What a cold, empty term for the taking of innocent civilian lives - collateral, like something you put up for a loan. We hear of a raid killing 12 Afghan civilians one week, 27 the next, and the outrage of President Karzai and the Afghans. In the press of daily life, our sympathy rises and wanes - we feel separated and disconnected. And whether we disapprove of the American presence there, or urge, as did a recent New York Times op-ed, that we stop worrying about collateral damage because sympathizing inhibits our Marines, still, it's not happening to us, or is it?
Our disconnect is a mirage. The availability of billions of tax dollars, yours and mine, represents our tacit approval for sending more troops, more drones. more bombs. And yes, as our commanders claim intelligence that leads to Taliban or al Qaeda hideouts, we wince at the civilian casualties but we rationalize them as a tragic necessity. We absorb one casualty report after another, no longer moved to act.
Flickr image by The Workers' Party of Ireland
Stupefied, we fail to see the arc of the boomerang aimed right back at us. Our dollars are over there while millions of Americans, casualties of a severe recession over here, struggle and suffer, foreclosed from their homes, denied needed services, unable to afford healthcare, postponing college dreams and finding it nearly impossible to land a job.
States, counties and cities cut employees, close schools and hospitals, demand unpaid furloughs or hand out IOUs; transportation companies shed workers, cancel routes or cut service on existing lines. Thousands of veterans experience delayed or inadequate help for PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury as we haven't yet supplied enough psychologists trained to serve them. American cities and towns devastated by natural disasters face years of rebuilding over here, while expert logistics ensure the arrival of troops, supplies, munitions and housing over there.
Yes, the absence of tax dollars to meet these needs speaks for us, too. Millions of Americans are the collateral damage of our misplaced priorities. Our connection to the citizens of Afghanistan is visceral, in spite of our military mindset, fogging our thinking and expanding U.S. operations throughout the world. Veterans on waiting lists, the homeless and those living in tent cities might wonder at the meaning of "Homeland Security" and to whom it applies. For them, the boomerang effect is painfully real.