This term has come into our language via the military. It is used to refer to unintentional consequences (usually casualties) as a consequence of the actions of the great and powerful, usually in connection with a struggle converting ideological intent to military action.
The victims are often the innocent and helpless – those without power or the means to escape or defend themselves. The phenomenon is not confined to military activity.
Sometimes damage occurs through government policy. An example of this has become obvious to me as I support kids with disabilities in bush schools. Some of these schools have as few as ten students enrolled. The performance of one student assumes a significance way out of all proportion to reality when NAPLAN* results are posted on (for example) the myschool website.
This is not an issue if the student falls within the percentile rankings common to most kids, but suppose – just suppose - this kid has a significant intellectual disability. He will need to perform more poorly than 75% of the population before he is excused from being tested using the NAPLAN process, and there are many who just squeak over this mark.
His results then will have a disproportionate negative affect on the whole school performance. If he were attending a large (or even moderately sized) metropolitan school, this result would be far less significant, as it would be lost amongst a large group of average or near-average kids.
So now, not only do these kids have to deal with the dearth of support available in the bush, they are seen as “problems” who pull down the reputation and achievement of their small-school peers.
They and their families become collateral damage, casualties in a flawed effort to gain political advantage in the name of accountability.
It’s pretty poor – and will make the task of bush principals just a little more unattractive. Recruiting in the bush will become more of a problem.
I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time……
* National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy