Collateral Damage?: An Editorial

BushIn the wake of last Tuesday's horrible tragedy, the country has become united as it has never been in my lifetime. Racial, religious and class differences seem, on the surface, to have been put on the back burner for a little while. "We're all Americans," I've seen a lot of people say, "We're all in this together." Today I even saw a picture of homeless man's bicycle, which had been adorned with the American flag. This man, who by all rights should be, and probably normally would be very bitter about his situation, said to the photographer who took the picture, "I may be homeless, but I'm still an American." Everyone appears to be singing together, praying together and mourning together. But I'm mourning in solitude.

"They usually say something like, 'We have to get those terrorists, regardless of the collateral damage.' I guess that's how these people don't get all mushy thinking about all the foreign women and children that the American bombs will kill."


I would first like to address the term "collateral damage." This term, in the sense that it is being bandied about by talk radio hosts and listeners alike, is new to me. Perhaps it is used at the start of every war. I don't know. I was only in kindergarten during Desert Storm, and wasn't really emotionally mature enough to understand the more complex aspects of the Balkan conflicts. This term, which is quite frightening to me, is often used to mean civilian casualties.

People around me who, until recently thought an Afghan was a knitted shawl or a breed of dog, are casually using these two words to justify bombing innocent people into oblivion. They usually say something like, "We have to get those terrorists, regardless of the collateral damage." I guess that's how these people don't get all mushy thinking about all the foreign women and children that the American bombs will kill. They just make up a fancy term. Example: School is quite an unpleasant thing for me to think about. Perhaps I should just think of it as character abasement. It works! I feel better about school--I mean character abasement--already!


"Stop the Violence"--CMP Pittsburgh



Dismayed at my unwillingness to let the Afghans feel the full force of American might, people have said that I would feel differently if I had family or friends dead or missing in the Trade Center attack. Perhaps. This is much the same argument made before this atrocity occurred by proponents of the death penalty to opponents of the death penalty.

"You'd feel differently if it was a member of your family or a friend of yours that was murdered." Again, perhaps. I feel that it is only fair that I be able to present the same argument to the "collateral damage" people. You'd feel differently if it were you or your family or friends that were reduced to two cruel, unfeeling words.

I also hear other people try to make themselves feel better about bombing innocents by making it sound like it like the Afghan civilians have any power or make any of the big decisions. Their arguments really fall flat. The "collateral damage" people should really clue these "stupid argument" people in on the ways of unfeeling. It is just too hard for me to believe that the same Afghan women that can get stoned to death for exposing their skin in public have a lot of clout with the Taliban. I also can't believe that the starving, impoverished Afghan children are in much shape to kick out the current regime. Maybe the "stupid argument" people should start arguing that the bombs would put the poor Afghans out of their misery. It'd still be unbelievably cruel and heartless, but at least the argument would be sound.
"In this case, the choice seems to be to do nothing and face the consequences, or begin a bloody campaign and allow bunch of innocent Afghans to get killed. I guess I'm just startled at the number of people who are not only able to make that choice so easily, but who can call up talk radio shows and nonchalantly talk about "doing what we have to do and collateral damage be damned."


Back to the reason I'm mourning last Tuesday in solitude. I don't want to paint America with a broad brush, but, at least in my neck of the woods, lots of people seem to be either of the "collateral damage" or the "stupid argument" mentality. I'm sure that if you fit into one of these, or perhaps you need a little bit of both to justify what's about to happen, and you're reading this essay, you're probably saying to your computer screen, "You little twit! I don't want to kill civilians!"

I know that given the chance to wipe out terrorism without harming an innocent, you would do it in a minute. In this case, though, the choice seems to be to do nothing and face the consequences, or begin a bloody campaign and allow bunch of innocent Afghans to get killed. I guess I'm just startled at the number of people who are not only able to make that choice so easily, but who can call up talk radio shows and nonchalantly talk about "doing what we have to do and collateral damage be damned."

Maybe I'm just a naive kid, but to me, all life is sacred. An innocent Afghan is just as precious as an innocent American. I'm simply not capable of writing off anybody as "collateral damage." I guess I'd make a lousy general. When faced with a decision like this, all I could do was shrug my shoulders, look up at the sky and say, "I just don't know." Where are all the "I don't know" people? I'd like to mourn with them.


Gene Hyramson,15, lives in Florissant, Missouri with his parents, brother and dog Sophie. When not doing busy work for school, he enjoys writing, especially science fiction. He hopes to some day to do something meaningful with his life, like teach in East Timor.
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