The Washington Post had an interesting article last week about a group of U.S. Mormons in Mexico who were being targeted in the drug war because some had tried to stand up to the drug gangs. They've also been victims of kidnapping. But one line in it bothered me, from a word-nerd perspective:
These Mormons, some who swear and drink beer, are the latest collateral damage in the Mexican government's U.S.-backed war against criminal organizations.
These people aren't collateral damage, which implies accidental harm caused to civilians in a war, like when a bomb misses its target and hits a school. From the American Heritage Dictionary: "Unintended damage, injuries, or deaths caused by an action, especially unintended civilian casualties caused by a military operation."
The drug gangs are targeting these people and all the other civilians they torture, kidnap, and murder in Mexico. It's no more collateral damage than it was when Vietnamese and Iraqi villagers were killed by angry U.S. soldiers, or when Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and beheaded by terrorists. Civilians have always been caught up in wars; it's only in recent centuries that there have been "rules" about war and therefore a need for a phrase like collateral damage. But what's happening in Mexico isn't it. It's murder.