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In his new book, Dying to Win : The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, Robert A. Pape describes his database of every suicide bombing and attack around the world from 1980-2003 -- 315 attacks in all.
From this database, he was able to draw numerous conclusions about why suicide bombings occur. He constructs a model addressing three questions: [p. 21]:
He finds that suicide terrorism works best against democracies by weak organizations that have no other way to achieve political objectives. The political objective is almost always to eject foreign troops from the terrorist organization's homeland.
He develops a theory that nationalism and religious difference between the rebels and a dominant democratic state are the main conditions under which the "alien" occupation of a community's homeland is likely to lead to a campaign of suicide terrorism. [p. 125] He finds that religion plays a smaller part than thought.
Pape analyzes different kinds of suicide. The "egoistic suicide" is done alone, in isolation; and the "fatalistic suicide" occurs from immersion in a small group, often a cult. [p. 176]
But the form of suicide practiced by suicide bombers is "altruistic suicide." Whereas an egoistic suicide seeks to escape pain that society would normally expect a person to endure, the altruistic suicide willingly accepts a voluntary death precisely because society supports and honors the act.[p. 187]
Putting these elements together, a person commits suicide terrorism in order to become a hero with a social organization that wishes to eject foreign troops from the terrorist organization's homeland.
I found myself frustrated reading Pape's book, because Generational Dynamics would have filled in a number of gaps in his theory.
This book is brilliant in characterizing the data, but sometimes provides only uncertain interpretations because the author evidently never even considered generational issues even when they were obvious.
For example, he asks the question, "Why do suicide attacks receive mass support in some societies and not others?" This is the wrong question, because it overlooks the fact that societies will support suicide attacks in some generational eras and not others.
In fact, he acknowledges that there's an important time component from his own data -- after all, he says that there were no suicide terrorists between 1945 and 1980, and his data shows that their incidences have been growing steadily (perhaps exponentially) since then.
He says that he can't explain why "the overwhelming majority of societies -- even those experiencing political violence -- exhibit no suicide terrorism but a handful of societies have experienced dozens of attacks each."
On the time scale, he writes, "[W]hile the supply of suicidal individuals may vary somewhat over time, psychological expanations cannot account for why over 95 percent of all suicide terrorist attacks occur in organized campaigns that are concentrated in time."
As we'll describe here, all of these puzzles are answered when you understand how suicide terrorism fits into the entire genocidal fabric of crisis wars.
Crisis wars are the worst kinds of wars, full of genocide and atrocities. They occur in every society and nation every 70-90 years, the maximum length of a human lifespan. America has had two such wars since its founding: WW II, in which America firebombed and destroyed entire cities like Dresden and Tokyo, and even dropped two nuclear weapons on Japanese cities; and the Civil War, in which northern General Sherman marched through Georgia with a devastating scorched earth campaign. Other American wars (Vietnam, Korea, WWI, etc.) were highly political, and not nearly so genocidal, and civilians in particular are protected as much as possible.
Now the methodological issue with Pape's book is that his definition of "suicide terrorism" does not include government-sponsored terrorism. For example, during World War II, the Japanese kamikaze pilots crashed their planes into American ships in order to cause the greatest amount of damage, but these were government sponsored.[p. 35]
In fact, suicide terrorism and Japanese kamikaze pilots are all part of the larger fabric of genocide during crisis wars.
On D-day in 1944, tens of thousands of American forces poured onto the beaches of Normandy, where they were massively slaughtered by the Germans. This American willingness to sacrifice so many thousands of young men was as much "suicide" as the kamikaze pilots were and today's suicide terrorists are. Those Americans, certainly in the first wave, knew that they were going to die, and yet they did as they were told in order to win the war for their families back home, to preserve America and its way of life -- altruistic suicide.
That's why in my book I make it clear that there are two kinds of genocide in crisis wars -- a willingness to inflict massive deaths on the enemy, including civilians, and a willingness to incur massive deaths in order to achieve victory.
