Robert A. Pape and Adam Lankford


Robert A. Pape, coauthor of Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It, and Adam Lankford, author of the article “Ron Paul Is Wrong About 9/11, Studies Show;” debate the root cause of suicide terrorism and whether it results from US foreign policy and military occupations or is instead a manifestation of personal mental health issues.

MP3 here. (28:36)

Robert A. Pape is Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago specializing in international security affairs. His publications include Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (Random House 2005); Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (Cornell 1996), “Why Economic Sanctions Do Not Work,” International Security (1997), “The Determinants of International Moral Action,” International Organization (1999); “The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism,” American Political Science Review (2003); and “Soft Balancing against the United States,” International Security (2005).

Adam Lankford is an assistant professor of Criminal Justice at The University of Alabama. He has also taught at Marymount University and The Corcoran College in Washington, D.C.

From 2003 to 2008, he helped coordinate Senior Executive Anti-Terrorism Forums for high-ranking foreign military and security personnel in conjunction with the U.S. State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance program. During this period, ATA hosted delegations from Armenia, Colombia, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Pakistan, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan.

Dr. Lankford has published on a variety of subjects related to aggression, violence, counterterrorism, and international security. He is also the author of Human Killing Machines: Systematic Indoctrination in Iran, Nazi Germany, Al Qaeda, and Abu Ghraib. His research has been featured by media outlets in a number of countries, including Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Dr. Lankford received his Ph.D. and M.S. in Justice, Law & Society from American University in Washington, DC and his B.A. in English from Haverford College outside Philadelphia, PA.

32 thoughts on “Robert A. Pape and Adam Lankford”

  1. Mr. Langford just doesn't seem to get it. He agrees at the end of the interview that, yes, occupations could drive people to a mental state in which they might want to commit suicidal terrorism and yet somehow he doesn't believe that foreign occupations cause suicidal terrorism.

    The difference between a murder suicide and a suicidal terrorist attack are quite obvious. If somebody goes and shoots up a school and then kills himself he may do that because of the exclusion he felt from other students, etc. That is an irrational response to an input from somebody else.

    Terrorism in this case is different because it is a foreign occupier which causes the trauma which leads them to commit suicidal terrorism. So political factors cause the trauma. If they decide to fight back in an irrational and suicidal way in response to the trauma they received (due to military occupations), which otherwise would be known as murder suicide if it were an in-country response it becomes suicidal terrorism.

    That is, of course, assuming that suicidal terrorists are all suicidal people, which it would seem, based on the anecdotal evidence, that they are not. Some had clear political objectives based on the trauma they experienced or their families experienced around them. In order to commit an act of extremely effective terrorism they had to go down with the planes, or with the car bomb, or whatever. What was lost in the discussion (and I know Im rambling here) was that suicidal terrorism tends to be the most effective kind and so the weapon that is chosen by occupied peoples willing to die for the fight.

    It just doesn't make sense that he could possibly disagree with Dr. Pape. If suicidal terrorists were just suicidal people they would kill themselves or commit murder suicide and be done with it. But because there is an occupation — even if they are what we would traditional consider suicidal — they choose to act against the foreign occupier (presumably, and rationally — as Mr. Lankford pointed out, rationality is very possible for suicidal people — because the occupier caused the trauma in the first place).

    I can understand why Dr. Pape seemed a bit fed up with the discussion.

  2. Finally, I would like to point out that though Lankford seemed to be suggesting that Dr. Pape was underestimating the rational capability of suicidal people, it was he that was guilty of that. If he doesn't think suffering people are incapable of seeing where their suffering comes from and acting against it then he just doesn't understand how the human mind works.

  3. Nice job on this one Scott! Even though I completely disagree with Dr. Lankford's assessments, it was refreshing to hear you interview someone with a dissenting point of view on a very important topic. Credit to Dr. Lankford for stepping into the ring, as well. Knowing how you feel about the topic, I thought you did a great job trying to make sure both gentlemen had time to air their arguments in an informal debate format.

    Peace be with you.

  4. Suicide terrorism just another form of asymmetric warfare. In war one expects to get killed, so what's the diff if an enemy bullet kills you or you explode yourself, except for the probability of death which is 100% in suicide attack vs. less than 100% in other kinds of warfare.

    BUT, the other diff is that suicide warfare is one of the most efficient forms of asymmetric warfare. It takes out something like 10:1 of the enemy vs. half a million bullets that it takes for the U.S. to kill one enemy.

  5. Also I would point out that suicide is a rare event and a subject that is taboo. Very little good work has been done on the subject for those reasons, including the fact that once the act is completed one cannot question them about their motivations. My reading on the subject is dated (owing to suicide in family a long time ago), and it was mostly bs. What I have picked up subsequently suggests that understanding of suicide in its broader sense is still hopelessly primitive.

