Letter: `Collateral' killing

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The Independent Culture
Letter: `Collateral' killing

Sir: Robert Fisk urges us to view civilian deaths resulting from Nato bombing as "tragedies", and not - as Nato would euphemistically have it - as "collateral damage". I recommend that we view them as both.

To describe these deaths as "collateral damage" is to say that they were not intended, but that they were the unwanted results of a deliberate attempt to stop and reverse the "ethnic cleansing" of Kosovar Albanians by damaging the Serb forces responsible. In so far as these death are effects outside Nato's intention, but simultaneous with its intended effects, they were, literally, co-lateral.

Nevertheless - indeed necessarily - they were also tragic. It is tragic enough that history sometimes places us in situations where, in order to stop murder, rape and pillage, and to reverse some of their effects, we must kill those perpetrating such deeds. It is more tragic that in attempting to render the perpetrators impotent we cannot always avoid killing the innocent. And it is even more tragic that sometimes the innocent we kill belong to the very people whom we are trying to rescue.

But what makes these killings tragic, rather than simply evil or murderous, is precisely that they occur as collateral damage of an attempt to do justice, which in the midst of all its terrible ambiguities, is nevertheless right.

Fisk is correct to urge Nato not to become callous in its description of what it is doing. But he is both mistaken and confused to imply that it is wrong to be doing it.


Oriel College,