Using humans as weapons stretches back through the ages. Commenting on the verse, “The Emori who live on that mountain went out against you and pursued you as the bees would do; they struck you in Seir until Chormah” (Devorim 1:44), Rashi comments: “Just as this bee, when it strikes a person dies immediately, so they, when they touched you they immediately died.”
Apparently, the Emori were happy to make a political point even at the cost of their lives.
Tragically, this practice has made a powerful comeback in recent decades. Although officially condemned by some Moslem clerics, thousands of other Moslems are convinced that the ultimate sacrifice is the ticket to everlasting bliss, providing they take a handful of infidels along with them in the process.
OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN
It wasn’t always like this. Although Moslems happily risked their lives from their earliest days, encouraged by verses of the Koran that lured them with honeyed promises of paradise, they generally did this on the battle field. Then tactics took a new turn under a Moslem sect mentioned by Binyamin of Tudela during his journey to Yerushalayim in the 12th Century. In his diary, he touches on a character long feared in folk lore as the Old Man of the Mountain.
“Two days hence bring us to the river Holwaul near which you find the abodes of about four thousand Jews. [Continue] four days (more) to the district of Mulehet, possessed by a sect who do not believe in the tenets of Mohammed, but live on the summit of high mountains, and pay obedience to the commands of the Old Man in the country of the Assassins. Four congregations of Jews dwell among them, and combine with them in their wars.
“They do not acknowledge the authority of the kings of Persia, but live on their mountains, whence they occasionally descend to make booty and to take spoil, with which they retire to their mountain fortresses, beyond the reach of their assailants. Some of the Jews who live in this country are excellent scholars, and all acknowledge the authority of the reish galusa who resides at Baghdad in Babylonia.” The Old Man referred to here did actually believe in Mohammed, but differently than his brethren in Baghdad. He was Shi’ite Hasan-i-Sabbah, founder of a Shi’ite sect, whose goal was to destroy the Abbasid Caliphite ruled over by the competing Sunnis. As is evident from today’s paper, the Shi’ites and Sunnis are still having a hard time settling their theological peccadilloes.
The Old Man had an innovation – he indoctrinated young members of his sect to undertake dangerous missions at risk of their lives. According to legend, he promised them that those who failed to survive would wake up in a beautiful garden fl owing with wine and filled with other worldly delights.
13th Century Marco Polo wrote how the Old Man purportedly fooled his followers into believing this nonsense:
“The Old Man kept at his court boys of twelve years old whom he felt would become courageous men. When the Old Man sent them into the garden in groups of four, ten or twenty, he gave them hashish to drink…
“When these young men woke, and found themselves in the garden with all these marvelous things, they truly believed themselves to be in paradise… They received everything they asked for, so that they would never have left that garden of their own will.
“And… the Old Man… would take them and say: ‘Go and do this thing. I do this because I want to make you return to paradise.’ And the assassins would go and perform the deed willingly.”
The Assassins also set up shop in Masyaf, Syria, where they were a thorn in the side to both Moslem and Crusader until their strongholds were eradicated during the 13th Century.
JAPANESE AND GERMANS
The Japanese, and surprisingly, the Germans, were also practitioners of ultimate warfare, although not for religious reasons.
It is claimed that the Kamikaze flyers of Japan were inspired less by religion than by the Japanese Bushido code of their Samurai warriors that had developed since the 11th century. This code, which was similar to the chivalrous code of European knights, demanded that warriors behave with utter obedience and sutemi (self sacrifice), disregarding pain and even death to serve their masters.
Thousands of kamikaze pilots fulfilled this ideal after the Japanese warlords of WWII realized that the war could not be won through more conventional means.
Less known is the fact that Germany considered using Kamikazelike fighters about a year before the Japanese put them into operation.
