Kamikaze – Eastern Fatalism
Official Japanese term for kamikaze units: 特別攻撃隊 (tokubetsu kōgeki tai) or shorter: 特攻隊 (tokkōtai).
With a topic this sensitive, where and how to begin is the real question. Ever since they have first flown, they became instant role-models at home and a gritty phenomenon to everyone else, especially to the brave US sailors and aviators that had the ungrateful task to face the men who forfeited their lives,living only to crash into the first valuable target.
There’s a great problem to be acknowledged – who were the first kamikaze pilots. Masafuni Arima is widely accepted as the first kamikaze pilot, though there are those that disagree, blaming the propaganda machine in Tokyo for this “alteration”. For example, another notable person in this “wave of the hopeless” air battalion is Yukio Seki, the leader of the second attack that was successful and sunk the carrier “St. Lo” . Yoshiyasu Kuno was the first actually to assume officially the title and carry out the strike, but his attack was unsuccessful in the end.
The point of this post is the background of the kamikaze units, the “whys” and “hows”, not a historical rundown of crude information meant only to provide raw data.
The concept of the kamikaze idea is uniquely Japanese, making it difficult for Westerners to understand entirely. The first notion of the “Divine Wind” (kamikaze) appeared during the Mongol invasions of Japan in the late 13th century, where the intervention of the two typhoons saved the Kamakura shogunate from crumbling under Mongol boots. Surely, samurai bravery also played a major role, but the victory over the Kublai Khan’s forces is attributed to the “Divine Wind” and not to the brave warriors that actually fought, leaving their bones on and off the island. Thanks for that modern Japan.
Kamikaze in WW2:
Japan entered the Second World war hoping for a quick victory by catching the Allies in the east off-guard. Despite their decent effort that allowed them to conquer a part of China, Southeastern Asia and a myriad of islands, they performed a sloppy execution on the long run – the manpower, resources and technology was growing insufficient and ineffective when compared to the those of the Allies, especially the US. Here’s a list:
- Japan could field only a small and limited armored arsenal.
- Despite focusing on aircraft, Japan lost its early dominance as the war progressed due the stagnation in technology and resource paucity.
- Weapon technology was limited and was easily affected by the weather.
I would say that these are the fatal barbs in Japan’s back, but they had several qualities:
- Expert use of camouflage and (paradoxically)defensive lines despite their insistence on aggressive tactics. The short-range weaponry supported this.
- Combined infantry squads, containing different types of specialists.
- Excellent fighting spirit that could push the ordinary Japanese soldier to astonishing feats.
Now, let’s get back to the topic at hand. From the above given details, we can conclude with a degree of certainty that a long war was not beneficial for Japan since she bit more than it could swallow. The amount of resources, manpower and military technology would need to have been enormous and Japan could not had hoped to meet these requirements – in the later stages of the war, all of these elements kept straining the military regime causing riots and protests.
Obviously, Japan wanted to stop the USA advance that was inevitable by the end of the war, but how to do it was the real question. Surrender was not an option as well as compromise, so the military top in Japan thought and enforced these ideals on the whole nation. Military suppression, destitution, famine, political turmoil and censure were common, every dissident was either killed or drafted to avoid spreading of “unwanted ideas”. The situation was grim and something had been needed to be done.
Seek refuge in the myth of the “Divine Wind”! The military tyrants exclaimed in rapture. The idea of young people sacrificing for their homeland was aggressively propagated and the number of volunteers was staggering – both soldiers and civilians applied to fly and crush their enemy in the same manner as the “Divine Wind” had done in the ages past. These men were given either old or damaged aircraft with only enough fuel to attack, but not to return. This “army of desperate men” drank their final cup of sake and accompanied by the “Zero” fighter planes that were meant to pinpoint their targets and protect them until they plummet into their assigned targets, mostly air carriers and heavily armed battleships. As they grew more desperate, the valid targets also became other airplanes and heavy bombers, such as the mighty B92. The following excerpt taken from the book “Kamikaze: piloti samoubice” (published in Serbia) illustrates what is to be expected from the kamikaze pilots.
Kamikaze the suicide pilots:
The empire is on the crossroads: it is the matter of victory and defeat. First suicide units, determined to win through the power of the fighting spirit will inevitably create other new units by inspiring them with their successes. When it comes to you, there is no question weather you will return alive. Your duty is to die. You shall perish physically, but you shall not in spirit. The death of one of you will be the birth for million others. Let no negligence disrupt your training nor your health. On your way to eternity you must not leave anything unfinished or have any regrets. One more thing: There should be no escapades in your hurry to die. If you do not locate the desired target come back; next time you will be luckier. Chose the death that will bring the most results!
(The Supreme Empire Aviation Inspector to the first group of kamikaze pilots)
It was obvious that it will not succeed. To strengthen the enforced idea of racial superiority, Japan mobilized every man, woman and child to fight to the death in case the US attacks the main islands. Even the last two sentences from the excerpt above have no meaning: the kamikaze pilots have only enough fuel to fly into combat, not to return back to base and “try again”. Kamikaze units were destined to fail – in the end of the war there had not been enough planes to support the growing number of kamikaze pilots that were “forced volunteers” by this time under the surveillance of the military clique in Tokyo that leads the nation. When the kamikaze pilots failed, Japan was cut off and the people realized that no “Divine Wind” was coming to save them – they were brought ruin by their own narrow-minded radicals, not by the foreign invaders whose role they had taken. The question of the young lives lost as the kamikaze pilots is in my opinion, unresolved. It should had been obvious that this desperate method would not have brought desired results, let alone any success in reality that would be of military relevance in the full length of the war despite their deceitful achievements during the battle for Okinawa or Leyte Gulf. For me, I have the answer to this delicate question through years of study and as a human being. Do you?
P.S. There are a lot of documentaries about the “Kamikaze phenomenon”. Here are some: