The term ‘collateral damage’ is trotted out to make the death or damage of innocent people in conflict zones seem like an unfortunate inevitability. We are invited to think it is much the same as infirmity with old age and disturbed nights with a new baby. We don’t like it but we are persuaded it has to happen.
Ahmad teaches maths. His body just wasn’t thick enough to protect his cousin, Raghat, when the bomb fell. She was five years old and she will not get any older. She died on the back of a motor bike in a dash to hospital.
I could tell you where this family lived and who dropped the bomb from which sort of aeroplane. None of this matters to Raghat. Nor does it matter to her why bombs were being dropped and whether the attack was ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’. Nor does it matter to her that I am writing this and using her name. What does matter is that we allow Raghat to bring to mind boys and girls we know who are also five years old.
So, here is what the term ‘collateral damage’ means to me –
- Parents who had children and now do not
- Children who had parents but are now orphaned
- Youngsters who had all four limbs and now have to manage without some of them
- Babies, children, teenagers, adults and elderly people who had a complete brain and now have some of it missing
- People whose skin used to be soft and smooth and is now burned all over and painful
- Families broken apart, traumatised and displaced
- Girls and boys who could see, hear, play, talk and sing – but now cannot
‘Collateral damage’ becomes an obscene and inexcusable phrase once we decide it is not inevitable. The Berlin wall came down, USSR broke apart and the term ‘collateral damage’ can be finally discredited if we make up our minds that it should.
In the better world that I want to see, people will be held to account when they contribute in some way to this ‘collateral damage’. I can imagine this one day in my country and perhaps you can in yours. In those countries where people are rarely if ever held to account for their misdeeds, I doubt there would be much need to hide behind such euphemisms as ‘collateral damage’.