If anything should highlight the hypocrisy of the collateral damage concept, it’s the US bombing of a hospital in Afghanistan just a day after calling out Russia for allegedly bombing civilians in Syria.
As the war hawks would put it, collateral damage is the unintended killing of innocents while carrying out a greater mission that will prevent more killing in the future. It doesn’t matter if a few women and children get blown to pieces, because we’re stopping the terrorists in the process. In certain contexts that may make sense on paper, but in action the killing of civilians in the Middle East for example has become one of many factors driving young men to become “terrorists” in the first place. You invade my country and kill my family? Well forgive me for firing back.
The war in Afghanistan has been going for around 14 years, longer than World War 1 and 2 combined, the Soviet-Afghan war of the 80s, and not too far behind Vietnam. What was sold to the public as a targeted mission to root out Bin Laden and his handful of Al Qaeda followers, quickly became a war with the native Taliban for reasons that have perhaps not been fully explained nor understood, something Jeremy Corbyn was recently taken to task for pointing out back in 2003. When 92% of Afghans have never even heard of 9/11, winning “hearts and minds” is probably not going to work either. Especially when 26,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict.
To western leaders this – along with the hundreds of thousands of innocents killed in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia – is just collateral damage. But just like one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, it seems one man’s collateral damage is another’s murder.
Just one day before the US dropped bombs on an Afghan hospital run by the charity “Doctors Without Borders”, US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power ordered Russia to “immediately cease attacks on Syrian opposition and civilians” because this would “only fuel more extremism and radicalization.” *holds up mirror*
Of course the US will claim that when they kill civilians it’s an accident (collateral damage), when Russia kills civilians it’s on purpose. Russia too are claiming that their bombings were justified because their target was actually the Islamic State. For those innocents killed however I don’t think they’re interested in semantics or political arguments, after all they’re dead through no real fault of their own.
When words have to be invented to make actions seem less severe, there might be something inherently wrong with those actions.
The conflict in Syria itself has been painted as black and white and obscured by semantics on all sides. The Assad government claimed from day one that any military action against people within its borders was against violent and armed terrorists. The west was having none of this, claiming Assad was attacking his own people who were rising up to form peaceful protest groups. It quickly became apparent that yes there were actually terrorists (ISIS) targeting the country, and the west and its NATO allies began condemning both the Assad regime and the terrorists, while supporting the arming of non-extremist rebels (no longer peaceful) whose aim was only to bring down Assad. I wonder how much funding and weapons actually went to ISIS?
Russia who backs Assad and publicly takes his word on the origins of the conflict claims to be helping the fight against ISIS, but the west say they are actually attacking civilians and rebels.
It seems unlikely that any group involved in this conflict other than ISIS would have deliberately targeted unarmed civilians as a policy, because there is nothing to gain by doing so. But all parties involved have certainly killed civilians as collateral, whether that be through over the top policing, careless bombings or covert operations. That’s the true tragedy of war. The only pure victims are those that never picked up a gun in the first place. Not only are they killed as an afterthought, but their deaths are exploited by both sides. Then when the conflict is over it’s not them who are left to run the country in peace. It’s whoever had the biggest guns.