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'Suicide Bomber,' to Be Precise
The Washington Post
Letters to the Editor
Thursday, April 18, 2002; Page A20
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A5263-2002Apr17.html

"White House aides," we learn, "decided . . . that it is appropriate for administration officials to refer to suicide bombings as 'homicide bombings' " ["President Urges Arabs to Do More for Peace," news story, April 12]. When people cannot change a frightening reality, they often resort to changing the language, which is much easier.

All bombing directed at human targets is homicide bombing. If we call suicide bombers homicide bombers, we replace a precise descriptive term with an imprecise judgmental term. Describing a deed precisely is one thing. Judging it morally is another thing.

The Latin "homo" means man or human being. Homicide is the killing of a human being, the self or another person. For millennia, until the psychiatric view of suicide replaced the religious view of it, suicide was considered an especially heinous form of homicide and was punished accordingly.

Because of this religious-historical heritage our vocabulary with respect to suicide is impoverished. We need to distinguish between "auto-homicide" (killing oneself) and "hetero-homicide" (killing another person). Obviously, suicide bombing -- a perfectly good, descriptive term -- is both.

THOMAS SZASZ

Manlius, N.Y.

2002 The Washington Post Company

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