Collateral Damage: Innocent Casualties Of War

By Sal Bommarito

Images of dead women and children in Gaza have made a strong impression on many people throughout the world who are following the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The aggressors on both sides attempt to cast blame on their opponents for  “collateral damage.” Wikipedia defines this term as “damage to things that are incidental to the intended target . . .”


The “things” referred to in the former quote include innocent women, children and other bystanders. What a cruel concept. The implication is that if the cause is good, then  collateral damage is morally justified. Philosophically, we would be more comfortable if armed confrontations only involved soldiers. However, this is not the reality of war as it was waged centuries ago and as it is waged today.


Throughout history, innocents have been dragged into conflicts and butchered. Militaristic and imperialistic leaders have always had the urge to demolish competitors for food, women, land, money, political power and religion. In this never ending aggression, invading armies cause collateral damage as soldiers march through enemy territory. There is little concern for the safety of noncombatants when a soldier is on the hunt for his enemy.


The most blatant cases of collateral damage include the Crusades, the nuclear attack on Japan during World War II and the Holocaust. These events do not precisely fit the definition previously delineated, but they are among the grossest examples of innocents being swept into conflict.


During the Crusades, which began in 1095, the Roman Catholic Church indicated that the Crusades “stated goal [was to restore] Christian access to holy places near Jerusalem.” The conflicts that ensued have sometimes been described as an effort to stem the growth of Islam. The facts are not clear, but some estimate the number of deaths during the Crusades to be well over 10 million . It is likely that the “infidels” murdered by Catholics included many innocents, or collateral damage.


A comparison of the Crusades to “lesser jihad,” which includes the physical struggle against those who do not practice Islam, is easily made. Currently, thousands of innocent people are dying in the Middle East as radical Islamists seek out those who do not worship God in the same was as they do. The religious link between the Crusades and jihad is impossible to ignore.


In 1945, the United States dropped atom bombs on two Japanese cities killing nearly 250,000 people . The derivative impact of radiation fallout after the initial blasts is incalculable. President Harry Truman made the decision to strike with nuclear weapons in an effort to bring World War II to a rapid end. He was successful in saving many American lives, but his gambit resulted in horrendous collateral damage.


The classic modern day example of collateral damage is the Israeli efforts to destroy terrorist tunnels from Gaza to its territory and Hamas’ armaments, which are being hidden in homes, schools and mosques. When Israelis attack these places, significant numbers of innocents are killed. But, it’s just more collateral damage.


And finally, the Holocaust comes to mind. However, in this case, six million innocent Jews were exterminated for political purposes. Nazis used these deaths to gain domestic public support for their war machine. The Nazis might have classified the deaths of Jews as collateral damage in their efforts to conquer the world.


What kind of animals would condone such atrocities? Well, there are many terrorists currently who relish the opportunity to kill innocents as part of a warped political agenda. Suicide bombs and the 9/11 tragedy are examples of our enemies attempting to create fear by manufacturing collateral damage. Killing several thousand people in the Twin Towers was not a military operation. It was a cruel and unwarranted attempt to terrorize America that failed.


The saddest part of these situations is the death and fear imposed upon noncombatants. Americans expect our government to do everything possible to avoid killing innocents as it hunts down terrorists. If not, we will be no better than the mass murders in history who did little to avoid unnecessary casualties.