Have you been collateral damage?

Sue Nethercott
7 min readMay 27, 2024


When there is collateral damage when I am weeding or transplanting in the garden, I regret it. If it is a flower, I put it in water indoors and enjoy it while it lives.

Photo of forget-me-not flowers, and Lavatera and Oregano cuttings with roots
Accidental cuttings in water — Sue Nethercott

If it is a potential cutting, I put it in water or soil to see if roots will grow. If it is whole, I transplant it somewhere safer or pot it up. That way I get plants to fill gaps or to exchange or to give away. A little extreme, perhaps, but harmless, sometimes even beneficial. Are you the same?

collateral damage
1. Unintended damage, injuries, or deaths caused by an action, especially unintended civilian casualties caused by a military operation.
2. (euphemism) inadvertent casualties and destruction inflicted on civilians in the course of military operations.
- The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition

But there are those at the opposite extreme who do not care about collateral damage — some are oblivious, some just don’t care, some are even gleeful, and they can do great harm.

In work (including politics), there are some people, sometimes overeducated, who think work is about lying and cheating and bootlicking their way to the top. They don’t actually do the work or have the ideas themselves if they can get away with it, so they are in fact a waste of space who leave a swathe of destruction in their wake. People who are their collateral damage either leave — taking their expertise and experience with them — or get overlooked for well-deserved promotions and do not rise to the level where they can do the most good for the organization, and become disincentivized. The Peter Principle applies here.

In politics in particular they are clueless as they have never learned to see the results of their policies and forge ahead with all the confidence of the captain of the Titanic. The result can adversely affect their company, the majority of a whole nation, and/or the climate and therefore the whole world. The Tories are an example of this kind of governance, for example their failed austerity policy has made life tougher than necessary for many. War is often the same, with warmongers (as opposed to defenders) often causing far more loss of life than is necessary to win the war. Sometimes what is called collateral damage is in fact nothing of the kind. For example, for Netanyahu collateral damage is the point as he wants to drive all Palestinians out of Gaza (he was probably itching for an excuse). For Putin the aim is for terrified Ukrainians to submit to Russian rule, and many Ukrainians have died for his ambition and families heartbroken when their kids are stolen and taken deep into Russia. Russians are also suffering — soldiers injured or dying or at least not contributing to daily life at home.

Many have died as collateral damage when men lusted power — Richard Nixon’s treason prolonged the Vietnam war. George W. Bush’s war with Iraq cost tens of thousands of lives, as did Great Britain’s wars to establish or keep its empire.

Single issues

In America, the war on drugs was aimed at keeping African Americans and anti-war ‘hippies’ down and led to many being treated as criminals who were not, and children being deprived of their fathers who were imprisoned for no good reason.

Eugenicists want to weed out anyone they consider inferior, including the disabled. If they had had their way we would have been deprived of people like Stephen Hawking, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Christopher Reeve, Ludwig van Beethoven, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles.

Ageists would deprive us of the people who have the most experience and, in some cases, wisdom.

If misogynists had had their way we would not have benefitted from Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie or Florence Nightingale. Countries would be much worse off during wars if women were not allowed to take the place of soldiers at home.

White supremacists would have made sure we would never have heard of Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Duke Ellington, Jesse Owens or Tiger Woods.

Anti-LGBT attitudes led to the death of Alan Turing — fortunately for us not before he had made a major contribution to ending World War Two. Other LGBT people whose contributions would have been lost to us include Oscar Wilde and Elton John.

So, there are many groups of people who, in their zeal to accomplish some goal or other, would do considerable harm to others and/or to society and/or the environment, which is our only home.


Fossil fuel CEOs around the world have lied to us about their products’ effect on climate change for decades — their collateral damage is the future habitability of Earth itself. In addition, they manipulate production and therefore prices, causing considerable hardship to the poor. They are also guilty of greedflation, for example hiking prices far more than warranted when the Ukraine war started, where they could get away with it (and get away with it they did in the UK, where in an unusual bout of apparent generosity, the Tories gave taxpayers’ money back to taxpayers so they could pay those excess profits). Nevertheless, many could not afford the increased prices that many companies were charging and could not afford to heat their homes and/or had to resort to foodbanks.

Criminals at Enron manipulated the California electricity market, causing power blackouts.

Some CEOs, like “Chainsaw Al”, are hired just to downsize companies, and they do not care about the large numbers of people who lose their jobs as a result. Elon Musk did not care about those he fired at Twitter or the value that Twitter users put on it and its role in the community.

Vulture capitalists (not to be confused with venture capitalists) will often fire as many workers and sell as many assets as they can. Some, as Greg Palast has written, throw whole countries into default. Sometimes they don’t even risk their own capital. They saddle the full cost of their purchase onto the company that they strip, leaving it to go bankrupt with the loss of all jobs and what is sometimes a good product, as Thom Hartmann explains. There should be a law against doing this.

Both Trump and the Tories prioritised keeping the economy going the way they wanted it over the welfare of the people during the COVID pandemic, leading to far more deaths than necessary both in the US and the UK. In the USA, Trump & Co deliberately let more African Americans die.

In the UK, the Tories either did not bother to consider the effects of Brexit or did not care, causing a lot of harm to people and businesses. The NHS lost foreign doctors and nurses, agriculture lost seasonal workers. Europeans who had won the right to stay in the UK indefinitely had to reapply, and some were denied, causing them to lose their jobs and breaking up families. Universities are losing revenue from foreign students who pay higher fees.

Privileged Tories who turn a blind eye to corruption in their own ranks, instead focus on getting the ‘lazy’ sick and disabled and unemployed back to work. This is causing a lot of distress (and a few deaths among those who lost their benefits) to the genuinely sick and disabled and those for whom the work is just not there. They may dress up their policies with offers of help, but there is no disguising the cruelty.

What can we do?

So, ordinary hardworking people, the retired, the sick & disabled, children and nature all suffer at the hands of a relatively small number of psychopaths chasing money and/or power. It has always been so. There have been kings, war lords and slave owners. We had been making progress against them, but some profited from the Great Depression, and others from Reagan and Thatcher’s ‘greed is good’ policies. Now they can afford to pour more and more money into our elections to steer us away from democracy and into oligarchy, where we are more and more powerless.

So what can we do? The biggest thing is to vote out every politician who likes things that way. That means every conservative and the right wing of the opposition. And persuade others to. Each election where we fail to do so takes us a step further towards oligarchy and dictatorship. And in order to do that we need to be able to recognise them.

Some of them are very intelligent in some ways — parents and teachers should teach them to value others intellectually, even if they cannot empathize with them, and steer them into careers where they can do no harm. They should also work against bullying, as a child bully may become a bigger bully when they are adult, and the bullied may themselves grow into bullies. Nip it in the bud, as I wrote recently.

We should all do our homework before elections or referendums, and learn to look past the glib tongues and facile lies to choose people who genuinely care to represent the people.

It is time for us to stop being collateral damage and to share the full benefits of our work and our society.

In this year’s elections vote to keep the Tories and Republicans out, and take great care who you vote in. And encourage your friends and family to do the same.



Sue Nethercott

Open University BA, UMIST MSc, OU BSc Environmental Studies. Interests: environment, COVID19. Double #ostomate. Thom Hartmann’s newsletter editor. Views my own.