|I'm thinking it might be a good thing to have a thread discussing (and collecting) viewpoints on the phenomenon of the suicide bomber. |
Every discussion of Israel and the War on Terra seems to stumble somehow on this idea - almost as if you can't be rational when faced by people willing to blow themselves up. "How can they hate us that much?" is one of the frequent questions, with the unspoken answer, "Because they're subhuman animals, consumed by hate."
I started thinking about this when assigned last week to research (of all things) a suicide trend that struck Japanese teenagers (primarily girls, apparently) in the early 30s. The common retelling of the story is this, from this "February 11 in history" page here:
On this day in 1933, 19-year-old Japanese schoolgirl Kiyoko Matsumoto committed suicide by jumping into the thousand-foot crater of a volcano on the island of Oshima. This act started a bizarre fashion in Japan and in the ensuing months three hundred children did the same thing.
You can see the tabloid angle, I'm pretty sure - a wacky trend in self-destruction comes out of nowhere and eventually (pardon the pun) dies out. It's long enough ago and far enough away to be a quaint curiosity, like medieval flagellants or dishes made with sea cucumbers.
But a little further research (on an old Japanese film discussion board) uncovers a much more relevant retelling of the story:
(sorry for length)
Date: Tue, 27 Jul 1999 13:55:13 +0900
From: "Peter B. High"
Subject: Re: Satchi
One of the remarkable aspects of the above incidents was the manner in which the national press would throw up one real-life "candidate" after another (in the form of "provocations" and then of valorous deaths in action) in an open attempt to find just the right material to fit a pre-determined narrative model. This, naturally, would lead to the impression on on the part of the public spectator of similar incidents "clustering"--in other words, the instinctive perception of "crisis"....
For example, returning to our early thirties parallel, we find the great Lovers' Suicide Rage of 1932-34. On May 10, 1932, the newspapers reported the suicide of Chosho Goro, a Keio University student, and his sweetheart Yaeko. The two had met at a Christian fellowship meeting and fallen in love, but because of class differences, marriage had been forbidden by both sets of parents. The means of death they chose was both romantic and striking. They jumped into the Sakatayama volcano above the beach at Oiso. The day after the initial news report, all of the national papers published their suicide note, in which they told (the entire nation, as it turned out) that they had died "pure in body and spirit." At Tokyo Nichi Nichi Shimbun, the copy editor had the inspiration to play up the Christian connection, publishing the note under the headline "A Love That Reached Heaven". It was the headline's brilliant balance of spirituality and barely suppressed eros, more than the actual event, which created the greatest sensation and set off the subsequent chain of events. Within days, the suicide was being re-enacted as a play by various small stage troupes using the headline as their title. Radio too picked up the story, first in editorial commentary and then as a radio drama. Record producers released a number of sentimental ballads extolling the pure love of Goro and Yaeko, and Shochiku film company announced it would produce *A Love That Reached Heaven*, with Gosho Heinosuke as director.By this time, the surge of copy-cat suicides (i.e. the "clustering effect") had begun . From mid-May, several couples a day were climbing the slopes of Sakatayama to throw themselves into the volcano....
Now, with the movie, their numbers doubled. At the movie theaters, usherettes had to patrol the aisles as young couples had taken to drinking poison during the showing. By the end of the year, there had been hundreds of suicides. After a brief lull, the Lover`s Suicide Rage flared anew. On January 9 (1933), a pair of school girls climbed Miharayama volcano on Oshima Island, a short ferry trip from Tokyo, and, holding hands, jumped in. The first copy-cat suicides began three days later. As before, the press reacted with sensationalist irresponsibility. Pictures of young lovers creeping up the slope arm-in-arm were published with syrupy thanatopic captions.When the rage finally subsided for good in March, a total of 944 young people had perished in the Miharayama crater.....
...Clearly, they were all sagas of death, and were therefore thematically linked. To recognize this, we need only realize that the issue of Fascism ("fassho") was just then dominating public discourse. The connection , I think, was made most apparent in a comment by German director Karl Ritter a few years later, about the intention of his own fascist/Nazi films: "I want to impress upon our youth the transcendent value of apparently meaningless death."
For those who feel it inappropriate to suddenly drag in evidence from a foreign source, one could re-explain the issue within a purely "native" context. The Lovers' Suicide Rage became a successful minor key counterpoint incident by being "sublimed" (in both the alchemical and the literal sense) into a parable of surpassing "beauty." And, to continue the alchemical metaphor, the Philosopher's Stone was the early-on Nichinichi Shimbun headline: "The Love that Reached Heaven"...and that patriotism was seen as another form of that same vaulting love.
OK, so what Mr. High seems to be suggesting here is that media (including cinema) somehow works in tandem with political will (or maybe even "national consciousness") to make suicide a romantic and noble act.
And, by extension, maybe pure love for your country can be extended into crashing airplanes into the ships of your country's enemies.
According to their letters home, kamikaze pilots acted out of love... a love they thought would reach heaven (different views of the afterlife notwithstanding).
So I suppose what I'm wondering is if there's some way to cut through the crap surrounding our impressions of suicide bombing (and, if it's not obvious by now, I'm taking Tower Day as an extension of the same thing), and see just how closely it could parallel the kamikaze experience. To see if it's possible to find the love of the suicide bomber.
Is there *that* close a parallel? Where *is* the love?