Going Astray

I heard a news story today about civilian casualties from American missiles aimed at military targets in Afghanistan. The report said that these civilian casualties were accidental, and generally caused by stray missiles. That phrasing caught my attention: the juxtaposition of stray and missile. The gravity of the two words is all wrong. Stray is a term used for unmatched socks left over after folding the laundry. It doesn’t sound right when describing a missile that exploded in the wrong place and killed the wrong people. “Don’t worry, Mr. Dari, the United States government doesn’t suspect you of helping Al Qaeda. That was a stray missle that killed your family.” Shouldn’t the seriousness surrounding the firing of a missile preclude the possibility of that missile wandering off target?

I know. I’m oversimplifying. Nobody wants to kill innocent people when they’re choosing targets, and once the missile is launched then physics and weather and terrain and engineering all play a role in foiling the best laid plans. I’m just wrestling with the difference between the ideal situation and the real world.

I also got to thinking about other words that would bother me if I heard them too close together. For instance, a lighthearted execution. Or how about a car crash with just a few fatalities? Maybe an emergency room doctor who sends you home because he’s fairly certain that you’re not having a heart attack?