The Department of Defense defines collateral damage as “Unintentional or incidental injury or damage to persons or objects that would not be lawful military targets in the circumstances ruling at the time”. This term is frequently used when describing the incidental killing or wounding of non-combatant persons, or damage to non-combatant property during an attack on another military target. It is argued that its use dehumanizes the dead, and is used to reduce the perception of fault of military leadership in failing to protect non-combatants. The first known use of this term appeared in a 1961 article entitled "DISPERSAL, DETERRENCE, AND DAMAGE".
Although it was not widely used during the Vietnam War, a statement by an unnamed U.S. military official discussing actions taken against the Viet Cong in Ben Tre city perfectly describes the “feeling” such vernacular produces: "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it".That statement practically summarizes U.S. strategy at the time. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, more than 864,000 tons of bombs were dropped during Operation Rolling Thunder (1965 - 1968) alone, compared with 503,000 tons dropped during the entire Pacific Theater of World War II.
|U.S. F4 Phantom dropping bombs over a Viet Cong controlled area in South Vietnam, 1965|