America’s War “Mistakes”

America’s war record is seemingly never ending and our list of enemies seems to be the same. With war and killing armies and terrorists comes to risk of unintended deaths and injuries of civilians and unintended targets, better known as collateral damage.

While it is clear many people want terrorists groups wiped out along with any threats to our national security, it comes with the price tag of killing innocent women and children. The outcome of collateral damage seems to perpetuate our conflicts and create even more enemies, according to a study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The researches fund that “an incident which results in 10 civilian casualties will generate about 1 additional IED attack in the following 2 months.” It was also found that civilian causalities corresponding with long-term radicalization in Afghanistan.

A press release statement was issued that stated Afghans would rather be killed by other Afghan’s then foreigners. Although the nationalistic sentiment seems inflated, I would argue that the U.S. has similar sentiments which is portrayed in our war efforts. We want to kill the people who try to kill our people, and if innocent people are hurt in the process, it is the price to be paid for our safety.

What is the extent of collateral damage?

In 2015, America bombed an Afghanistan Hospital and killed at least nine doctors and three children. Their response? “…the strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” The complete disregard for human life in this statement speaks volumes for our war policies and attitudes. Violence is not an option but rather a default setting. We opt for the easier yet messier choice. The blood on our hands gets washed away fairly quickly with dismissive government apologizes, but we replenish it with the next attack.

24 men in Pakistan with associations to terrorist organizations were specifically targeted by the U.S. resulted in the death of 874 people. It was reported that there were numerous strikes aimed at each man, of which the majority were unsuccessful. In Yemen, 41 men were targeted and the strikes inflicted killed 273, and four of the targets are still alive. The Council on Foreign Relations assesses that 500 drone strikes outside of Afghanistan have killed 3,674 people.

Photograph: Khaled Abdullah/Reuters

U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, said that “the only people we fire a drone at are confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level, after a great deal of vetting." Yet there have been cases of mistaken identities. Someone had the same name as a terror suspect on the Obama administration’s “kill list” and was killed in a third attempt by drones.

But rest assured, our drone strikes are becoming very accurate. Nearly 90% of the people killed in a recent drone strike were not the target. Documents have also shown that the military named people it killed in target strikes as an “enemy killed in action” even if they were not the intended target.

The problem is that we want to go to war to defeat the people who threaten our nation, and people have criticized the government for doing it without “moral integrity.” But war and moral integrity are mutual exclusive. We can never have the technology accurate enough to ensure there are zero civilian deaths. The line between civilians and insurgents seems too blurred to even see a difference. With war always comes collateral damage. Whether or not this collateral damage is intentional or not is up in the air. When we are thousands of miles away and so disconnected with the reality and lives of these civilians, do their lives even matter? If put up against the so-called threats Islamic terrorists pose to some Americans, they don’t.