Dying For Your Cause
The comment Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden's former bodyguard, made on 60 Minutes on July 30, mentioned in the post below, that he hopes his young son will die a martyr was the most interesting and important point made during the interview.
How do we fight people who want to die? There have been few instances where a fighter has sought out death, normally the point is to kill the other guy and go home.
"The idea isn't for you to die for your country, but to make the other son of a bitch die for his," is the famous quote from General George Patton. He told this to his troops prior their going into battle.
This brings up the question, is an army or group filled with people that want to die effective? I don't mean an army comprised of those willing to die, but those who seek out death. There is a huge difference between the two. All soldiers are supposed to be ready and willing to sacrifce themselves to protect their nation and families and those people who believe dying for their god is the highest level of service they can achieve.
Does this approach make a fighter more or less effective? Can an army comprised of such people win a war?
I believe less effective is the correct answer, but with several caveats. A soldier who wants to die, presumably to start dating his waiting 72 virgins, cannot be as concerned with the outcome of the mission he or she is assigned to complete. This line of thought does not bode well for an organization's long-term plan to win their conflict.
For proof it seems to me that Islamic terrorists are just as happy with a a colleague who died attempting to kill Americans as with one who actually accomplished the task. The person died in Allah's service and that is enough. Yet his death accomplished nothing.
In much the same fashion that it's difficult to defeat a force willing to fight to the death, it is proving difficult to dismantle a force comprised of those who want to die.
For example, generally in war death is something to avoid. Having an army where the vast majority of the soldiers stay alive makes it easier to recruit newcomers and gives faith to the other soldiers that there is a chance for them to get home to their families once the war is over. However, the terrorists have used their religion to turn what is usually war's worst outcome, death, into something essentially enjoyable. Basically, it is not a deterrent to the terrorists if our soldiers on guard duty kill every would-be suicide bomber prior to their detonating. That person is a martyr and all that is now needed is another explosives belt and a human carrier. The terror group's leaders can point to the dead suicide bomber and say, "he is now with Allah and happily chatting up his first virgin." For them that is better then a recruiting commercial shown during the Super Bowl.
So we find ourselves essentially using the wrong tactics to defeat the terrorists. Killing them is a mistake. We are giving them exactly what they want. Death.
So how do we defeat or make the terrorists shift tactics? To me it will take a respected Muslim, to come forward and state that dying for Allah is wrong. Unfortunately this is not likely to happen as most respected Muslims keep calling for more martyrs.
So this brings us to the second question. Can an army filled with would be suiciders win a large scale conflict?
At first blush my answer was no, but upon further reflection I have come to a slightly different conclusion. In sports it's sometimes said that a team did not so much win a game as the other team lost it.
So an army of death wishers cannot directly win a war, but it can force its enemy to capitulate because it tires of taking casualties. This means we can only lose the current war if we quit. However, we will not necessarily win if we stay the course.