The term was coined during the Vietnam War, that hotbed of euphemism, to refer to civilians who got into harm’s way during a military operation (otherwise known as bombing the bejesus out of a village suspected of harboring the enemy).
But though there wasn’t always a phrase for it, preventing collateral damage has been a problem for armies since man discovered fire (and began burning the bejesus out of cave dwellings suspected of harboring the enemy). During World War I, 6-7 million civilians lost their lives. Disease and starvation took a huge toll, of course. I’m not sure anyone knows what percentage of them simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Of course, some were deliberately targeted. The Zeppelins that bombed Britain weren’t accurate enough for tactical use, they were a terror weapon against civilians. They killed 557 people and injured 1,358. (Another 857 people were killed by airplane raids, with 2,058 injured.)
And the Zeppelins indirectly killed this lady. She was just collateral damage.
This is a harmless Zeppelin, paying a benign visit to London in 1930. Still creepy-looking to me.
This is what Alice Howitt was afraid of: