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Sample Argumentative Essay on the Legality of Collateral Damage

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Sample Argumentative Essay on the Legality of Collateral Damage

The Legality of Collateral Damage

Collateral harm is unintended or incidental harm to people or items that would not be rightful military targets in the conditions ruling at the instant. Such harm is not against the law provided that it is not disproportionate in light of the general military advantage expected from the conflict (Reynolds, 2005). Collateral harm transpires when attacks aimed at military objectives causes harm to the civilians and spoils their possessions. It regularly happens if military objectives, for example, military apparatus or soldiers are located in places close to members of the public. Intent is the basic constituent in understanding the military description as it involves target selection and action. Collateral harm is damage apart from that which was projected. Nowadays, military operations employees are believed to have inserted more efforts in minimizing collateral harm. The fundamental aim of the military is to safeguard the lives of many civilians simultaneously, and in some occasions, some collateral harm might transpire for the good of the majority in a certain region.

Collateral Damage Causes Death and Injury to Innocent Civilians

During the Second World War, many civilians were wounded and their belongings destroyed. This was following a tactical bombing of enemy towns. If the intention of the planned bombing was to demolish the adversary’s warfare industry, then wounded people were referred to as collateral damage. Due to the low precision of bombing expertise in WWII, it was unavoidable that civilian injury would take place (Conway-Lanz, 2006). Nonetheless, attacks such as the bombing of Chongqing and the random assaults by the Germans on Allied towns fall outside the description of collateral harm, as these invasions were intended to threaten and destroy opponent civilians. In addition, Coalition soldiers in Gulf war applied the term collateral damage to explain the murder of innocents in raids on actual military objects. Collateral harm is used as a euphemism so that people can be protected from any sentiment of disgust and moral resentment once they are able to relate it with an act. In 1999, the term collateral damage was named as the German Un-Word of the Year by a panel of linguistic academics. With this selection, it was condemned that NATO soldiers to illustrate civilian injuries that occurred during the Kosovo battle, which the panel believed to be a cruel euphemism, had used the word.

Actions that are projected to cause collateral harm are not outlawed but the regulations of armed battle restrict random attacks. Article 57 of the added Protocol I to the Geneva conventions affirms that continuous care shall be taken to protect the innocent civilians and their properties (Conway-Lanz, 2006). In addition, Article 51 prohibits carpet bombing because they are attacks that utilize combat techniques whose impacts are hard to control. Attacks are also barred if the collateral harm anticipated from any raid is not proportional to the military gain projected. Military leaders have to be familiar with these regulations while planning an attack and either desist from initiating an attack, postpone an attack if the standard of proportionality is expected to be dishonored, or plan it afresh so that it abides with the regulations of armed battle.

 The guideline of war through the ban and criminalization of the act of violence has presented a general legal language for criticizing an enemy for committing violent war that is applied between warring parties and is recognized internationally. However, as a result of the indefinite nature of violence, some players may bring into play different interpretations and theoretical frameworks concerned with the legality of the battle to indict the other of violence. In domestic clash, civilians have little legal security from collateral harm. Additional Protocol II necessitates that, provided that they do not play a part in fighting, the civilians shall have the benefit of general protection from the risks arising from military actions and should not be the object of assault (Condra, & Shapiro, 2012).

The regulation also proscribes acts of aggression whose main intention is to spread fear amongst the general civilization. Those who were part of the current major armed clashes, such as the Gulf battle and the conflicts in Yugoslavia, have employed the term collateral damage in order to give an impression that their attacks were legitimate. The declaration is either that no collateral harm was inflicted or that the harm was negligible or proportional. Impartial viewers may arrive at varying conclusions compared to those reached by the parties involved in these conflicts (Condra, & Shapiro, 2012). For example, many people lost their lives in Iraq throughout the Gulf War because of the lack of power in hospitals. This occurred due to the demolition of nearly all Iraqi power plants through air attacks. This occurrence has been declared by Iraq as disproportionate collateral harm. Conversely, NATO officers during 1995 vacations to a certain extent rightly stated that NATO raids on Bosnian Serb military aim in Bosnia-Herzegovina did not kill innocent people in a disproportionate way and that hence collateral harm was proportional.

