The phrase “collateral damage,” meaning civilian casualties, arose in the Vietnam War and became a standard of military vocabulary. It is, at least in theory, unintended and ancillary to attacks on military targets. There has been a lot of it in Gaza, and what it really means is blood, pain, disability, loss, grief, anguish, screams, sobs, and tears. According to the Hamas Health Ministry, as of February 21st, 29,313 people have been killed, including at least 8,400 women and 12,300 children; the wounded number 69,333, including at least 6,327 women and 8,663 children. Children have been dismembered by shrapnel, burned, blinded, and crushed under rubble, among other horrible fates. Some have probably died of fright.
So “collateral tears” must include the tears of countless millions of us who read these numbers and see photos of dead or suffering children and their bereaved parents. Someone said that the mark of a civilized person is the ability to look at a page of numbers and weep. If you can’t weep at these numbers, look in the mirror.
However, this is war. I hate war, and I assume you do too. But if you agree with me that war will not be eliminated soon, the question changes. Is Israel’s war in Gaza outside the range for wars since World War II, as measured by the ratio of civilian to military deaths? No, and it is far lower than the civilian casualties caused by the US and UK in Japan and Germany in that war.
Another measure is the civilian casualties per airstrike, using only airstrikes that caused at least one casualty. Reuters fairly criticized a graph that gave a misleadingly low figure for the Gaza War, and corrected the number to 10.1. For comparison, they offer the following numbers from recent wars: the Battle of Raqqa (2017), 9.8; the Battle of Mosul (2016), 12.0; and the Aleppo Offensive (2017), 21.2. So by this measure as well, Israel’s Gaza offensive is within the range for recent wars.
Nevertheless, our tears must lead us to ask Israel to do better. Since early in the war, international pressure has grown to force it to reduce civilian casualties, or even stop the war. Is Israel responding? My makeshift graph below suggests an answer. Continue reading