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Collateral damage is a sanitised term (euphemism) used by the military to mean unintended targets (civilians) killed in an armed situation (war). It is often the accidental result of servicing the target (killing enemy troops). Sometimes this takes place through incendiary residence (napalm misses the target and burns nearby children). In many cases an entire village will undergo neutralization (every man, woman, and child dies) and the officer in charge must file an adjustment report ("We have accidentally destroyed an innocent village"). Reporters who try to write stories about collateral damage often must submit to a security review (censorship). If they refuse, they can often be persuaded by inquiry systems (whips and hot brands). If not, they must be demoted maximally (killed).
As a euphemism, the term prevents speakers from having to picture what harming civilians looks like, minimizing the responsibility of those that committed it and dehumanizing the victims. "Collateral damage" is abstract and palatable, while "murdering civilians unintentionally" isn't.
- Jamie Shea, NATO spokesperson at time of Kosovo War, was referring to repetitive massacres and burnings beyond recognition of both Serbian and Albanian civilians done by NATO pilots as collateral damage.
- USAF Intelligence Targeting Guide - Attachment 7: Collateral Damage