In This Review

Making Sense of Suicide Missions

Making Sense of Suicide Missions
Edited by Diego Gambetta
392 pp, Oxford University Press, 2005
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This is a useful addition to the burgeoning literature on suicide missions, defined as attacks that cannot succeed without the deaths of their perpetrators, who are also volunteers (rather than dupes). The case studies are the normal ones -- kamikazes, Tamil Tigers, Palestinian militants, the September 11 terrorists -- but include some interesting additional observations on nonviolent political suicides (such as of Buddhist monks in South Vietnam) and on why many radical organizations eschew such methods. The contributions are all of a high quality, asking searching questions of the available evidence, but they are still somewhat puzzled in the final analysis. In the end, the phenomenon is fascinating because it reveals the intense interaction of personal motives with strategic impact.