The Ruminator

Come on up and grab yourself a beer.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

You say 'collateral damage', I say 'dead children'. Let's call the whole thing off.

It has been a depressing morning in the news so far. Unfortunately my job involves scanning a lot of news sources every morning, which gives me the opportunity to read a whole lot of depressing news in a short space of time.

There has been a lot of coverage today of the mounting civilian deaths in Iraq. Of course, no one can be very surprised that there are civilian causalities in this, or any other war. After the hard-sell of this war as one of liberation, politicians are grudgingly being forced to acknowledge the suffering of the civilian population. The spin-doctoring as they try to dodge responsibility has been disappointing and offensive, but again, not particularly surprising.

“The President always regrets any innocent loss of life and he recognises that most innocents have been lost in this war at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his henchmen,” spokesman Ari Fleischer said. “That's who is to blame for the loss of innocent lives.”

Oh, of course, Saddam is to blame for American troops killing Iraqi civilians. I wonder if he is also to blame for American troops killing British troops. But as long as the coalition ends up killing fewer civilians than Saddam, that’s OK. And given that Saddam has been in power for a long time, even with their fancy-pants new weapons (with guidance systems even worse than anything Microsoft could concoct) it will take a while before the coalition-inflicted death toll can seriously compete.

Our own Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, is backing the US position that civilian casualties are the fault of the Iraqi Government. He has also blamed recent civilian casualties at a market in Baghdad, not on US missiles, but on Iraqi anti-aircraft missiles going astray, despite acknowledging he has no evidence of this.

If the civilian population of Iraq could dodge bullets with the same skill these politicians dodge blame, there wouldn’t be any “collateral damage”.

The only reaction I have seen with any degree of dignity is that of Australian Defence Force chief Peter Cosgrove. No one could accuse General Cosgrove of being unpatriotic, naïve, or unaware of the situation facing soldiers in the field. Nonetheless he managed to express sorrow without trying to shift the blame. He acknowledged that the nature of war is such that civilians will always suffer, and that even the best of soldiers is human and can make mistakes. "Those scenes are devastating... and they play over and over in the consciousness of people who understand that this war is a series of tragedies."

Cosgrove also acknowledged a degree of moral uncertainty, saying he tried to weigh the deaths against the even worse horror of leaving the Iraqi regime in power. Whether you agree with the weight of his assessment or not, unlike the politicians at least he does not paint a picture of the unsullied and blameless forces of good versus the source of all evil.

In criminal psychology, among the characteristics that define a psychopath are a lack of remorse or a sense of responsibility.

I think we may all be in a lot of trouble.


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