Sunday, January 16, 2011

Collateral Damage

By Susan Esther Barnes

I keep thinking about how Congresswoman Giffords, the one person the shooter in Tucson last week really wanted to kill, seems to be doing so well, while a half dozen others died who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

That's what they call "collateral damage," the damage that is incidental to the shooter's desired outcome. Not to minimize the loss of the family and friends of these people - not at all - it just makes a senseless shooting even more senseless. The pain and grief and tragedy are the same, and everyone there (other than the shoorter himself) was blameless.

The point I'm getting around to is this: collateral damage, when it manifests itself as killed and injured people, is easily seen and recognized. But there is another kind of collateral damage which is less visible, and which people seem more likely to overlook.

An example of this less visible collateral damage arose in a conversation I had online last week in the comments section of a post I had read. A person from "Jewish Voice for Peace" asserted that shouting down Prime Minister Netanyahu so he could not speak does not constitute bullying.

Setting aside what I think was a false premise on his part (namely, that powerful people cannot, by definition, be bullied, and/or that it is okay to bully powerful people), he completely ignored that the Prime Minister and the hecklers were not the only people in the room.

When this sort of thing happens, or at least when it seems to make the news, is when there are a roomful of people who have come for the express purpose of hearing what the speaker is intending to say. When one shouts down a scheduled speaker, one is not only thwarting the will of the speaker himself (or herself), but is acting in a bullying and agressive manner toward everyone in the audience.

These audience members are the ones suffering the forgotten collateral damage in these events; I seldom hear them mentioned. Their frustration and anger remains unseen and unheard.

One could argue that maybe it isn't such a big deal. One evening is ruined, perhaps. Maybe the organization that did the shouting will lose some potential supporters who were audience members but who are now turned off by their tactics.

But there are other examples of collateral damage that we don't ever seem to talk about.

There are plenty of discussions about the death penalty that talk about deterrence, about disproportionate numbers of people from certain racial or economic backgrounds being effected, about revenge, etc. In all these discussions, the collateral damage is being ignored.

When a person is executed, why doesn't anyone talk about the effect on the officers who have to guard her in her last days? What about the poor souls who have to drag the condemmed person out of his cell and strap him down, knowing that they are participating in the killing of a helpless person? What about the doctor who has sworn to save lives, but who is defying his or her oath by administering the killing drugs?

The psychological effects on these people must be deep and lasting. Why doesn't anyone ever talk about them? Must they remain as the invisible collateral damage?

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