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Why “Collateral Damage” Elicits So Little Empathy Among Americans


Why “Collateral Damage” Elicits So Little Empathy Among Americans

Rick Shenkman

After Senator Ted Cruz suggested that the United States begin carpet bombing Islamic State (IS) forces in Syria, the reaction was swift.


That Ted Cruz is even in the Senate sends shivers down my bones. If the man has any intelligence, it is colored with a cynicism so deep that even the blind could see. The Republicans are playing their trick again--candidates of all kinds of crazy for their big tent--thinking no one will notice. Sleepy Ben, Crazy Ted, Boy Blunder Marco, Pompous Donald, ... Their plan is to have voters connect with one and then stick with the party. It's not a bad strategy given their paucity of workable ideas. It is, however, oh so apparent.


"Collateral damage" is used deliberately to obscure the fact that innocent people have been killed.

The military lexicon is filled with such terms.

I once caught an Army general in a bald-faced lie. His response: "We have an 'alternate perception of reality.'"

If the news media stopped parroting such obfuscation, perhaps there might be more empathy for the wholesale loss of life such terminology seeks to mask.


"Collateral damage" = "We killed extras who were no immediate threat to us. Now where are our medals?"


Unlike prior military ventures, during the Viet Nam occupation media covered many events where civilians were injured or killed and that issue became a huge driver in Murkin civilian opposition to the Viet Nam occupation.

The military industrial complex (MIC) revenues dropped post Viet Nam and they needed to soften Murkin civilian opposition to future military ventures. During the 80s the MIC had their media carpet bomb its audience with the phrase "collateral damage" as soon as tensions leading to the 1990 Gulf War heated up.

The rest is history.


An interesting piece Mr. Shenkman, but to my mind it does not account for some real world realities. Speaking just of the U.S. here, because your thesis if true applies to all human beings. For all of the millions of human beings in dozens of countries, killed, maimed, or impoverished by the actions of US militarism, the citizens of the US have suffered very little consequence, with the exception of those who have served in the military. It is quite easy for a complete fool like Cruz to make that statement because the nonchalant extermination by the US of humans all across this globe has not resulted in a comparable and retaliatory infliction of death, destruction, and pain. Totaling all those lives lost in: the Beirut barracks, USS Cole, 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan is not even a drop in the bucket of blood collected by US overt military campaigns and clandestine "counter-revolutionary" action since the conclusion of the last "war to end all wars."

For the last 20 yrs or so I have often contemplated that what animates the militarists, the hawks, the war-mongers is not just the lust for power, wealth and hegemony, but fear. Fear that if there is any weakening in the resolve to use disproportionate force to crush all challenges then the deep-seated hatred that has been cultivated might result in such a holocaust of retribution and revenge as to boggle the mind. In other words, there is awareness in the minds of the perpetrators of the inhumanity of their actions.

From "our stone-age minds" also arose compassion, co-operation, and charity.


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How much media time is allotted to Bernie Sanders? How much to any anti-war pundit during the run-up to the already planned War On Terror, i.e. the Middle East?

To infer that the lack of visible opposition to a State Policy necessarily indicates that people do NOT oppose it is pure propaganda. It essentially does the Military State's propaganda work for it!

Here is the insidious quote:

"...by and large, Americans don’t think or care much about the real-world consequences of the unleashing of American air power or that of our allies."

Religions that focus on sin, evil, and the demonization of those outside their rigid flock tend to be punitive. They are quite punishing. But how many journalists or writers ever even mention the obvious religious component behind the ilk that supports these policies of aggression?

To take Cruz's 17% (or even 24%) approval rating/poll numbers and from that percentage assert that these numbers define ALL Americans is a piece of shitty logic. And I am tired of it. It goes on ALL the time. Message shapers take a small component of the nation's diverse tapestry and insist that this ONE twisted orientation somehow speaks for and defines it all.


The far fairer argument would be: How many Americans would more vehemently oppose these policies were there ACCURATE reporting in mass media, ACTUAL footage of the half-dead babies and burned civilians, and respected voices that OPPOSE all this wanton slaughter actually heard!

And along with that, I'd like to see genuinely spiritual people openly question the huge congregations that embrace the frame of Holy War, are courting Armageddon, and see IN all this destruction, PROOF of God's will in the form of End Times?

Until THAT component of this nation's sick and sickening foreign policy is openly discredited, in its place will sit all this generic pabulum that insists that ALL (citizens) lack empathy.

