"collateral damage"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Oct 6 11:34:16 UTC 2011

True, but I think there's ordinarily a formal distinction between
"intentional" and "unavoidable." In the context of unscripted speech in an
operational situation, the distinction might easily be blurred. But the PBS
writer is narrating history and presumably employing _le mot juste_.

To use the PBS terminology, "collateral damage" in WWII was so generally
intentional that I don't think the phrase even existed. Much of the point of
strategic bombing was to kill, main, and dispossess as many civilians as
possible, so as to to disrupt the enemy's economy, industry, and will to
fight. Except in some very unusual circumstances, nothing was "collateral."

The tone of the PBS promo (and I haven't seen the actual program) was that
everybody "knows" that "collateral damage" means "civilian deaths and
injuries (and property loss)."  To ask, "how much is intentional" is almost
like asking "how much isn't collateral damage?"

Of course, maybe that's what they really were asking, with a little
rhetorical irony.  But it didn't sound that way.  It sounded as though, for
the writers at PBS, "collateral damage" no longer has any policy reference.
It just means civilian destruction, unavoidable or otherwise.

Beyond that, my impression is that the story will focus on rape as military
policy in Bosnia. If so, the victims would hardly be "collateral damage," in
the technical sense, by any stretch of the imagination.


"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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