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Tuesday, 2 August 2016

197 Collateral Damage – a euphemism too far…


… as the shattered maternity hospital in Syria proves.

Collateral Damage is a cold, cruel and cowardly euphemism. It is an evil phrase developed to cloak the stinking cadaver of civilisation – an ineffective gauze to cover the curdled milk of human kindness. It is dishonest. It is fraudulent.

The latest ‘Collateral Damage’ was at a maternity hospital in Syria – the only working facility of its kind in the area. The people in the hospital may have thought they were mothers, medical staff, family, and newly delivered infants. No. They have been reduced to Collateral Damage, as the building was reduced to rubble. Victims included a mother-to-be who was 6 months pregnant and lost a leg.

Collateral Damage is one of the horrible side-effects of war. Sad but unavoidable, we are told. Targeting of civilians is illegal. Great. There is, however, a thin and often crossed line between targeting and callous disregard.

Apart from the deliberate dehumanising effect of the term it can also give the false sense that non-combatant casualties are a minor or infrequent event. But civilians regularly make up a huge proportion of the deaths and injuries in contemporary conflicts.

And there is something almost self-knowing about the phrase. ‘Collateral’, in its bare sense, means a guarantee, surety, security. In monetary terms collateral is something you might put up to secure a loan for example. There is nothing secure or guaranteed about being an innocent civilian in this world. Innocence buys you nothing.

This latest incident briefly grabbed a headline because of the very obviously awful nature of the result when the maternity hospital at Kafar Takharim was hit. But for the vast majority of us who have no choice about whether war is waged or not, the idea of being caught up in fatal violence and gross brutality is something we cannot imagine. For many other poor unfortunates, it is a real possibility every minute of every day.

Language in war is an interesting area. Many years ago there was a popular term ‘Human Shields’. This term referred to civilians who were used by combatants to protect themselves from their adversaries. I recall claim and counter-claim that armed groups planted themselves near or within civilian populations to deter the enemy attacking them. ‘Human Shields’ as a term, is almost redundant now. Harming civilians seems to have become accepted and acceptable. That is why Collateral Damage as a term has become embedded. What it tells us is – killing innocent by-standers is no longer a deterrent. The presence of women, children, the sick, the elderly, anyone who has no choice to be in the vicinity will not stop the pulling of triggers, the detonating of explosives, the aerial bombardments. If you happen to be in the way – tough.
It is disgusting.

As aid agencies and charities and human rights groups trying to operate in these hell holes, condemn the human carnage, the standard response is one of regret (from whichever side) or blame. The idea that this is just what you put up with in war seems to have taken hold. And yet those who use the phrase show that they understand the vile nature of these acts and their callous attitude to them by using the term. They cannot call it what it is. They have invented this term to protect themselves and shield the sensibilities of the public in their own countries where they know the dark killing of innocent by-standers could not be covered by fair words.

It is a classic indicator of the world’s double standards.

The people injured are not like you and me and the building damaged when the maternity hospital was hit was not vital for the very basics of a safe beginning in life – they were just Collateral Damage.

And as the rock of war is dropped into social ponds around the world the destabilising ripples spread ever outwards. The men women and children daily blown up in Iraq by warring factions in a fractured country are Collateral Damage. Children separated from their parents and the protection of properly organised society, as they flee war zones, put at the mercy of bandits and traffickers are also Collateral Damage. There is always something more important than their safety.

Old people and the sick and disabled unable to get health care because their country’s systems of social care have been obliterated are Collateral Damage. We know roughly the numbers of combatants killed and maimed but those we refer to as Collateral Damage whether in the immediate aftermath of a skirmish or in the horrible months that follow, are too numerous to count. Nobody knows, for example, how many civilians died during and after the invasion of Iraq. They are unknown and uncounted.

Surely it’s time to name this barbarity, this denial of humanity. It is the harming and mass murder of innocents.

The new UK government – with its unelected leader - was quick to confirm the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapon. And Prime Minister Mrs May was quicker to confirm that she would be completely comfortable pressing the trigger.

If you can, put aside the billions to be wasted on this murderous vanity project. Think instead of this. When some idiot – in this country or another - finally presses the trigger there will be no Collateral Damage.


Because there will be no one left to utter that lie.

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