I have recently read a book entitled Inventing Collateral Damage in which the authors argue, among other things, that that concept of collateral damage was created for and in fact serves the purpose of allowing military officials to shrug off or gloss over the civilians they are indifferently killing in high-tech wars.

I found this rather interesting argument poorly substantiated in the book for reasons I will outline at greater length in a forthcoming essay, but this got me to thinking about how you would substantiate or disconfirm such a hypothesis, which would be an example of what scholars of international relations refer to as a “permissive effect” of a norm.

So since the Iraq War Logs allow a user to search the database with keywords, I figured I’d type in “collateral damage” and see for myself what sort of passages in military documents are associated with the term. It’s quite remarkable what one finds: contrary to the claim made by Rockel, Halpern and their contributors, the term is generally used to explain why US service-personnel do not fire on otherwise legitimate military targets.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]