It's ridiculous.


Cruz, Scott Walker, Paul Ryan, and most of the other FRAUDS are white Christian males. THAT is their brand and THAT is the brand acceptable to the Conservative Christians of this country. They are a large demographic, tend to read very little outside of the Bible or "Christian literature," and in keeping with their patriarchal conditioning, they OBEY authority of the white-male (God is a white guy) sort.

Trump is slightly more colorful... yet ultimately, he still fits their ranks.

And it's a great taboo to mention the power of this BRAND.


"Why should we hear about body bags and deaths? It's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?"

Barbra Bush


When the love and respect of human values are destroyed, the practice of democracy and the synthesis for truth is hollowed out. The loss of values has also led to a selfish, confused, and divided nation that is polarized `and incapable of finding solutions to important public concerns.
These values are also key to a much-needed shift in the cultural consciousness of the American people. But this will depend upon a vibrant democracy that is rich in the spiritual nature of our humanity. In this manner of thinking, one is then able to distinguish reality from illusion.

These are excerpts from a recent essay I that I have written.

The U.S. is a divided and confused nation. It seems the U.S. is being held together with only half-truths of political spin, and various degrees of fear, bigotry, and hate. This anxiety has created a perverted view of democratic government and is causing American society to seek out scapegoats for the ills of American society rather than face the reality of our times. In American politics today, there is more denial and illusion than reality. ”.
What is happening with this American culture of denial is well expressed in Mathew 23-24: We are straining out gnats while swallowing camels.
As a consumer culture, Americans have been led by the love of money, exaggerated individualism, corporate and government propaganda, and unrelenting Madison Avenue advertising. The narcissistic egoism of American culture has suppressed the spiritual nature of our own humanity. It is as if Americans can no longer think.


It is easy to point out the ludicrous and blood thirsty nature of comments by Cruz et. al., to reinstate torture, to 'carpet bomb', or make the desert glow.

However, President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the establishment Democrat leadership, take for granted that the major means by which the US addresses challenges in its endless terror wars is not diplomacy, but:

  • The practice of drone killing.
  • The use of targeting algorithms and the practice of crowd killing.
  • The use of 'Special Forces' in brutal sociopathic mass killing expeditions.
  • Obliterating the leadership of groups such as the Islamic State.
  • Providing military support to allies engaged in massive human rights violations such as the Saudia Arabian war crimes in Yemen.

Even Bernie Sanders accepts much of this approach, although he has, at least, cautioned against support for regime change when the US government doesn't like other governments.

Despite the fact that the US faces no existential threat from the Islamic State, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, etc., Democrats and Republicans alike, have used the Goering paradigm (http://quotes.liberty-tree.ca/quote_blog/Hermann.Goering.Quote.65D2) of instilling fear among the population. The 'terrorist threat' that the US faces is blown out of proportion by establishment Democrat and Republican politicians and the media to such an extent that, not surprisingly, poll after poll continue to show that most Democrats, Republicans, and Independents support such policies. ( http://www.people-press.org/2015/05/28/public-continues-to-back-u-s-drone-attacks/ )


The other factor of course is "Exceptionalism". Part of the process of dehumanizing the other is elevating the self.

The use of Religion (Our faith is favored by God) has long been a favored tool here but so called "Science " (Aryans as the superior race by genetics) and even types of economies (Capitalism is the best economic system) are used.

All tools of the patriarchy and any of the other models that seperate people by wealth and power.


Good comment.

Whenever I read an essay from (always white and European descended, usually male) pundit explaining some widespread nasty callous USAn attitude in terms of some pseudo-Darwinist theory of inherited traits from our early stone-age supposedly brutish ancestors, every skepticism alarm I've got goes off. Its all bullshit. You offer a much more likely explanation for US popular disregard for the great humanitarian crimes of its military.


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HUGE leaps in logic and tons of assumptive fallacies in this article--although the basic observation is correct. Entertaining yet frustrating overall.


Here's the well-known Goering quote in hyperlink form:


"Why “Collateral Damage” Elicits So Little Empathy Among Americans"

More precisely, Why “Collateral Damage” Elicits So Little Empathy Among Americans in the Stupid Party"


In a country that produces 15 000 bits of collateral damage per year because of its absurd obsession with guns and in which the amusement media pump out bloody violence and rage into everyone's TV hour upon hour, how can anyone in that country give a tinker's toss about collateral damage anywhere else?


Succintly, the definition of "conservative".