Understand the disease to cure it – by Tom H. Hastings
Two days ago, on February 4, 2019, the bodies of a handsome apparently successful husband and beautiful successful wife—Denise and Kenneth Bartone–were found in New Jersey, a possible murder-suicide. These tragedies are on the increase. Unlike the New Jersey case—a husband likely stabbed his wife and then leapt off a bridge—most of the murder-suicides are gun-related, with another high correlate to opioid addiction, but in the case of the apparent increase in elderly homicide-suicide, it is, according to one analyst, most often a controlling husband shoots his ill wife and then turns the gun on himself.
We might agree that another factor is simple mental health, often eroded into illness by a combination of factors, including various social structural conditions so far beyond our control that a person can snap.
I think this can be the case for all types of murder-suicides, from an old man with a gun seeing no hope for him and his suffering wife, to the megalomaniac who killed more than 900 in Jonestown to somehow take them with him as he faced his own cancer and chose suicide-mass murder instead, to an impoverished Syrian who chooses to take ISIS up on their offer to make a big payout to a family when a member becomes a “self-sacrificing” bomber, a “martyr.” The terrorists operating today do so in a special global environment.
Disclaimer: While I earned a doctorate (in education, specializing in conflict transformation), I’m not a medical doctor. I operate with words and heal with compassionate communication on my best days. I may not “bury my mistakes,” but when I make them I am haunted by them.
With all those caveats, I need to ask you to dig as deeply as you can to peer into the psychological, emotional miasma that envelops the phenomenon of suicide attacks. They are always the acts of indescribably desperate people, even when they are done in war, most honorably directed against combatants, and they are never done by people who believe the world is just or fair. They are always framed on their side as works of altruism, self-sacrifice for the greater good.
Understanding the practice and philosophy of suicide attacks is the baby first step toward mitigating and eventually eliminating these atrocious episodes.
How could a young Japanese pilot decide to load his small plane with a dual synergistic payload of fuel and explosives and launch toward an American warship? Right down the smokestack—an early smart weapon.
Well, it wasn’t in his biological or mental imperative–he didn’t do it before October 1944 and not after July 1945. That’s because in mid-fall, in 1944, the Japanese war machine was losing, was exhausted, was out of fuel, was out of expensive fighter planes, was out of highly trained pilots, was out of sophisticated ordnance, and was in the Hail Mary phase of utter last hope desperation. Indeed, since the US had cracked all Japanese codes and knew that, by December 1944 it could have obtained a conditional surrender, it was only the obdurate fanaticism of a handful of irrational warlords who resorted to the kamikaze attacks.
When US President Truman learned from his intelligence that Japan was informing its diplomats worldwide that “the Japs” were ready to negotiate terms of surrender, he ignored it. Why? Because the Manhattan Project scientists were telling him this new bomb would work, this atomic bomb. So he held out, claiming to his confidantes that the American people deserved an unconditional surrender.
Holding this up to the harsh light of history, we can reasonably conclude that every single American life lost in the Pacific from December 1944 until nine months later, when the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic attacks led to unconditional surrender, was lost in order to serve Truman’s folly of the unconditional surrender. Folly? Yes, because when General McArthur accepted the surrender on the USS Missouri, he allowed the Japanese to keep their figurehead emperor, a condition that only kept the Japanese feeling less that utterly humiliated and a condition that could have been enough to initiate a ceasefire nine months previous.
Do I seem to be taking this personally? Maybe, since my father was in the US Navy in the Philippines at that time. His survival was my good luck, no thanks to Truman, and the deaths of other American servicepeople killed in that period I will lay at his feet of Truman’s memory.
So it was this period of back-against-the-wall existential threat that produced the kamikaze and the related shinpu, the little submarines with analogous capacities and intentions. They were loaded up with explosives and enough fuel for that one-way trip to extinguish an American warship, as many combat troops as possible, and, by the way, the lone Japanese submariner.
Some 3,800 of these suicide troops were used up to death, and left more than 7,000 American troops dead. Even so, only 19 percent of the attacks were successful, probably primarily because they were a part of actual battle, not the later sort of suicide attacks on civilians.
Of course, like the new wave of post 9-11-01 Muslim suicide bombers, a fake culture of honor and reward needed to be created in order to convince the gullible and the desperat to undertake these odious and hopeless attacks. The poetic glorification of the young Japanese pilots seems to have given them the psychological shielding so necessary to such a perverted, unnatural act as intentionally crashing into an object 100 percent certain to kill you. I mean, the very term kamikaze means “divine wind,” revealing such sacralization.
Of course we see that with the Islamic virgins beckoning from paradise. Pure hooey for the willfully, blissfully, fatally ignorant and a justification to next of kin. In the name of religion, they commit blasphemy.
Are we so very sure nothing will trigger us to do these sorts of low, evil acts? War seems to bring it out, leading hopeless charges, parachuting in behind the lines, and generally acting in profoundly unnatural ways. In Vietnam, children strapped with explosive belts would wander up to groups of American GIs detonate, little sappers.
The Vietnamese did not do such things before we got there and haven’t done such things since. Could it be that when the mightiest army invades and occupies, the littlest ones, the most vulnerable, become literally cannon fodder? While the Japanese emphatically started World War II in the Pacific, they were ultimately up against the mightiest military in human history and reduced themselves to valorizing suicide attacks.
Some days, it feels like a portion of the Muslim world believes that is right where they are. Can we fix this? Can we in fact withdraw from their lands and lives and hope for the peace of the generations from them? Murder-suicide should prompt us to examine the conditions, here and abroad, that tend to drive up the rates of such travesties and engage in public discourse about solutions that can help.
Dr. Tom H. Hastings is PeaceVoice Director and on occasion an expert witness for the defense in court.