[VIEWPOINT]During war, atrocities will happenCollateral damage is a euphemistic expression that refers to unintended pain inflicted on civilians during a military operation.
The term was first used during the Vietnam War. Bombing errors are the most common example.
Sometimes a country bombs a structure it considers to be a military facility, but it turns out to be a civilian shelter. Other times, fire targeting enemy forces ends up in civilian areas, hurting innocent people.
A deliberate attack on a civilian is a war crime and a violation of the rules of engagement.
Intention is the primary standard that distinguishes collateral damage from a war crime.
However, in the battlefield of life and death, strictly applying those rules can be difficult.
Sometimes, it is hard to tell combatants and civilians apart, and there have been cases when civilians were used as shields. When fellow soldiers are killed by bullets that come from nowhere and are torn apart by mines laid by the enemy, it is not easy to display self-control. It is the fate of war.
No matter how noble a cause might be, war has an ugly, hidden face.
The world is paying attention to the alleged massacre that took place in November 2005 in Haditha, Iraq.
There are two focal points about the controversy. The first is that U.S. troops are accused of killing 11 civilians, including women and children, in retaliation for the death of a fellow soldier. The second is that there has been an attempt to cover up the war crime by disguising it as collateral damage.
Located 240 kilometers (149 miles) northwest of Baghdad, Haditha is one of the strongholds of the Sunni Muslim resistance and has been a nightmare for U.S. troops.
So far, more than 40 American soldiers have lost their lives there. The insurgents took photos of mutilated and burned bodies of the U.S. soldiers and posted them on the Internet. The U.S. marines, who had already been gritting their teeth, must have lost control when another soldier was killed in a roadside bomb attack.
All the civilians in the area seemed like they were helping the insurgents. Twelve members of the U.S. marines raided civilian homes. A 4-year-old child was shot in the chest, and a 66-year-old woman was also killed. A 77-year-old man in a wheelchair who was reading the Koran was also shot.
The U.S. authorities have launched a belated reinvestigation into the case and reinforced the education on the rules for engagement on coalition troops in Iraq to prevent such an incident from happening again.
However, such efforts cannot make the problem disappear. It is the nature of war that the death of innocent civilians cannot be avoided. The ugly face of war caused the My Lai Massacre that killed hundreds of civilians during the Vietnam War and the No Gun Ri incident during the Korean War.
These are just the few well-publicized cases about which witnesses and survivors have testified and the media have reported. Many more lives have been lost and forgotten.
While a war is theoretically said to be the last means of defense against external attacks that is nothing more than an idealistic principle.
A war might be a political choice for the national interest. Once it starts, you have to try every means available to win it. The motto, “All is fair in love and war,” has been the conviction of war champions such as Thucydides, Niccolo Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Hans Morgenthau and Henry Kissinger. And that belief has been prevailing throughout history.
Nevertheless, the destiny, and the limitation, of human beings make war unavoidable.
Therefore, war has to be the last resort taken after all other means are tried.
Whenever a nightmare like Haditha occurs, Americans are bound to agonize whether the Iraq War was indeed justifiable.
* The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok