You don’t like using the term “collateral damage.” Why not?
For one thing, like many Latinate terms, it tends to distance the observer from the emotional impact of what’s going on. “Collateral damage” is a neat term that doesn’t involve a discussion of what’s actually happening, which is that innocent people are being killed or murdered, and that’s what I think, in some ways, this should be called.
The term also denies intentionality – it refers to the unintentional side of warfare – when a great deal of this mortality is intentional. I’m not saying the U.S. military goes out to kill civilians, but there are many cases in which the military knows that civilians are at risk and are likely to be hurt or killed, and they go ahead with their missions anyway.
For example, consider any bombing that takes place: Long-range artillery can be at up to three miles – they don’t know what’s at the other end of a three-mile trajectory, but they go ahead and do it anyway. The U.S. military tries to avoid this sort of thing, but it does happen, and it happens often enough that it is a moral outrage.
In short, I don’t like to use the term collateral damage because it doesn’t convey what’s actually going on. More …
War has a powerful impact on those who have lived through one, bending every calculation, every thought, every action to the possible consequences of violence, deprivation, displacement and the other ravages of conflict. Oddly, war has become a distant occurrence for most of us in the industrialized West. The armed forces of Canada and the United States are all-volunteer and have been for many years, so very few who are unwilling to go to war or work in war zones are actually forced to experience its maelstrom.
But the people who live in war zones do, of course. Many millions of them are directly affected by the violence, now for more than a decade in Afghanistan in its latest war and for nearly nine years in Iraq in a war that followed 12 years of crippling sanctions and the short but intense Operation Desert Storm.
And there’s the rub: war devastates these places, but to us they are remote and largely forgettable. The amount of public attention to Afghanistan and Iraq has declined steadily. We scarcely pay attention to what has happened to the native populations. There are, perhaps, political and psychological reasons for this indifference—a turning away from the violence, a mission gone bad, falsehoods proffered by politicians, and many others. But the indifference is unmistakable. The news media rarely describes the ruinous consequences of U.S. policy and war-making for Afghanis and Iraqis. Few, if any, novels, films or other cultural expressions attempt to capture this suffering either.
This broad tendency to forget, or intentionally put aside, the ravages of war was evident during and after the Korean War (1950-53) and the Indochina wars in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the 1960s and early ’70s. But we forget at our peril. We should care about what happens to these people and their societies, not only for moral reasons, but also because forgetting has consequences.