The Invention of Collateral Damage

Event Name
The Invention of Collateral Damage
21 November 2017
09:30 am - 06:00 pm
Parramatta Campus

Address (Room): Bld. EZ, Geoffrey Roberson Boardroom (Day One) Bld. EZ G. 36 (Day Two)


This workshop aims to illuminate the invention of ‘collateral damage’. In the paradigmatic U.S. military definition, collateral damage refers to ‘unintentional or incidental damage to persons or objects that would not be lawful military targets in the circumstances ruling at the time’. Such damage need not be the accidental consequence of technical malfunction or human error, but also encompasses harm that is both foreseeable and foreseen by militaries that nonetheless proclaim their compliance with international law prohibitions on intentionally targeting non-combatants. Today, there is a significant body of scholarship that addresses the history of the laws of war and the construction of categories such as the civilian and the combatant. Less attention has been devoted to the language of ‘collateral damage’ as a distinctive rationalization of death and destruction, or to the political stakes of this language. What a prominent US human rights center terms ‘collateral damage management’ is currently a burgeoning field that involves militaries, humanitarian organizations and international lawyers in the attempt to ‘humanize’ war by reducing its impact on civilians. Western militaries devote significant resources to estimating the precise number of civilian deaths likely to result from any particular attack, and utilize sophisticated computer programs to guide them in minimizing casualties and ensuring compliance with international humanitarian law. This incorporation of humanitarian logics into military strategy is double-edged; while it offers the possibility of constraining military violence, it also risks becoming a means by which further violence is rationalized. The language of collateral damage, as Talal Asad notes, enables Western militaries to justify the killing of non-combatants, while morally elevating their own ‘civilized’ violence over the violence of those who resist military attack and occupation. Today, the term ‘collateral damage’ has become part of our contemporary lexicon, and its semantic field has extended beyond the military context to refer to diverse forms of “unintended” harm. This workshop will bring together political theorists, philosophers, legal scholars and historians to examine the historical and institutional processes that have established a crucial moral and legal distinction between intentional harm inflicted on non-combatants, and the ‘collateral damage’ that is seen as an inevitable ‘side effect’ of modern warfare. Keynote speakers: Associate Professor Banu Bargu, The New School, NYC Professor Jeanne Morefield, Whitman College, Washington

Speakers:  Associate Professor Banu Bargu The New School. NYC Professor Jeanne Morefield Whitman College, Washington.

Name: Jessica Whyte

Phone: (02) 9685 9375

School / Department: Humanities and Communication Arts