Tuesday, June 06, 2006

On the term Collateral Damage

Tom Engelhardt explores the Orwellian nature of the term "collateral damage":
"Collateral damage" is, of course, a Pentagon euphemism for unintentional or incidental destruction of property, facilities, or noncombatants that crept into our language in the Vietnam years and never left. Collateral means "of a secondary nature" or "subordinate," and "damage" is a description you would apply to wrecked or destroyed property, but not normally to the human body. Who, after all, would say, as a woman lay on the ground, shot through the head, that she had been "damaged."... In modern wars, especially those conducted in part from the air (as both Iraq and Afghanistan have been), there's nothing "collateral" about civilian deaths. If anything, the "collateral deaths" are those of the combatants on any side. Civilian deaths are now the central fact, the very essence of war. Not seeing that means not seeing war.

[Tom Engelhardt, "Collateral Damage: The 'Incident' at Haditha," TomDispatch.com, June 6, 2006]

I spent some time searching the web to pin down the exact origin of the term (here's one of the best webpages I found) and it seems to have originated in the 1970s but became popularized by the U.S. government during the first Gulf War. Significantly, the most recent edition of the Oxford English Dictionary came out in 1989 and did not contain the term but it is being added for the third edition. There are several conflicting origins given that predominate online. If anyone can locate a precise origin from a credible source, I'd be grateful.

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