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Dead for Good: Martyrdom and the Rise of the Suicide Bomber
by Hugh Barlow
Paradigm Publishers, 2007, 239 pages

Hugh Barlow, professor of criminal justice studies and author of five books, presents in Dead for Good the history of martyrdom (a willingness to die for a cause that is highly valued but threatened) from ancient history to modern-day suicide bombers. The last half of the  book covers predatory martyrdom, which the author defines as including the indiscriminate killing of civilians with little or no warning. Barlow evenhandedly describes why martyrs feel the way that they do based on perceived atrocious acts committed against their group by an enemy. This well-researched book is presented in clear non-academic language that allows readers to understand the reasons why martyrs throughout time have been willing to give up their lives in support of their principles.

The martyr-warrior concept, which has appeared from time to time over the centuries, is not unique to any particular religion, culture, or era. The Japanese kamikaze pilots of the Pacific War are presented in one chapter as an example of a group of martyr-warriors who voluntarily gave their lives to help achieve a military objective. They saw their missions to die in attacks on ships in the following way (pp. 123-4):

Most saw martyrdom as a way to maintain life, the life of the emperor and of Japan, especially its traditions and spiritual values.…As one surviving kamikaze pilot explained, "my own death had a significance, a purpose, and a value. To my great astonishment, these reflections began to relieve my mind after a while, and helped me to regain my tranquility." Thus, when it was time to take off and fly to their deaths, the pilots showed the "composure and tranquility which comes only to those who are aware of their own significance and power."

The differences between Japanese suicide pilots and other martyr-warriors who came before them are summarized in the following paragraph (pp. 126-7):

The emphasis on the practical benefits of martyrdom and martyrdom stories was not new: As we saw in earlier chapters, it first emerged in antiquity and was refined within Islam and alongside the rise of Sikh militancy. New, however, were the organization, training, and policy aspects of martyrdom associated with the Shimpu Tokkotai [Special Attack Corps], particularly as the prospects of a final Japanese victory faded away. It is now clear that World War II witnessed yet another transition in the idea and practice of martyrdom: from occasional aggressive acts of willful self-sacrifice in a fight for group survival to systematic, policy-driven, and repetitive acts of self-sacrificial aggression on a mass scale. Under these conditions, external mechanisms to create compliance and maximize results become more salient.