Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Ripples of Collateral Damage

"Collateral damage" is a term once in wide use among military strategists as a clean, clinical term worthy of PowerPoint briefings and Pentagon press conferences—though its bland vagueness now signals a reality we'd like not to dwell on, horrific images of men, women, children torn asunder by bombs or remote-controlled missiles, their bodies scattered like doll parts amidst the rubble of what military intelligence planners might have believed was a terrorist hideout.  We've all seen collateral damage play a role in our daily lives as well: the small, bad choices we make which spread in concentric ripples to those around us.

In his fifth novel, A Geography of Secrets, Frederick Reuss plots the course of both kinds of unintended consequences.  Noel Leonard works in a windowless office at the Defense Intelligence Analysis Center on Bolling Air Force Base, spending his days consumed in the tight parameters of his work as an "image scientist" mapping coordinates for military units tracking and capturing (or killing) terrorists: "geospatial imaging, photogrammetric engineering, and remote sensing, down to the specifics of multiparametric sensor fusion and integration, data smoothing, noise removal, pattern extraction."  As the novel opens, he learns he's partly responsible for an errant missile strike on a school in Pakistan—an event that his military employers immediately try to downplay by "spitting out little pebbles of blame" and tamping down the truth.

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