Genesis and Future of Suicide Terrorism
by Scott Atran
Is suicide terrorism a costly war strategy?
Is suicide bombing a costly war strategy, as Scott Altran implies when he affirms that this strategy is chosen when fighting methods of lesser cost seem unlikely to succeed?
Let’s consider Napoleon’s wars, the First World War and even the America’s Secession War. All these wars were planned and implemented by the leaders as if the men’s supply would be unlimited and – in any case – not be a costraint. The problems that the leaders had to manage were others: the supply of foods, the control of the territory, the backing of the people. These were very costly wars indeed, in terms of lives.
Today, the civilized countries could never afford such a strategy, simply because the people would not agree to be used as a tool for pursuing even legitimate goals. Today’s wars are “clean”: in this respect, the U.S. wars in Iraq are not different from suicide bombings. Both strategy represent a clean war: of course because they spare their men, not because they spare their enemies.
Today, the governments and the leaders that decide to start a war are compelled a) to practise strategies that use a minimum of human lifes of their men, and b) to show to everybody that they are trying to implement this strategy, even if the total cost of lifes – comprehensive of the enemies’ lives – is high. Doesn’t matter if you kill hundreds of civilians and if you destroy houses and monuments: the war is clean if your men get back home alive.
Only clean wars in the mentioned terms receive the support of the civilized nations. Traditional, dirty wars are left to underdeveloped nations.
But if in terms of men’s supply U.S. wars are very similar to suicide bombings, both being the less costly possible war, they are consistently different in terms of financial and political investments.
For U.S. to maintain the war clean, means a huge financial investment. On the contrary, for the leaders of suicide bombings, the clean war requests a very low financial investmens. In this respect, suicide bombing is the most effective modern way of making a war.
You must invest in ideology that persuades somebody to sacrifice his life for a superior goal.
For President Bush and Mr Blair would have been very difficult to persuade a single man in their respective countries to become a suicide bomber against Saddam, in defense of the Western democracy or freedom.
For the organiser of suicide bombers, this type of ideology is free, is part of the culture where God, religion, tradition, authority still have a strong impact on the education of the people.