Suicide Bombers

Kamikaze about to his USS Missouri
Kamikaze about to hit USS Missouri
11 April 1945

Kamikaze Compared To Suicide Bombers

Over at Strategy Page they discuss the campaign of suicide bombers in Iraq:

This effort has become the second largest suicide attack campaign in the last century. The largest was the Japanese use of suicide pilots, in air attacks on the U.S. Navy (and some allied ships) during the later stages of World War II. Some 2,800 suicide pilots died. They managed to sink 34 ships and damage 368 others. About 4,900 sailors died. Only about 14 percent of the Kamikaze pilots survived U.S. fighters and anti-aircraft fire, to actually hit a ship. The Kamikaze always attacked military targets, while the suicide bombers tended to avoid anyone who could shoot back.

That last sentence is what has always set the Japanese kamikazes apart from today’s suicide bombers, and I guess I’ve never really equated the two in any way other than the obvious fact that both include self-destruction as part of their mission.

This is different than what we normally mean when we say things like “suicide mission” we don’t really mean ‘suicide’ but ‘so difficult you might not survive.’ Even guys who charge a machine gun bunker with a .45 and a grenade have some hope, however dim, that they will survive. Even then, its not the sort of action taken when reasonable alternatives exist.

With both the Kamikazes and Islamic suicide bombers, the idea was to demoralize the opponent, and force an end to the conflict, or at least reduce the extent of the attackers defeat. The tactic failed in both cases, although both Kamikazes and Islamic “martyrs” are admired for their courage.

Maybe it’s just Murdoc, but I have no admiration for your typical Islamic suicide bomber, not even anything resembling the grudging sort that I have for the Japanese kamikaze pilots. I keep hearing things like “no matter what side you’re on, you can’t deny that the 9/11 terrorists were brave men.”

Excuse me, but I can deny it. Sure, the 9/11 hijackers had to overcome their own personal fears to carry out their mission, but that hardly qualifies one deserving respect for bravery. They hijacked basically defenseless civilians for the purpose of using their plane as a weapon against other basically defenseless civilians. I don’t really see a lot of difference between the 9/11 bastards and the bastards that blow up dozens or hundreds of worshipers at mosques or random patrons at an open-air deli.

The Japanese pilots who tried to fly their planes into Allied warships were uniformed members of an official government military on a military mission against military targets for military purposes. Virtually none of today’s suicide bombers fit this profile.

What’s next? Do we have to respect the killers at Columbine and Virginia Tech and Westroads Mall for their courage?


  1. Apologies for sending the below to your email: I couldn’t access the site (I use Google Reader to keep up to date), and I wanted to make my comment before it left my head. So apologies for that. Discovered your blog a few weeks ago. Was looking for gun blogs and found GunPundit, and one of the articles there linked to Murdoc Online. Regardless, I like the way you think and I like your blog(s), so just some props there. Anyway, the real reason for my comment. I’m relatively young (25) so most of what I know comes from reading a lot of history books and watching a lot of history channel, so maybe my point of view is wrong, but here goes: you say you grudgingly respect the Kamikazes because they were military men going after military targets, but I propose you take the thought one step further: My understanding of Kamikaze’s is that part of the reason that the Kamikaze program was developed was that the American defenses by the end of the war were so heavy that a Kamikaze attack was one of the few ways that the Japanese could inflict damage on the US fleet. So, they were military men attacking HEAVILY DEFENDED military targets, flying attacks that they knew they would not survive, even if they did actually make it to their target (which like you said the vast majority didn’t), but they were aware (one would hope) that this was one of the only ways to hurt the enemy. So in my mind there is a lot of courage there, to fight the urge to just fly off somewhere else and survive (which sure as hell is what I would do unless I was brainwashed, on drugs, totally convinced that I was on the side of ‘good’ as opposed to evil, or all of the above) versus taking your airplane into a fiercely defended area in the hopes that you might be able to help your country win a war, in addition to the psychological effect of telling your enemy you are willing and able to die to ensure that you kill some of them, no matter what the cost. In my mind this has more in common with the crews of B-17’s early in the European theater, who HAD to know that it was more likely that they WOULDN’T come back from a bombing run. And yet still they carried on, knowing that theirs was a noble and necessary cause, Service Before Self, good against evil, and all that. Again, not a direct comparison, but that’s how the picture forms in my head. Islamic suicide bombers, in my mind, are the exact opposite. They attack the twin towers, or barracks, or shopping malls, or what have you, in the way they do not because the target is so heavily defended that this is the only way for them to prosecute their attack, but precisely because it is the LEAST defended target, in the hopes that striking at our underbelly will scare us into thinking that even the places we through were safe and free of danger actually aren’t. So in my mind, you can’t compare the two at all. In fact I would say that they are diametrically opposed in ideology. Islamic suicide bombing is pure cowardice (but we already knew that, right?). Anyway, there’s my two (or four? Eight?) cents.

  2. two cents is the correct term……………..your were right! Excellent points by both of you, but ‘moral equivilancy’ advocates will ignore them anyway.

  3. Marines reserve a special kind of hatred for terrorists. While we despised the goals of the various communist countries, we also respected their soldiers. Not so with terrorists – they have no honor – they won’t engage us in open battle. Instead they want to kill civilians – preferably women and children. Terrorists are the lowest form of life and should be exterminated. SwissFreek is right – climbing into a Japanese plane in 1945 and attacking American forces was a suicide mission, whether intentional or not. At least they were soldiers attacking other soldiers and sailors.

  4. Not to start a battleship debate, but you have to love the description of that photo: ‘On April 11, 1945, a Japanese A6M ‘Zero’ Kamikaze flew into the side of the USS Missouri Battleship while it was operating off the coast of Okinawa. The plane hit the side of the ship, just below the main deck, causing a shower of debris on the deck. There was only minor damage to the ship and no casualties among the ship’s crew.’