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Collateral Damage Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Nadia, Greece Aug 13, 2004
Peace & Conflict , Human Rights   Opinions
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Ever since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11th 2001, the United States government has taken steps it claims will protect first Americans and then the rest of the world. The reality is, however, that actions following the events of 9-11 serve to a great extent to safeguard not the principles, ideals, and freedoms of America and the Free World, but rather the current US Administration, that is almost Orwellian in its propensity to divert the attention of its constituents to exterior enemies and thus prevents those individuals from looking inward and questioning their own government. The War on Terrorism, and now the War on Iraq-but-not-really-the-people-of-Iraq-just-Saddam-Hussein-and-his-evil-and-terror-sponsoring-supporters have captivated the attention of the US media and the American people and have prevented them from noticing the changes that have been taking place in their own country. The Newspeak of which George Orwell wrote/warned in 1984 is rapidly taking its place in the American lexicon: expressions such as collateral damage, regime change, homeland security, freedom, liberation and weapons of mass destruction are more and more being used to convey sentiments desired by the US administration, in the stead of more frank, honest, but potentially-damaging alternatives.

Though it would be unreasonable and highly unfair to claim that the deaths that have so far occurred among Iraqis civilian population were the intention of the Anglo-American coalition, the use of the term collateral damage serves to divorce the actual human cost of war in terms of civilian casualties from the reporting of those casualties to the American and British publics, who are at present fighting a war in the Persian Gulf by proxy. Contrasted to the horrors of Tokyo, Dresden, London, Rotterdam, Leningrad, and Hiroshima during the Second World War, horrors caused intentionally to destroy civilian morale and caused in accordance with what are generally considered the tenets of ''total war'', the deaths of civilians in Baghdad and Basra seem to be more accidental than intentional on the part of the United States and Great Britain (never mind, though, that if it weren’t for those two countries initial instigation of military action involving aerial bombardment, those deaths would not even be a possibility).

Some, however, have called into question the efficacy of doublethink expressions such as collateral damage. Hendrik Herzberg wrote in the New Yorker's April 7th edition that, ''collateral damage is one of those antiseptic-sounding euphemisms that are sometimes more chilling than plain language, so hard do they labour to conceal their human meaning.'' After all, the purpose of expressions such as collateral damage is to obscure the truth just enough for the speaker to avoid scrutiny for his remarks. On the other hand, imagine the reaction of the parent or child of one of the individuals blown to bits in a Baghdad marketplace and the term collateral damage doesn't quite seem appropriate to the situation. As Orwell writes in 1984 as Winston Smith struggles to remember his mother, lost to him in childhood, ''tragedy'', he perceived,'' belonged to the ancient time''. The times in which we live are beginning to bear a frightening resemblance to those of Orwell's ''Negative Utopia'', where tragedy does not exist as it once did, a world where death has passed from a human loss to a statistic and is fast becoming a sterile fact of life.

In the wake of September 11th, pundits wondered if irony had been killed along with the 3 000 people in the towers. It seems now, in the wake of more senseless bloodshed whose reality is sheathed in doublethink expressions like collateral damage, that it is not irony but tragedy whose death knell tolls. This loss of touch with reality, as far as human cost is concerned, constitutes yet another frightening similarity between our world and the world of 1984. Even more frightening is the degree to which this trend is precipitated by governments: as in 1984, the government uses terms such as collateral damage to prevent any real blame from falling into its lap, and thus assures the maintenance of its absolute power.

In the months leading up to the Coalition invasion of Iraq on March 19th, the term regime change was bandied about as a possible motive for military action. It was in the best interests of the Iraqi people, the governments of the United States and United Kingdom argued, to launch an invasion into the country. Never mind that that particular argument was alternated with ''invade to disarm Iraq'' on a fairly regular basis, the Anglo-American partnership centred (immediately before the attack, anyway) around removing from power the tyrannical despot Saddam Hussein, whose oppression of the Iraqi people had been allowed to continue for far too long. Understandably, the Bush administration made no attempt to remind the American public that daddy’s little war in the Gulf twelve years ago left the Hussein government intact, and that American troops had, in fact, pulled out of the country just in time to leave those rising up against Saddam to be butchered ruthlessly by Iraqi Republican Guard without any US support. Twelve years later, that’s all water under the bridge, right? Of course, because Junior’s intent on being the leader that finally achieves the regime change that has [cough] been the United States' goal all along.

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