Civilian casualties in a war zone, sometimes in large numbers. Much more antiseptic-sounding than "we murdered a bunch of innocent people to achieve these military objectives". The phrase was popularized during the Gulf War (as seen on CNN); first it was used in military briefings, then it spread like wildfire to all the anchors and reporters covering the war. Saves time and print-space, since "murdered a bunch of innocent people to achieve these military objectives" is quite the mouthful.

"Collateral damage" is invoked to describe the effects of attacks on civilian passenger trains, refugee convoys and the headquarters of Radio Television Serbia during the war in Kosovo.

"Collateral damage" during the Gulf War included, in only one instance, 313 people incinerated at the Amiriya bomb shelter in western Baghdad, which was deliberately attacked.

"Collateral damage" applies to the effects of sanctions on innocent Iraqi civilians over the past decade. Asked by an interviewer if the deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children because of sanctions could possibly be justified, then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright simply remarked: " We think the price is worth it."

Timothy McVeigh described the 19 dead children among his 168 victims as "collateral damage" in an interview. McVeigh was a gunner on a Bradley fighting vehicle during the Gulf War. It is possible that by invoking the phrase "collateral damage," McVeigh was not only repeating a rhetorical device for denial he learned in the military service, but he was actually taunting the government, and even society at large, for his own propensity for indifference.

Once the notion that the ends justify the means is accepted, a callous moral is the inevitable result.

Source: Orwell Would Revel , by Hussein Ibish, in Los Angeles Times Monday, April 9, 2001.

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