Wednesday, June 23, 2004

'Homicide Bombers' Revisited

A reader wrote to me today with compliments but added a note in defense of the term "homicide bombers":
While "bombers" should generally be enough given that there is usually context, there are organizations that go to great pains to cause damage to buildings and infrastructure without killing or injuring anyone, making "homicide bombers" a valid albeit not-often-necessary distinction.
I answered:
My view is that if "homicide bombers" were necessary,
the term would have been invented long ago -- not just
recently and just in reaction to one political wing's
objection to "[something else]-icide bombers."
And then I wondered:

Was I historically accurate? Why hadn't I looked this up before?

So I did. LexisNexis makes it a little harder than it should be, returning hits when a story says something like "homicides and bombings," but I could find no references to homicide bombers or homicide bombings before Sept. 11, 2001.


Niel Loeb said...

Your reader says some bombers want to damage objects and not hurt people. I can't remember an instance of a "suicide bomber" who wanted to only damage a building.

Dan Lyke said...

Although in the end he may not have had any explosives, wasn't there a guy who threatened to blow up both himself and the Washington Monument about 15 years ago? That sort of act might qualify as a suicide bomber who wasn't also a homicide bomber.

Peter Wheeland said...

"Suicide bomber" gives the reader additional information, i.e. tells us that the person who exploded the bomb was also deliberately killed by it. It's not intended to describe the objective or consequence of the bombing but the nature of how it was accomplished, just like car bomber, fire bomber, etc. Whether people are killed by the bombing should be self-evident in the story and doesn't require any modifier for the word bomber. Except, of course, in those cases where the bomber is the only one injured in the blast. We should refer to them as "stupid bombers."