By definition, collateral damages are those which happen to the civilian population’s detriment while military targets are being struck. They can be predicted or unexpected and they are caused by inaccuracy of weapons or mistakes. During the war in Kosovo, the NATO spokesman used the term in an extensive and absolutory way, even when the attack against civil structures was indeed intentional. Therefore, a fact liable to be a war crime was declassified and victims became responsible for their deaths, guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The case constituted the beginning of a new school of thought and today people have simply gotten used to the inevitability of civil victims in any kind of conflict, even the sort between cops and robbers. In a military respect, this is a signal of the regression of war into a conflict between asymmetrical sides: a regression both of humanity and of strategy. The regression of humanity becomes even more severe since it’s supported by military strategy and is then passed off as “evolution”. The fact is that, despite all the international laws, military codes and customs of war, it is civilian victims who have once again become the real targets in war. We have returned to “structural” destruction adopted during WWII through carpet bombings and during the Vietnam War through the use of napalm.
This kind of war seemed to come to its end when it was urged that a distinction be made between combatant and non-combatant forces, when ethics were brought to the fore to implement the rules about the protection of civilians and when even in the name of interest, it was suggested to limit damages since, in Liddell Hart’s words, “the enemy of to-day is the customer of the morrow and the ally of the future”. This kind of war seemed to be forever concluded when we turned from nuclear destruction to precision strikes, which represent the most important strategic and technological revolution of the second half of the last century. We have lost any track and memory of all this while pundits indulging in the military justification of collateral damages are the consequent ignorant persons. With all the advanced armies and weapons, collateral damages are supposed to be tending to zero and with the new enemies, archaic and desperate, there aren’t any military and productive structures that can to be destroyed in order to bend the will of their resistance. There are only houses, churches, mosques… and people, women and children. All easy targets, and therefore the real strategic challenge doesn’t lie in how to destroy - but in how to avoid striking - the innocent. In Chechnya, Afghanistan, Lebanon and, today, Gaza, the wanton strategy of striking civilians in order to make them turn against the insurgents, rebels or so-called terrorists is another regression. This should remind us of the way counterrevolutionary wars have been resolved, that indeed always had the victory of the rebels, as well as bring to mind the wicked deeds of colonial occupations. Even accounting for and disguising these regressions by propaganda means is a deja vù. The names and some means have changed, yet the outcomes are the same as always. The psychological war, trying to prove that civilians aren’t our targets but they are really victims of the enemy exploiting them as human shields hasn’t changed for a thousand years, and that’s why the enemy has to always be depicted as “wicked”. The same messages are used, even though leaflets, radio, television, ambassadors and political lobbies have been substituted for proclamations and infiltrates. Yesterday, the population lacking an alarm system used to become aware of the immanent attack from the bombers’ roar. A few minutes to seek shelter. Today, we phone the victims, but this, like in the past, can’t help those who are trapped in like a rat and have nowhere else to go. It just looks cynical.
The latest new aspect of psychological war is that it is no longer aimed at the enemy but at one’s own troops and, mainly, at the national and international public opinion. This arm of brainwashing the masses and destroying intellects is directed at one’s own forces and allies and every soldier knows that there is nothing more dangerous than starting to believe one’s own propaganda. The most powerful armies in the world can’t recognize and face the new forms of asymmetrical war. They can’t penetrate, make distinctions, sort out and operate in a surgical way. They can’t handle their own power excess and have lost awareness of the usefulness and lawlessness of provoking civilian destruction. They don’t realize that all this only helps barbarize war: a luxury the terrorists can afford. Not us.
Source: La barbarie strategica (La Repubblica.it)
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About the author
Diego Traversa and Mary Rizzo are membesr of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, translator and reviser are cited.
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