Winston loved his country. It hurt him deeply to see its people oppressed by the Nazi occupiers. But after the German defeat of the British army in the slaughter of Dunkirk, and America's decision to stay out of the war, it was only a matter of time before Britain became part of the Third Reich.
Now the situation looked hopeless. Hitler faced no international opposition and the British resistance was ill equipped and weak. Many, like Winston, had come to the conclusion that there was no way they could defeat the Germans. But by being a constant source of irritation and forcing them to divert precious resources to crushing the uprising, it was hoped that, sooner or later, Hitler would realise that occupying Britain was more trouble than it was worth and would withdraw.
Winston was far from convinced the plan would work, but it was their last resort. The major problem, however, was that it was so difficult to strike in ways which would cause the regime serious problems. That is why they had reluctantly agreed that the only effective and reliable method was for resistance fighters to turn themselves into human bombs, so that their own sacrifices caused the maximum disruption and terror. They were all prepared to die for Britain. They just wanted to make sure their deaths made a difference.
Baggini, J., The Pig That Wants to Be Eaten, 2005, p. 103.
Even though Hitler's forces are universally accepted as a justifiably evil target, it's pretty easy to dismiss the rationale for these suicide attacks. Such tactics require an infinite end to a finite life that is full of options and value, so you had better be 100% certain of the need for it if suicide attacks are ever going to be justified. Without that kind of certainty, the individual bombers' lives are lost *and* their example shows the rest of the people on your side that you do not value life sufficiently. This thought experiment, however, is rife with statements of uncertain truth value:
"it was only a matter of time before Britain became part of the Third Reich"
"there was no way they could defeat the Germans"
"it was hoped that Hitler would realise occupying Britain was more trouble than it was worth"
"Winston was far from convinced the plan would work"
"the only effective and reliable method was to turn themselves into human bombs"
"so that their own sacrifices caused the maximum disruption and terror"
Each of these propositions are highly questionable, so the (capitalised) Last Resort option really cannot be justified in Winston's case. I think that's quite clear. But can suicide attacks ever be justified?
As I have written many times, my universal definition of good is "that which enables the long-term survival of life." Given this, I do find it possible to invent a scenario where some group is hell-bent on achieving a short-sighted, evil goal, and we have terminally ill people fighting against them who decide a suicide attack is their best means of doing good with the little time they have left in the world. As I said, I find it *possible* to invent a scenario such as this, but in real life I've never actually seen a justified suicide attack, and I don't think it's likely I ever will. The certainty required to choose such a drastic measure over every other option just isn't realistic given that our knowledge can only ever be probabilistic; everything can be doubted to some small degree. And as David Hume said: A wise man proportions his belief to the evidence. So suicide attacks are surely unwise.
So why are they happening? And with more frequent occurrence? One factor is clearly the introduction of religious thinking into the equation, where the "leaps of faith" required of all religions enable the leaps to certainty required for suicide attacks. But there have been religions and poor logic skills in human societies for thousands of years so that doesn't explain everything.
Looking at the research on personal, non-attacking suicides, epidemiological studies generally show "a relationship between suicide or suicidal behaviors and socio-economic disadvantage, including limited educational achievement, homelessness, unemployment, economic dependence, and contact with the police or justice system." Then there is the fact that between 1981 and 2006, "ninety per cent of [suicide] attacks occurred in Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka." These are some of the poorest, most broken states in the world, all with intractable fighting over religion. Here is where the recipe for suicide attacks is complete. But there are other poor nations that have religious disagreements, particularly in Africa. So why are suicide attacks overwhelmingly confined to a handful of middle eastern and south asian countries?
Because our philosophies shape our actions and our words matter to our beliefs. Islamist supporters often call a suicide attack Istishhad, which is "often translated as 'martyrdom operation', and the suicide attacker shahid, literally 'witness' and usually translated as 'martyr'. The idea being that the attacker died in order to testify his faith in God, for example while waging jihad bis saif (jihad by the sword). The term 'suicide' is never used because Islam has strong strictures against taking one's own life."
Adding all of these influences up—poor logic, poor countries, poor word choices—we can finally make some sense of the chart at the top of this article. The first big spike in the graph of people killed was the 9/11 destruction of the Twin Towers. This enormous spectacle was shown all over the world and took root in the hearts of people susceptible to committing more suicide attacks. A Werther effect of copycat suicides spread like a contagion and the clashes that followed as a response to 9/11 have resulted in more vehement religious disagreements, more homelessness, poverty, and military/police interactions, and more verbal denials that responses to these problems have been catastrophically inappropriate. I'm not sure what the cure for this disease will be, but lets hope it comes soon. There's really no place in the world for suicide attacks.
** It should also be pointed out that this 30-year total of worldwide deaths from suicide attacks is less than the number of automobile deaths that occur in the U.S. each year for most of the last 50 years. So what should be the bigger problem to address?