bombs can be dropped from high-flying warplanes, missiles can be fired across hundreds of miles. But for the (mostly civilian) victims of the bombs and missiles it's still the same terrifying carnage of war it has always been. And civilians who are living in constant fear of this violent and horrific death, unable to escape, can become brutalised too. Can war ever truly defend freedom?