Monday, March 21, 2011

Civilian casualties, collateral damage and other sanitary adjectives

Reports from Libya and about Libya, like the briefing this morning from General Ham, Commander-in-Chief (CINC) AFRICOM will use terms like civilian casualties and collateral damage. We’re quite used to these concepts. We experienced the meanings first-hand on September 11, 2001.

Civilians fight and serve combatant uniformed service people.

While we possess precision weapons, we know they are not. IEDs do not have names inscribed on them beneath the dirt. War today, while distant from us, has become as total as total can be.

Killing civilians seems more powerful than any other endeavor in wars and struggles. We use the word terror and attach an “ism” freely, insensitive sometimes to the true effects. It’s where we are in our language of warfare. We do not own the word any more. It owns us. It is the price of glory, the essential payment for winning. Even winning has a new suggestion, recently.

Civilians to be buried by family and friends, often missing, memories, generational fuel for perpetuating something stronger than the word resentment, recruiting posters for those who recruit. Our military wears uniforms but most of their opponents do not. It’s a very confusing world, imbued with uncertainty which fuels fear and causes us to have to reconcile and justify to remain sane amidst the insanity.

Is there any going back? Or perhaps there’s no “back” to which we can return? Or is it a matter of going forward, somehow? Should we choose to doff uniforms and decorations, team colors, insignia in this uncertain new world of war? Wear only black, fight only at night, stay faceless, deter with suggestion rather than parades and fly-overs? It’s complicated these days made more complicated by the fact that we draft-free civilians are far-removed from our professional military and the hosts of hired civilians, contracted and on the Federal payroll.

The gap is so wide now between military and civilian. So wide that we no longer view it as disconnection; it’s the way of our world.

Our military does its best to prevent killing civilians. I believe that strongly. But these days, best is not good enough, and good intentions, noble professional methodologies backed with cutting edge technologies, seem to repeatedly show us that civilian deaths have great power, fueling the will of our opponents, fueling our will as Americans; the fuel of memory.

Struggles can be distilled to a struggle of intellect and will…despite all the instruments of war, it is a human endeavor using inhumane methods.

The conceptual gap is wide but yet there is no gap in the target areas…

Perhaps we should cease using the term civilian in discussions of war and the adjective collateral, just casualties and damage.

pictured above, Concord Bridge from

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