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War Strategy: Suicide

Malek Allari | Editor-in-Chief

One of the most excellent and efficient war strategies is suicide, and it is successful in its results, reasons, and diverse forms and methods that are used. Some of these results contain political and social instability, including psychological fear among the people, the destruction of infrastructure and the economy, maintaining the secrecy and confidential information, and killing as many enemy troops and civilians as possible. When it comes to achieving these results, there are reasons for them to do it, especially when we consider that these people know that they are dying along with the people they are killing. These reasons include martyrdom (connected to religion), nationalism, and honor. For every reason, a wide variety of forms can be done, including suicide bombings, Kamikaze attacks, self-sacrifice, and suicide missions.


“La shay’a waqe’un Mutlaq, bal kulun pumpkin” (nothing is an absolute reality, everything is permitted) is a line from the book Alamut by Vladimir Bartol. It is a true historical story of two people whose lives got intertwined for martyrdom and suicide warfare. Halima, who was a slave girl, was purchased to be a houri (a servant of people who go to heaven. However, the true meaning has changed throughout history, but the actual definition is angel servants for the people who go to heaven). The other character, Ibn Tahir, is a soldier whom his parents forced to join the Alamut garrison.

The suicide warfare strategy was founded by Hasan Ibn Al-Sabah, the leader of the Hashashins (Assassin’s Creed), who owned his castle in Alamut, Iran. He trained his soldiers and brainwashed them using “holy” texts, which also led to the MYTH that when Muslims die, they will be served by seventy-two virgins who cannot deny any request. To do that, Hasan Ibn Al-Sabah convinced the people that he was a prophet and had the keys to Paradise. At first, some of his soldiers did not believe in it, including Ibn Tahir, so Hasan had to “reward” Ibn Tahir and two other soldiers for having a “taste of Paradise.”

Using Hashish, a drug that is cannabis but is cultivated in a certain way that makes it strong enough to knock people out, Hasan Ibn Al-Sabah drugged his soldiers and sent them to “Paradise,” which was the garden behind the castle where Halima and dozens of other girls where living. After the “taste of paradise,” Ibn Tahir and the soldiers started following Hasan Ibn Al-Sabah with devotion. They believed that they would go to heaven once they died, resulting in the brainwashing of these soldiers, who became fearless killing machines ready to die.

Martyrdom (Religion)

Using the brainwashing techniques that Hasan Ibn Al-Sabah used for his soldiers, modern terrorist groups, mainly ISIS and Al-Qaeda, could “brainwash” young children and raise them to become devoted soldiers to the group’s cause. However, they had to do recruitment and training programs to bring people into their groups. These recruitments and training often included recruitment through personal connections, social media, and propaganda. Once they are done with the recruitment, they train these soldiers to build bombs, kill people outside the religion (anyone not Muslim), and have them recite the “holy” texts that the leaders choose. Mostly, these soldiers are uneducated and recruited since they are young children, meaning they were raised and exposed to these extreme ideas.

Since they were raised on radical ideas, there should be a motivation behind why they are willing to kill themselves and the people around them. This brings Religious Motivations to the point of discussion. Suicide bombing is often motivated by religious beliefs, specifically the belief that martyrdom is a path to eternal life and a way to serve God. Often linked with Islam because of the terrorist groups mentioned before, Al-Qaeda and ISIS, which goes against the religion and its meaning, which is the word “Islam” is an Arabic word that means “peace.”

Nationalism & Suicide Missions

Nationalism is simply fighting for one’s country. One of the most significant and most recent events of suicide warfare that stands behind the reasons for nationalism was the Kamikaze Attacks in WWII by the Japanese Navy against the US. Vice Admiral Onishi Takijiro founded the Kamikaze Attacks. When he presented the idea of the Kamikaze Attacks and proposed it to the general, it was received with skepticism and later on was approved as a “last resort” solution.

The Kamikaze Attacks were highly successful and an efficient strategy that helped Japan kill and sink thousands of US sailors and hundreds of their ships. However, when it came to the pilots who drove the planes full of explosives into the US ships, some did it voluntarily in the sense of honor and heroic death to serve their country. But most of these planes were piloted by people who were forced to drive these planes into enemy ships, resulting in the idea that Kamikaze Attacks was suicide mission.

When it comes to suicide missions, it is effective in spreading terror. For example, ISIS has been sending their militia as suicide bombers globally to spread terror to the public. Their goals may be deemed to be driven by religious gain, but that is what the followers blindly believe. However, the leaders of these groups know that what they are doing is spreading global terror and social instability.

Another example is the 9/11 attacks that resulted in a War on Terror by the US government against Afghanistan and Iraq. It also impacted global politics and international

relations. The attacks were seen as an attack on Western values and democracy and increased tensions between the US and many Muslim-majority countries.


Suicide warfare is not a new phenomenon and has been used throughout history by different cultures and societies. Starting with the Ancient Greeks fought and died a noble death in battle rather than surrendering to the enemy. However, when it came to the Ancient Greeks, they fought in battle because they believed that once they died in battle, they went to heaven. Similar to the Norsemen who fought in the war and died and believed they would go to Valhalla. Even though it might be directly linked to suicide, it could be considered to some extent when the soldier/warrior would be tired and injured but still break through enemy lines to create a state of confusion to let his allies gain the upper hand against the enemy.

The most common and modern form of honorary suicide is committing Seppuku. Seppuku, also known as harakiri, is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. Samurai warriors traditionally carried it out as a way to restore their honor or avoid being captured by enemies. The person committing seppuku would use a short blade to make a deep cut into their abdomen and then quickly remove the blade, leading to rapid and painful death. Honorary suicide is also a way to show extreme loyalty to a particular ruler, and the person committing the honorary suicide is willing to die.


There are two perspectives when it to suicide warfare. There are the attackers and the targets. For the attackers believe that it is an act to be seen as martyrdom, no matter what religion it is, and their sacrifice will lead them to heaven, and their sacrifice will be meaningful to their beliefs. They often see themselves as heroically saving their community, religions, or countries.

As for the targets, the suicide attacks can be seen as a form of psychological warfare because trying to understand the complex reasons why someone is willing to die and can see their death coming would still execute the plan that they are working on. It also creates fear and terror among the population of target. Suicide attacks can also be effective in achieving military objectives, such as destroying enemy installations and camps, killing high-ranking officials, or disrupting military operations.

In conclusion, suicide can be seen from whoever’s perspective; it is still seen as an effective war strategy that can be used against enemies. It goes against common sense and ethical strategies to sacrifice a life to take many. Whether it be martyrdom, nationalism, or honor, suicide in warfare has been an important factor in achieving military or personal goals, whether to armies that are controlled by countries and governments or by terrorist groups.


Pape, R. A. (2005). Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. Random House.

Bartol, V. (2004). Alamut. North Atlantic Books.

Bunker, R. J. (2005). Suicide Warfare: Culture, the Military, and the Individual as a Weapon. Routledge.

Ohnuki-Tierney, E. (2002). Kamikaze: Cherry Blossoms and Nationalisms War. University of Chicago Press.

Nitobe, I. (2002). Bushido: The Soul of Japan. Tuttle Publishing.

Arai, T. (2006). Honor, Shame, and War: The Contemporary Japanese Cultural Experience. Lexington Books.

Moghaddam, F. M. (2005). The Staircase to Terrorism: A Psychological Exploration. American Psychologist, 60(2), 161-169.


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