WarningThis information has been archived for reference or research purposes.

Archived Content

Information identified as archived on the Web is for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. It has not been altered or updated after the date of archiving. Web pages that are archived on the Web are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats on the "Contact Us" page.

Book Reviews

Dying To Win: The Strategic Logic Of Suicide Terrorism

by Robert A. Pape

New York: Random House, 2006
261 pages, $21.00

Reviewed by Captain Michael H. Gough

Print PDF

For more information on accessing this file, please visit our help page.

Book coverIn the rapidly expanding field of study on suicide terrorism, Dying to Win presents a detailed and well-organized analysis which challenges the widely accepted notion that Islamic radicalism is the principal cause. Originally published in 2005, the paperback edition from 2006 includes a new afterword.

Pape argues persuasively that three causal conditions must exist in order for a suicide terrorism campaign to be launched: First, a circumstance of national resistance to foreign occupation of lands strongly associated with a nationalist identity; second, the occupying force originates from a democracy or democracies; and third, there is a difference in religion between those being occupied and those doing the occupying. Furthermore, suicide operations are shown not to be isolated or random incidents executed by singular fanatics, but rather, they form part of lucidly planned terrorist campaigns with specific strategic goals in mind. This book studies, from a global perspective, the phenomenon of modern suicide terrorism that has now spanned the last 25 years.

Early in the book, Pape, after a brief historical review, narrowly defines the concept of suicide terrorism in order to exclude other notable suicide campaigns, such as those conducted by the 11th and 12th Century Ismali assassins, and the Japanese kamikazes. This allows him to focus on suicide terrorism as we experience it today. Part One discusses the strategic logic of suicide terrorism, explaining how it has become a key weapon in the arsenal of otherwise militarily weak protagonists, such as terrorists. Part Two explores the social logic of this phenomenon, and how societies are persuaded, by the perpetrating organizations, to believe that suicide terrorism is a legitimate means to attain national liberation, and that the suicide terrorists themselves are martyrs. Finally, Part Three sheds new light onto the individual logic of suicide terrorism by challenging the idea that suicide terrorists are suicidal in the traditional sense, offering instead that they are more likely motivated by altruistic intentions. Pape also demonstrates that only a minority of suicide attackers can be considered religious fanatics.

Although it is difficult to grapple with the notion of suicide terrorism as a logical means of coercion, Pape illustrates how terrorist organizations have perceived the success of suicide terrorism in the past. Several suicide campaigns have led to visible concessions or full-scale withdrawal of occupying forces, an example being the extraction of American, French, and Israeli forces from Lebanon in the early 1980s. Whether these actions on the part of the occupying entity were in direct response to the suicide campaign is shown to be irrelevant, since they have further fuelled terrorist justifications to conduct future suicide attacks as a logical and effective scheme to achieve their goals.

In order to demonstrate his theory, Pape investigates four suicide terrorism campaigns in detail. By examining the use of suicide terrorism by Hamas in Lebanon, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam resistance to Sri Lanka, the Sikhs against India after the Golden Temple Massacre, and the Parti Karkaren Kurdistan against Turkey, he lays a solid foundation for his three-pronged causal argument. Even without the author’s comprehensive analysis, the detailed appendices and frequent tables provide the reader with ample data on suicide attacks conducted over the past 25 years, up to 2005, with the publication of the hardcover first edition.

The main drawback experienced by this reader throughout the body of the text was that some of the meticulous statistical deductions described are rather complex, and sometimes circuitous. Although the author makes excellent use of tables and graphs to illustrate his interpretations of the data, the supporting prose is, at times, not easy to grasp initially. However, Pape’s thorough argumentative style generally anticipates his critics’ impending questions, and he responds to them in detail. This lends further credence to his theory, and it offers the reader confidence in his analysis.

However, the Canadian observer, in particular, will note the lack of analysis concerning escalating suicide terrorism in Afghanistan. This is most likely due to the relatively recent upsurge in suicide attacks in that country, which coincided too closely to initial publication of the book for inclusion. However, Pape’s analytical model, as outlined, could be similarly applied and tested using updated statistics from Afghanistan.

In his conclusion and afterword, Pape suggests that the only way to end suicide terrorism in Iraq is for complete and immediate withdrawal of American and Allied forces from the Arabian Peninsula. His explanations into this decision are disappointingly brief, and his afterword does not include any references. This is particularly surprising considering that throughout his book, but particularly in Chapter 5, he argues that one of the main reasons that suicide terrorism has proliferated recently is the perception on the part of terrorists of the probable success of suicide campaigns for achieving their immediate strategic goals. These are usually the withdrawal of combat forces generated and deployed by a democracy. Clearly, if we follow the author’s logic and arguments, if western forces were to withdraw without delay from Iraq, and, by extension, Afghanistan, this would be perceived as nothing short of a total victory for suicide terrorism operations on the part of the terrorists. And it would serve to increase the future use of such tactics. It would be interesting to know how Pape reached this conclusion, in spite of this obvious contradiction in the book.

Dying to Win is an important read for anyone who seeks to know more about the phenomenon of suicide terrorism and its logical effectiveness from the perspective of terrorist organizations. Not only is it well-organized and thought-provoking, but his analytical model can be applied to and tested against future cases.

CMJ Logo

Captain Gough, an armoured officer and member of Lord Strathcona’s Horse, is currently the Regular Support Staff Officer with the British Columbia Dragoons.