Apart from having legal repercussions, collateral damage is a term that is frequently used to win political endorsement for a specific manner of conflict or to respond to accusations of contraventions of humanitarian act (Condra, & Shapiro, 2012). The viewer is reminded that no matter what the assertions of governments or the soldiers, attacks directly aimed at the general public contravenes the fundamental rule of distinction and cannot be said to have caused collateral harm. The US forces affirms that the term is applied in relation to unintended harm to civilian possessions and civilian casualties (Conway-Lanz, 2006). However, the term is claimed to have originated as a euphemism during the Vietnam warfare and can also mean friendly fire. Under global humanitarian act and the Rome Statute, the killing of general public during an armed battle, regardless of how serious and unfortunate, does not in itself form a warfare offense. Universal humanitarian regulation and the Rome Statute allow belligerents to conduct proportionate raids against military objectives, even when bearing in mind that innocent people will be injured (Conway-Lanz, 2006). A felony takes place if there is a deliberate attack directed against civilians. In addition, a crime occurs when principle of proportionality is not complied with. This is when attack is launched on a military objective being aware that that the incidental civilian damages would be obviously disproportionate in regard to the projected military advantage. The law prohibits deliberately initiating an attack bearing in mind that such raid will cause incidental harm to civilians or destroy civilian properties or cause lasting and severe injury to the natural surroundings.

The Principle of Double Effect

In regard to the principle of double effect, unintended collateral harm may at times be acceptable. The doctrine of dual effect contributes to the ongoing debate in moral values. The principle of double effect generally embraces the following provisions for allowable unintentional but predictable injury. First, the action at hand must not itself be ethically bad, nor should any anticipated effect of it be ethically bad (Reynolds, 2005). Second, the projected bad outcome must be legitimately accidental and not simply secondarily planned, for example, set as a means to a further end. The other condition is that, the injury implicated in the accidental effect must not be inconsistent with the moral advantage targeted in the action. Lastly, where there are other reasonable means of realizing the good end that do not contain the detrimental consequences or entails fewer or less serious such outcomes, the agent should prefer them even where the options require to some extent a lot of sacrifice from the agent.

 The first requirement establishes that incidental collateral harm may only be tolerable if the anticipated action, as an outcome of which the collateral harm transpired, is either ethically neutral or good. This shows that the aggressive campaign must be one that is ethically acceptable. In regard to the second stipulation, the projected bad outcome must be truly accidental and not simply secondarily planned. This is one of the issues with the second stipulation of the principle of double effect. This is because Collateral harm and the standards of Due Care may be enticed to affirm non-desired outcomes of one’s act accidental, and thus acceptable, thus narrowing the sense of the word intention to the wanted results of an act (Reynolds, 2005). The fourth provision of the principle of Double Effect necessitates that the person involved in the violence to some extent accept the costs of minimizing collateral harm. This indicates that, rather than expectedly killing scores of innocent members of the public as a consequence of initiating an attack on armed forces targets, there is a technique to kill less or no one while at the same time accomplishing the same result. The violent participant should choose the last option even though this is more costly to him, that is, even if that results to knowingly risking the lives of armed forces.

Conduct and Person-Oriented Leadership

The military services just like the name suggest should offer service. They are there to protect and sustain human standards. The chief personnel in the forces for supporting these services are the military experts. The responsibility of the military professional is to carry out person-oriented supervision, leadership compatible with the basic commitments of the country they come from (Reynolds, 2005). Most military experts are conscious that those people they lead are armed forces, sailors, or airmen. Secondly, they have joined the military with distinctive personalities and personal sets of inspirations, incentives, feelings, and principles. They share essential requirements for continued existence, belonging, respect, and self-realization. All these requirements are required to be met sequentially for a person to become effective.

 Even though these soldiers wear uniforms, they also take part in an elaborate network of civilian associations. They have their own families, relatives, anticipations, worries, ideas, religious principles, and names. A successful commander bears in mind that he or she is managing complete beings, people who are substantially more than technicians or other professionals (Reynolds, 2005). In a desire to accomplish military assignment fruitfully, sometimes people are lured to depersonalize those they work along with and those against whom they fight. This mind-set is particularly widespread amongst all forces. They view an enemy as an object taking away their names and ethnicities. They try to protect their individual image by acting as if that the enemy they are attacking is less of a human being with an identity and with relatives. In the same way but more cunningly, people depersonalize forces in the military when they treat them as troops who are there to do their bidding or to advance their careers. Any moral code developed for military professionals undeniably will include articles that lay emphasis on the significance of professional and individual uprightness and that identify the professional administrator’s duty to be an example of uprightness for subordinate.