Now, when you put suicide terrorism into that framework and you look at Pape's data that way, you discover that, lo and behold, suicide terrorism occurs only in conjunction with crisis wars, which is exactly what Generational Dynamics says should happen.
Here are some examples:
This example is clearly suicide terrorism in the early days of generational crisis period, before the crisis war has begun in earnest. It's not surprising that suicide terrorism is conducted mainly by young people, aged in teens and 20s, since older generations would still be held back by the leaders of the older generation, in this case Yasser Arafat until recently, and now Mahmoud Abbas.
Incidentally, Pape writes:
As I've written in my first book and on this web site, Israel and Palestine today are replaying their last crisis war: It began in 1936 with rock-throwing and low-level violence between Palestinians and Jews, and intensified over the following years, reaching full-scaled genocidal war after the partitioning of Palestine and the creation of Israel in 1948.
Understanding this connection solves Pape's puzzle.
Here's another connection between Pape's data and Generational Dynamics: Pape presents an analysis of the nationality of al-Qaeda suicide attackers, and finds that they come from 11 different countries, but that they overwhelmingly come from just two countries: Saudi Arabia and Morocco.
Now, as it turns out, these two countries have had above-average inter-crisis war periods -- the length of time since their last crisis wars. Saudi Arabia's last crisis war was the Ibn Saud conquest, ending in 1925, and Morocco's was the Rif War, ending in 1927. This is what you would expect from Generational Dynamics.
Personally, I'm quite excited by Pape's book because the main body of research in the book provides a fairly dramatic confirmation of Generational Dynamics.
Now I come to the painful part. This is a well-researched, extremely valuable book, but the author made the choice to introduce politics into the subject by arguing very narrowly that the Iraq war was causing increased terrorism. During the last couple of weeks, he's been on television saying that the London bombing is a result of Britain's support of the Iraq war.
I've said several times on this web site that we won't know for at least ten years whether or not the Iraq war was a mistake -- until the "clash of civilizations" world war is over.
By taking this political view, Pape substantially damages his own credibility. I've read his book carefully, and I can see how valuable his research is, but most people won't read it as carefully, and will reach a conclusion about the book based on their personal opinion of George Bush.
Furthermore, the political conclusions are clearly wrong. He says that the Iraq war is causing increased terrorism, but elsewhere in his book he shows that terrorism has been increasing steadily since 1980. He's making a political conclusion that the Iraq war is causing increased terrorism, when his own figures show that it was increasing anyway.
He's even used his own research to claim, on television in the last few days, that the London bombings were caused by Britain's support of the Iraq war, even though his research provides no actual support.
His theory, you'll recall from above, is this: A person commits suicide terrorism in order to become a hero with a social organization that wishes to eject foreign troops from the terrorist organization's homeland.
But these London bombers had England as their homeland, and Pakistan as their parents' homeland, so there's no connection to his theory.
As I explained in detail last week, the London bombers were almost certainly motivated by something quite different: The Indian occupation of their parents' homeland in Kashmir. They struck at London because Britain has close relations with India, since India was once part of the British empire. Pape should have seen that, and would have if he hadn't let himself succumb to the crack cocaine of politics.
An argument can be made that the Iraq war is marginally increasing terrorism against Americans, but that doesn't fit Pape's theory either. The suicide bombing is overwhelming directed at Iraqis, not Americans, and almost all of Iraq's suicide bombers are from Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
Why aren't the Iraqi suicide bombers coming from Iraq itself, or from America's two great enemies, Iran and Syria? The answer is simple, as I've explained on this web site many times: From the point of view of Generational Dynamics, Iraq, Iran and Syria have all had recent crisis wars (ending in the 1980s), and the people from those countries want no part of war at this time. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have had distant crisis wars (ending in 1925 and 1949, respectively), so they have many more people in younger generations who are willing to die for altruistic causes.
I strongly recommend this book, provided that you take the political commentaries with a grain of salt, and provided that you relate Pape's theories with Generational Dynamics, especially the fact that suicide bombing campaigns are part of the genocide fabric that occurs in all crisis wars.