In his March 31st op-ed entitled “Suicidal Lies,” Thomas Friedman argued that the suicide bombings of Palestinians amounted to “testing out a whole new form of warfare,” one that threatened not just Israel and the United States, but all of civilization. This column was certainly a welcome change from Friedman’s unveiling and advocacy of the ludicrous Saudi “peace plan,” as this op-ed clearly acknowledged the gravity of the threat faced by the Israelis.
Suicide bombers are, in many respects, a difficult and puzzling problem for military strategists, as so much conventional military strategy is premised on the idea that the enemy wants to kill you and live, not to kill you and die. When an enemy hides among civilians and rescue workers, the work of soldiers is complicated in that attempts to effectively fight the enemy must be tempered with greater-than-usual concern for collateral damage. (That, of course, is the obvious point of concealment among innocents. But such concealment also has the much more substantial effect of undermining morale by making the good guys appear unjust and inhumane towards innocent civilians.)
However, a recent article by Brian Finch casts serious doubt upon Friedman’s claim that the threat posed by suicide bombers is a new and particularly dangerous one. After all, both Japan and Germany used suicide attacks in World War II. Such attacks were not a grave threat to civilization, but rather an admission that “defeat was at hand.” No one can win a war “killing as many of their enemies as possible without regard for their own losses.” But, of course, suicide bombings can also inflict terrible damage.
Looking at the Japanese kamikaze pilots, Finch writes,
In one sense, the kamikaze attacks worked. Many American ships were damaged or sunk by the attacks, and the U.S. Navy was forced to devote enormous resources to fight off such attacks.
But the suicide attacks did not ultimately succeed. While these attacks strained the U.S. military, they did not break morale. The military instead recognized the attacks for what they were — the last ditch weapon of a desperate foe that had concluded it could not prevail in conventional warfare. The solution for America was simple: Roll forward and defeat the Japanese soundly, which it did.
The suicide bombings of the Palestinians, Finch argues should be regarded in a similar light. They are a desperate last resort, an admission that they cannot win a war with Israel by even remotely conventional means. And so the proper response to these suicide bombings now is the same as it was in World War II: refuse to be cowed and continue to fight. Defeat of the enemy is at hand.
Finch is, however, too optimistic about the ease of pursuing that iron-willed strategy in these morally relative times. Apart from the United States’ lukewarm support, Israel stands alone in her fight against the suicide bombers. And public opinion even in Israel is more divided than it ought to be. The rest of the world, for the most part, has sided with the Palestinians, and thus with the sacrifice of the Jews — yet again. So Israel is fighting the suicide bombers with one hand tied around her back. She may still be winning, but the cost in human lives will be greater as a result.
Really, it all boils down to the comment of a friend of mine:
We want to live, they want to die. Hey, I know a compromise in this war to make everyone happy! We kill them!
That’s the only sort of compromise possible with suicide bombers.