One instigator of this idea was test-pilot Hanna Reitsch, a woman who made up for her diminutive size by super-size foolhardiness, happily testing the most dangerous planes at risk of life and limb. One of her jobs was helping develop the V1 rockets whose bugs she ironed out by flying them in a tiny cockpit. This gave her the idea that even after they became self guiding, it might be a good idea to build a fleet of them with cockpits so that pilots could accurately guide them onto boats in the event of an Allied invasion. Theoretically, pilots would try to leap out of the speeding projectiles just before impact. In practice this would have been difficult.
This was known as the Reichenberg project, or Selfstopfer (self-sacrifice) plan.
Although about 100 of these manned rockets were built, the project was eventually scuttled.
Then along came Luftwaffe Kommandeur Hajo Hermann with another idea.
One of Germany’s last hopes was its development of history’s first jet fighter, the Me 262, which, in theory, could enable its hopelessly outnumbered air-force pulverize the invading bomber fleets.
Hermann, noted, “The number of aircraft did not matter any more; what mattered was the genius of the inventors and the constructors. A thousand American fighters were no match for ten jet fighters which dived straight for the bombers, leaving the Mustangs, Thunderbolts and Lightnings behind them as a car driver outstrips a swarm of flies… If all our Geschwader (flying units) were equipped with the Me 262, it would mean the end of the American bomber attacks on Germany.”
This would also have been a giant impediment to the Allied invasion of Europe where absolute control of the sky was considered an absolute prerequisite.
After the first jets took to the air, the Allies realized that they were almost invincible and that the only way to keep them under control was by keeping them from taking off. This was achieved by destroying the jets’ distinctively long runways and pulverizing them in their camouflaged sheds. Hermann reported what happened when he arrived at a jet base minutes before a bombing attack.
“I rolled as far as the edge of the airfield past several Me 262s which were housed in well-camouflaged splinter boxes and past a hole in the ground in which two flak gunners were crouching behind an automatic cannon.
I heard the steely bass of the propellers of hundreds of Flying Fortresses or Liberators. I looked up. The first rigid formation, flying at 6,000 meters at least was coming towards us.
“The leading bombers had reached their release point. They dropped their bombs ahead of the second and third waves following them through the haze. There were rushing and screaming noises in the air, the earth shook and we shook. The roar of the explosion filled our ears. The quaking of the earth lifted us up and smashed us down. One wave followed another for a full half-hour.
“The total loss was eighty percent of our aircraft. Twenty percent approximately could be repaired with some effort.” (abridged)
Hermann realized that a drastic solution was required. A strange proposal had already been submitted to Luftwaffe head Herman Goering: German aircraft should ram bombers instead of shooting them. The first such incident was in 5674/1914 when a Russian rammed an Austrian plane, and Russians pilots had used this tactic successfully at the start of the German offensive against Russia. It was by no means lethal – pilots could lop off an enemy’s wing and survive to tell the tale.
Hermann fought for the idea’s acceptance, begging his superiors to give him one or two thousand men for the job. There were plenty of volunteers – generally, ninety percent of all pilots asked. Less gung-ho than Herman, his superiors only authorized 200 planes for a preliminary attempt that brought down 64 engine bombers.
Then, much to Hermann’s frustration, the idea fizzled out.
“Some called me stupid or mad,” he wrote, “some said that I was unprincipled and ambitious, others said that I had acted with impropriety. I let them get on with it.”
At the end of the war, German pilots flew missions of no return to destroy bridges spanning the Oder River. This was critical because by that stage this river was the sole natural barrier separating the Soviet hordes from Berlin.
In general, German leaders dragged their feet when it came to such projects, as they did not jive with what they regarded as “traditional German warrior mentality.”
Unfortunately contemporary Islam has had no such compunctions ever since ultimate warfare arrived in the Middle East on the day Japanese terrorists attacked Israel’s Lod Airport in 5732/1972.
And since then, the idea has caught fire to such an extent that it has become synonymous with extremist Islam. This is an innovation.
(Partial source: “Eagle’s Wings,” Hajo Hermann, Airlife Publishing Ltd., Shrewsbury England 1991)