  6. It is really bizarre the way Dr. Lankford starts out by explicitly saying that political considerations have nothing to do with the actions of these suicide bombers(?!) If this was true, why would they be explicitly attacking the US, with stated reasons, instead of just attacking the closest group of folks they could find?

    Lankford admits he is apolitical, which seems to mean he is ignorant of political incentives for actions.

    1. I think the point he was getting at is that the terrorist leaders and masterminds are political in there objectives including those who organise suicide terrorist attacks but the people themselves who are willing to become suicide bombers do not do so for simple political means that there is an underline psychological defect or some oother reason in people willing to go to the extreme of becoming a suicide bomber or carry out murder/suicide attacks like Columbine.

      Contrary to the official narrative concocted by the main stream media Mohammed Atta was not some introverted loner but took drugs and alcohol and frequented strip clubs according to reports by investigative journalist Daniel Hopsicker who interviewed eyewitnesses in Florida including Atta’s girlfriend assuming that you believe Atta and the other hijackers carried out 9/11.

  7. Meta comment first (cause work computer blocks, damn you TimeWarner!). Great to get the other side on air. I hope you work hard to try to get differing opinions on the show. My advice is let the other side hang themselves with their own rope. Let them spell out each step in their logic. Just ask short strategic questions to elucidate problems in their argument. Don’t get wrapped up in rebutting relatively small points. And certainly don’t waste precious time arguing from authority. (still love ya Pape!) it’s easy to be on the offensive and pick apart individual points with basically sound bites. What’s hard is arguing coherently through an entire conclusion from start to finish. Make the other side do this work! Don’t just say read my book chapter. (still love ya) Make the other explain an idea that would take an entire book to address.

  8. It seems to me that there must be many factors that influence one to become a suicide terrorist. I can certainly see that both mental illness and foreign occupation would both be contributing factors. If there were no foreign occupation wouldn't the person that becomes a suicide terrorist just then become another murder/suicide perpetrator? Isn't it the foreign occupation that specifically gives the mentally unstable, who are searching for some form of suicide, the specific target they choose, the foreign occupier?

    1. The Hamburg cell is the clearest case of ONLY political motives and no emotional disorders of the magnitude that is represented in suicides of a nonpolitical nature.

  9. It looks like they both agree on the same thing – occupation give rise to suicide bombers. The difference is that Dr. Lankford is picky and wanna add the mental illness part there. Lets word this differently, lets say there is one of the many cases where people have died from getting tazed by police. Most people would say:

    He got tazed -> he died = the tazer killed him
    The apologists want to add something in there
    He got tazed -> his body went into shock -> he died = It was not the tazer that killed him, it was his biological response to the current.

    This is the exact same argument that Dr. Lankford does. He was occupied -> his mind became burdened -> he signed up for suicide bombing, it was not the occupation that drove him to it, but his psychological response to the occupation.

    1. exactly — its a backward argument, but it does serve some purpose in casting doubt on Pape's findings and on the words of Ron Paul. For this Lankford should be ashamed of himself because he's playing into the anti-Paul propaganda, which isn't his motive apparently, since he says he is "apolitical".

  10. Lankford is either a contrarian by nature or he's positioning himself for a well paid position as an apologist for the state. His points were irrelevant, none of them disprove the following:
    1. Occupation increases the incentive of groups to want to seek retribution.
    2. Suicide terrorism is a known effective retribution strategy for small states or groups who feel oppressed.
    3. In occupied countries, it will be significantly easier to find disenfranchised, depressed, angry or suicidal people who are willing to, or can be convinced to go along with a suicide terrorism strategy.

    Combine that with the empirical evidence of a correlation between occupation and suicide terrorism as mentioned by Pape and it's a closed book. Occupations are likely to lead to suicide terrorism. Ron Paul is right!

  11. There are lots of people who don't love life much. You meet them in every bar. Commanders always find takers for suicide missions.

  12. What I find bizarre is that he is trying to discredit the idea that US policy has anything to do with the hatred towards it in the Muslim world. It seems to be his overarching goal in his article to erase Osama Bin Laden's war declaration. I think war be it asymmetrical terrorism by suicidally depressed people, or conventional war by deeply paranoid, delusional people are acts of violence committed by mentally ill people. However they give themselves reasons to do the things they do. The US and Russia were targets for a reason.

    This reminds me: I remember a kamikaze World War II pilot talking about his plane failing and having to return to base on PBS. The official who met him after he landed asked, "Why aren't you dead?" He realized his sacrifice meant so little to the Japanese Government and that he didn't want to throw his life away. I guess it took away all his grandiose feelings towards suicide when he realized that his sacrifice meant nothing.

