Monday, July 11, 2011

Collateral Damage

'Collateral Damage'. One of the ugly euphemisms of this post-Orwellian age. Usually used to wave away any protests at the killing of innocent civilians. Under today's post-Orwell logic, its a humanitarian act to bomb and kill innocent civilians as long as there was a target who was a bad guy. As long as there is a bad guy as a target, then it doesn't matter how many other innocent people get killed along with them. They are dismissed as collateral damage.

This article (Killer Drones Taking the Place of War by Doug Noble)about the drone wars in Pakistan and elsewhere contained this striking mention.

The targeted killing of al-Qaeda leader Baitullah Mehsud, for example, took 16 missile strikes over 14 months, with well over 200 mistaken deaths.

That's sourced to an article in the New Yorker.

We killed 200 people to get the one bad guy we were trying to kill. And, it didn't happen in one madly mistaken attack. Nope, it happened over a campaign of one attack after another spread out over 14 months.

The "collateral damage" of the deaths and maimings of innocent civilians is explained away as this un-foreseeable result of a legitimate attack to try to take out a bad guy. But, we've been hearing this for at least a decade now. At what point are these deaths really un-forseeable? If attack after attack kills innocent civilians and more innocent civilians, isn't there some point at which these deaths and maimings become a forseeable consequence of the attacks? If there had been attempted drone strikes against this Al-Qaeda leader, and strike after strike was killing innocent civilians, then isn't there a point where the killing of innocent civilians is a known and foreseeable outcome of more such strikes?

Doesn't the equation change if the killing of innocent civilians is known outcome of the actions? At that point, doesn't this 'collateral damage' just become the blatant cold blooded killing of innocent civilians? Surely by now, the people who launch these strikes know that innocent people are going to die. And thus, by taking the decision to launch yet another drone strike to kill some Al-Qaeda leader, they are deliberately taking the decision to murder and maime innocent civilians? Doesn't the morality of the act change at that point?

We hate terrorists precisely because they are willing to kill innocent people to reach their desired political ends. That's what makes a terrorist 'evil'. Yet, at what point do we become the same as the terrorists? If we deliberately kill 200 people, and maime who knows how many others, in order to take out one person that we've declared a 'bad guy', then how are we any different from the 'bad guy' who's bad precisely because he is willing to kill innocent civlians himself/herself?

Sometimes it helps our clarity of vision to turn something around and look at it from the other direction. If Osama Bin Laden had declared one person in the World Trade Center to be a 'bad guy' in his mind, say perhaps one of John Perkins' "economic hitmen", would we have accepted as okay OBL's then further claim that the killing of the rest of the 3000 people who died on 9-11 to be just 'collateral damage' to this attack?

Hardly. We'd have dismissed that as the psychotic ravings of a dangerous madman. What makes a terrorist evil in our minds is the very notion that they might at any time be willing to kill tens or hundreds or thousands of us in order to reach their goal. But, who are we if we are also willing to kill tens or hundreds or thousands of innocent people as 'collateral damage' to achieve our goal?

The question all of this leads to is "how do we expect this to end?" Do we expect that somehow we can kill every 'bad guy' in the world, and thus magically achieve some sort of peace? That seems a dangerous fantasy. Especially when every killing of a bad guy takes out tens or hundreds or more of innocent people around him. Innocent people who have mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters who love them and who feel loss and anger at their deaths and who are then willing to become 'bad guys' themselves in order to seek revenge on the people who killed their loved ones.

We've used the deaths of the 3000 people on 9-11 as an excuse to kill thousands if not millions of people in country's spread around the world. That's our anger and our fear over being attacked. We vow retribution for our dead, and we want to end the fear of another attack. And yet, if every action we take leaves tens or hundreds of innocent people dead and maimed, isn't it likely that the relatives and countrypeople of our innocent dead will vow retribution upon us? That they will then act in such a way to try to end the fear that they now legitimately have that their world will again explode tomorrow as a missile from an unseen drone explodes on their street or in their house.

It seems quite possible that in taking out this one Al-Qaeda terrorist, that we have instead created more than one new terrorist from the relatives and countrypeople of the two hundred people we killed along the way. If that is true, then we are further away from peace, we are further away from living without fear of another terrorist attack, than we were when we launched this drone campaign.

How does this end? At some point, there must be peace. Or, do we truly believe that we can bomb and missile strike around the rest of the world for ever and ever? I'm sure the people who sell the drones and missiles want that to be the result. But, do we the people want this war to continue and continue and continue? Do we want to bequeath to our children and grand-children this world of murder and fear where they have to always live in fear of another terrorist attack? Do we want our children and grandchildren to some day stand in fear and shock and dismay at the news of some new terror attack against us?

If the goal is to someday live without fear, then the current war appears to be the wrong solution. If we kill so many people to get one terrorist, then it seems likely that we are creating more terrorists than we kill.

How does this end? It seems that if we want peace, then we have to put an end to this. Perhaps there are bad people out there who we need to capture or kill for our own safety. But, if that's the case, then it also seems that we need a way to do this that doesn't create more new terrorists because of the death and destruction and maimings and fear that must result from such drone strikes.

If we want this to end, then we can not act like the terrorists. We have to stop this sort of killing. Its not leading towards peace. Instead this just creates more hatred and more killing and more and more people who'd like to see Americans experience the same horror that they experienced when their neighborhood suddenly exploded from a missile from an unseen drone.

How do we want this to end? To me, any 'good' ending requires that we do as little damage as possible along the way.

Its fascinating to hear that we have to avoid putting our soldiers and pilots at risk in order to do the killing that we say is neccessary for our safety. But, isn't that their job? Isn't that what they signed up to do? Anyone who joins the military is making a deliberate decision to put themselves at risk to protect the rest of us. That's what is so honorable about military service. Yet, we are following strategies that while keeping our soldiers and pilots safe, we create greater danger for the rest of us. That's the opposite of what the military is supposed to be doing. Instead of taking risks themselves to keep the rest of us safe, they are keeping themselves safe while increasing the risks that the rest of us might some day face another dangerous terrorist attack.

Then of course we are told that we have to give our national treasure as well as our hard-earned constitutional rights and liberties away because of the threat of future terror attacks.

How do we expect this to end? Shouldn't our actions today be based on that outcome that we want? Do we want peace? Or do we really want perpetual and never ending war, and the future of never ending terror attacks on our civilians that this implies? I don't think so. Poll after poll suggests the American people want peace. They want the wars to end. If so, then we need to start acting in such a way that we can someday reach the peace we want. If that's the case, then the killing of 200 people to get one Al-Qaeda leader is a defeat for us and our hopes and dreams. That just means that there will be more war that goes on and on and on and on like the little pink bunny that advertises batteries.

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