IMAGE:  February 2003 GRAPHIC:  University of Chicago Magazine
Volume 95, Issue 3
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"From encouraging terror to wasting pages"

From inane to dangerous
Rebecca West’s “The Real Life Adventures of Pinocchio” was a great example of the in-depth analysis of nothing that is produced by the self-important pompous parasites that fill the halls of academia. A career spent finding psychoanalytical and christological meaning in Pinocchio? If Rebecca had spent a few minutes looking at the forest instead of the trees, she’d have seen that Pinocchio is just another example of “Standard Plot 17: Children’s Adventure” in a writer’s tool kit. This is the plot in which a child leaves home looking for adventure, discovers the world is a dangerous place, and runs back to the shelter of home. Can we say, “There’s no place like home” in less than six pages?

On the other hand, A.B.’s article on the work of Robert Pape, “The strategic logic of suicide terrorism” (“Investigations”), is the kind of work that actually makes the world a more dangerous place. Its documentation that suicide bombing is an effective tactic can only serve to increase the danger in this world. Can’t you just see reprints being handed out to students in terror training camps, as proof that their actions will advance their cause and their deaths will not be in vain?

From encouraging terror to wasting pages on misanalysis of children’s tales, this issue does not shine a very good light on our University or its Magazine! But keep up the good work!

Alt Ermal, AB’75
New York

Professor Pape’s speculations about the success of suicide terrorism draws upon selective evidence. He pulls up recollections of the American withdrawal from Lebanon after a truck bomb killed 241 Marines in 1983, and the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza in 1994. He cites the Hamas campaign against Israel, which has not yet been contained. These so-called successes, however, must be set against the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and the demise of the Taliban and the scattering of Al Qaeda, not to mention the failure of the kamikaze attacks against the American Navy in WW II. Not only did the attacks fail to deter American bombing runs over Japan and the invasion of Okinawa, they provided a strong justification for the use of atomic weapons on Japanese cities, a spectacular demonstration of punishment of an enemy population.

The most questionable part of this inconsistent analysis was Pape’s response when queried by another political scientist as to why not a crackdown of the population that supports the terrorists: “Because it’s immoral and ineffective,” was his reply. It apparently never occurred to him that suicide bombings of a bus full of school children (recent attack in Israel) or the Twin Towers on 9/11 were also immoral.

Arthur J. Weitzman, AB’54, AB’56, AM’57
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Robert Pape responds: Alas, the writer misunderstands my methods. To characterize the nature of suicide terrorism, I collected the universe of suicide terrorist attacks worldwide from 1980 to 2001. Using LexisNexis and other search engines of almost 100 newspapers and other media, I counted each instance in which an attacker killed innocents while killing him- or herself unless directed by a government. There have been 187 such attacks around the world, including in Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kashmir, Chechnya, Algeria, and the United States. Although there are other databases on terrorism and some partial databases on suicide terrorism in the Middle East, this is the first comprehensive survey of suicide terrorist attacks worldwide.

Systematic data is important because it may reveal patterns that we otherwise have not noticed and may find somewhat startling when we do. Examining the universe of suicide terrorists shows that the vast majority (95 percent) occur as part of coherent, organized campaigns meant to compel democratic societies to abandon the occupation or political control of territory the terrorists view as their national homeland. The universe also shows that the rate of suicide terrorism is rapidly rising, from an average of three such attacks per year in the 1980s to ten per year in the 1990s, to more than 25 per year in 2000 and 2001. This trend continued in 2002, with more than 20 attacks in Israel and seven by Al Qaeda. In fact, Al Qaeda’s attacks in 2002 killed more than 250 innocents, more than in the three years prior to 9/11 combined.

Examination of the universe also identifies a key reason why suicide terrorism is rising. Over the past two decades, there have been 11 suicide terrorist campaigns and about half (six of 11) are associated with gains for the terrorists’ political cause. Following costly suicide attacks, the United States and France withdrew completely from Lebanon in March 1984, Israel accelerated its withdrawal from Gaza in May 1994 and from certain West Bank towns in November 1995, the Sri Lankan government agreed to serious autonomy negotiations with the LTTE in January 1995, and Israel released the top leader of Hamas from jail in October 1997. Moreover there is direct evidence that top political leaders were influenced by the threat of suicide attack. Consider Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s explanation to the Knesset on April 18, 1994—just days after two Hamas suicide attacks—about why Israel should finally withdraw from Gaza:

I want to tell the truth. For 27 years we have been dominating another people against its will. For 27 years Palestinians in the territories…get up in the morning harboring a fierce hatred for us, as Israelis and Jews. Each morning they get up to a hard life, for which we are also, but not solely, responsible. We cannot deny that our continuing control over a foreign people who do not want us exacts a painful price: the price of continuing confrontation between us and them.… Hamas and Islamic Jihad…carried out most of the recent murders and terrorist attacks, some on suicide missions. For two or three years, we have been facing a phenomenon of extremist Islamic terrorism, which recalls Hezbollah, which surfaced in Lebanon and perpetrated attacks, including suicide missions.… Israel and Palestinian populations are so intertwined there are infinite opportunities for the rejectionist terrorists. There is no end to the targets Hamas and the other terrorist organizations have among us. Each Israeli, in the territories and inside sovereign Israel, including united Jerusalem, each bus, each home, is a target for their murderous plans. Since there is no separation between the two populations, the current situation creates endless possibilities for Hamas and the other organizations.

If we are to defeat this growing threat, understanding the strategic logic of suicide terrorism is important. The simplistic solutions offered by the right (leadership decapitation) and the left (concessions) are unlikely to bring an end to this terrible phenomenon, at least not soon and not by themselves. My study indicates that we should devote considerably more attention and resources to a third strategy: homeland defense. Since 9/11 the United States has added more than $100 billion a year to the defense budget and may spend $100 billion to conquer Iraq but has hardly increased the resources going to homeland security. Systematic study of the universe of suicide terrorism suggests that we should reverse these priorities.

The writer also is simply wrong about my views on morality. For the past 15 years I have published consistently and broadly about the immorality (as well as the ineffectiveness) of attacking civilians. This is a central theme of my book Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War, my articles on economic sanctions, and my work on international moral action.

The University of Chicago Magazine invites letters on its contents or on topics related to the University. Letters for publication must be signed and may be edited for space or clarity. In order to ensure as wide of range of views as possible, we ask readers to try to keep letters to 500 words or less. Write:

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