  13. Another gold bug,
    Gold is a good container, of the purchasing power, in this system during debt purge! But the problem is the system itself. Can get your head around that?

  14. Having listened to this discussion, it seems to me that it would help to clarify that there are actually two distinct claims about how occupation causes suicide bombings, and Lankford's critique, even if entirely correct, only invalidates one but not the other. Here are the two distinct claims:

    1. Suicide bombers are themselves motivated by anger at occupation.
    2. Suicide bombings are an effect or consequence of occupation.

    It seems to me that the antiwar movement only needs to maintain claim 2. Whether claim 1 is true or not is a much more secondary issue, that has no relevance to the kind of arguments that antiwar folk are making. And it seems to me that Lankford, at least implicitly, would have to concede that claim 2 is true. Let me explain.

    Lankford concedes at one point that what Pape says is 100% true of the terrorist masterminds who recruit the suicide bombers. He therefore presumably agrees that the terrorist masterminds themselves are motivated by anger at occupation. He just doesn't agree that the suicide bombers themselves are so motivated. OK, let's run with that hypothesis. In that case, American/Israeli actions in terms of occupation cause terrorist masterminds to decide to target the US and Israel. These terrorist masterminds then recruit depressed people to be suicide bombers. In that case, though, wouldn't claim 2 be confirmed? That is, would it not be true that American and Israeli policy causes suicide bombings? All that would be refuted is claim 1 (that the suicide bombers themselves are motivated by anger at occupation).

    To put this another way, it seems to me that Lankfords entire argument is besides the point. All the antiwar movement has to do is be slightly more precise in their claims: we are claiming that American foreign policy causes suicide bombings, not necessarily that anger at American foreign policy motivates the suicide bombers themselves. The latter claim can be simply ignored, except by those interested in the psychology of suicide bombers. It is claim 2 that is the crucial issue.

    In short, I can't see how Lankford's claims are of any significance to the debate. And that is assuming that he is entirely correct in his claims about the psychology of suicide bombers, which seems to me very doubtful anyway (I have a PhD in psychiatry, by the way). There are many flaws in his analysis just in those terms. For instance, I think it is highly questionable to confound the psychological dynamics of ordinary suicide, with that of murder-suicide in any form. Just because there is a behavioural element in common (i.e. in both cases the agent commits suicide) does not mean that the underlying psychology is the same in both cases. I would suggest that all cases of murder-suicide involve significantly different psychological factors that simple suicide.

    1. My comment was not deleted, it never got posted because I sent it with my iPhone. It appeared on my phone, so I thought it was deleted. Here it is:

      Meta comment first (cause work computer blocks, damn you TimeWarner!). Great to get the other side on air. I hope you work hard to try to get differing opinions on the show. My advice is let the other side hang themselves with their own rope. Let them spell out each step in their logic. Just ask short strategic questions to elucidate problems in their argument. Don’t get wrapped up in rebutting relatively small points. And certainly don’t waste precious time arguing from authority. (still love ya Pape!) it’s easy to be on the offensive and pick apart individual points with basically sound bites. What’s hard is arguing coherently through an entire conclusion from start to finish. Make the other side do this work! Don’t just say read my book chapter. (still love ya) Make the other explain an idea that would take an entire book to address.

  15. It would have been interesting to have a debate, but Dr. Lankford was really pretty lame. Does he have anything to back up his opinions? Because he didn't offer much here… The idea that a suicide bomber – whether it be a Palestinian or a Tamil Tiger – can be lumped in with a guy 'going postal' and killing his co-workers or his wife and kids because of economic, marital, and social pressures is ridiculous. One is giving up because he can't take it any more; the other sees himself as doing something proactive that's worth doing for something he believes in. In the case of Palestinians, for example, they don't even accept the label 'suicide'.

    I don't have any expertise in studying suicides, but it seems that there are huge cultural differences that come into play. Certain societies have very high rates, while others have very low rates, and I would assume that religion is one factor. So even if a person is clinically depressed, he may be much more or less likely to deal with it by committing suicide anyway.

    And I agree that Scott was very good at staying fairly neutral and letting the guests have their say.

  16. Terrorism has been practiced by a broad array of political organizations to further their objectives. It has been practiced by both right-wing and left-wing political parties, nationalistic groups, religious groups, revolutionaries, and ruling governments.

  17. Terrorist attacks are usually carried out in such a way as to maximize the severity and length of the psychological impact. Each act of terrorism is a performance devised to have an impact on many large audiences.

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