Military ethics starts with the practical imperative to complete missions. The logic is quite straightforward because, if a cause is just, one capitalizes on the good by accomplishing it. Therefore, actions that result in victory are not just acceptable but also compulsory. Given the nation’s ethical responsibility to protect its citizens, military actions carried out in their defense are duty-bound, even when carrying out those operations risks their lives and those of the civilians. Therefore, by taking on the position of a combatant, one assumes the nation’s responsibility to defend its citizens (Conway-Lanz, 2006). Assuming this task one further assumes the related dangers, as well as the danger of death. Apparently, armed forces necessity would seem to allow combatants wide liberty in mitigating risks. However, these necessities only oblige them to select guidelines that capitalize on the chances for triumph and reduce the chances of being overpowered. Because protection of armies’ lives is closely related to an army’s ability to wage conflict, the utilitarian principles of armed forces necessity would seem to authorize armed forces to transfer almost all the danger of war to the opponent including their civilians. This consent, of course, would only sustain if transferring danger to innocents was the best way to realize the military goal. Nonetheless, due to the close connection between safeguarding combat power and battleground victory, it would be hard to question the decision of a commandant who chose the least hazardous plan on account of military necessity. It is essential to realize that military necessity would also necessitate forces to transfer further danger to themselves if that were the best means to complete the assignment at hand (Reynolds, 2005). Therefore, in relation to risk, military necessity entail only that the commander considers operational deliberations that capitalize on the chances of victory. What it does not call for is that he considers combatant or civilian lives beyond how they affect those operational deliberations. Therefore, military necessity allows considerable shift of risk to the enemy civilians.

Situation-Oriented Decision


In situation morals, the certain conditions of a scenario provide the framework for establishing whether the act is right or wrong. At this juncture, every scenario is distinctive, with no precedent. The conclusion must be comparative to the conditions at hand. Due to this reason, the situation has an influence on the actions that ought to be taken. Devoid of the uniting and unexceptionable love, situation ethics would have reflected the lenient civilization in which it came from. The main drawback of situation ethics is that its concentrates on the unusual exclusive incident (Conway-Lanz, 2006). It is not driven by daily occurrences and do not present a precise game plan. The circumstances in which people are obliged to formulate ethical decisions, in any case, have similarity about them to which policies or ambitions do apply.

Any reasonable individual is aware of the fact that under certain circumstances people must react in relation to the situation at hand (Condra, & Shapiro, 2012). When soldiers are shot down in the rear of enemy lines, they will do whatever it takes including lying or stealing to make sure they survive and go back to friendly forces. This fact, nonetheless, does not mean that moral theory should accept lying or theft or should smooth the progress of individual avoidance of the formal authorization on which civilization is prearranged. Despite the fact that nobody would fault the significance situational position on acting in a loving way, love is a drive or a feeling and it is not a plan with essence. Situation ethics oppose standardization because it cannot be normative.

Without suitable checks and balances, conditional ethics could result in ethical disorder. Military professionals sometimes find themselves in situations where law and task objectives do not provide adequate guiding principles (Reynolds, 2005). In those infrequent occurrences, the competence for inventive leadership can be a valuable asset. While followed obstinately, any of the three ways to understanding the foundations for moral judgments can lead to moral deviation. First, exclusive concentration to rules can lead to legalism. Second, rigid devotion to Mill’s utilitarian ambition of the best interest for the greater part can encourage an autocracy of numbers. Lastly, paramount attention to circumstances can lead to loss of directives and ethical chaos.




There is a typical and apparent method of defending the killing of innocent people in acts of conflict as ethically permissible, which draws on the utilitarian custom (Condra, & Shapiro, 2012). This relates to the notion that the end substantiates the means. Practically, this means that the innocent citizens are dispensable, so as to realize a weightier objective. The term collateral damage is applied when referring to such blameless casualties. Collateral is something exposed to danger so as to realize some greater outcome. The main aim of the military is to safeguard the lives of many citizens concurrently, and in some occasions, some collateral damage might transpire for the welfare of the majority in a specific territory. For example, if fifty people will be killed in a bombing invasion in a town where chemical weapons are hidden, but the weapons there would be employed to kill thousands if the attack did not advance, then the assault in this case would be acceptable. The most resolutely ascertained essentials of the Just War custom is that of noncombatant protection. The people who are not directly involved in the war are not to be aimed at. This regulation disallows any direct raid on the individual or possessions of civilians, or certainly any act taken with the purpose of causing injury be it physical or even mental to civilians. 

A basic predicament of war, nevertheless, is that general public will unavoidably be harmed, no matter one’s intent. The question about the possibility of engaging in a just war can be answered from the principle of Double Effect (Conway-Lanz, 2006). This principle argues that justice necessitates that no one intends hurting the public. Harm that is simply unintentional, or even that is anticipated but not planned, is acceptable, though certainly unfortunate and to be evaded where feasible. The fundamental dividing line for just behavior in a battle, then, is that between damage that is intentional and damage that is at most predictable but not planned.



Condra, L. N., & Shapiro, J. N. (2012). Who takes the blame? The strategic effects of collateral damage. American Journal of Political Science, 56(1), 167-187.

Conway-Lanz, S. (2006). Collateral Damage: Americans Noncombatant Immunity and Atrocity After World War II. Routledge.

Reynolds, J. D. (2005). Collateral Damage on the 21st Century Battlefield: Enemy Exploitation of the Law of Armed Conflict, and the Struggle for a Moral High Ground. AFL Rev., 56, 1.


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