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Kamikaze survivors debunk stereotype in stories of sacrifice

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By YURI KAGEYAMA

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A tragedy there was basically no dissent among the Japanese people at the time, and no one stood up to the madness. The lesson from this should be: don't keep silent if you think your govt is in the wrong, regardless of what nationalistic pressures are at work.

Even in Nazi Germany, there were several assassination attempts against Hitler. The last attempt involved around 2,000 people, including top-ranking officials.

22 ( +27 / -6 )

...there were three answers: “I passionately wish to join,” ‘‘I wish to join,” and “I don’t wish to join.”

He did not know then if anyone had dared to refuse. He learned later that the few who did were simply told to pick the right answer.

Yet the government was able to say these people "volunteered."

This approach to "optional" and "volunteer" duties and "suggestions" from supervisors and government agencies is still very prevalent in Japan. I see it often. They give the illusion of choice, but in the end there is no choice at all. The more things change the more they stay the same.

26 ( +28 / -3 )

One of the biggest maths of the war is that of the Kamikaze. What the story also omits is that pilots knew if they refused, their superiors would punish them by flying them around the clock in combat missions - a death sentence at that stage of the war.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

I think we should actually characterize the whole phenomenon as human sacrifice. No one thought it would work as a military strategy. But throughout history when societies have been threatened by invasion and annihilation they have turned to human sacrifice of their own members. It is regarded as cleansing of the spirit to show the gods they are worthy of being saved by them.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

A very good article, I enjoyed the read. It reveals the human face and the human cost at the heart of crazy military policy. It also helps to paint a picture of everyday people caught up in broader circumstances they feel obliged and compelled to participate in.

17 ( +18 / -1 )

A tragedy there was basically no dissent among the Japanese people at the time, and no one stood up to the madness. The lesson from this should be: don't keep silent if you think your govt is in the wrong, regardless of what nationalistic pressures are at work.

Hindsight is 20/20, and take a look at the country across the Sea of Japan and tell me what they should be doing? We typically use today's thinking to judge the past and outside of these men, and the people who lived through the era, it is very difficult to understand the thinking and logic of the time.

1 ( +8 / -7 )

I sometimes wonder what went through the minds of the people who sent these young kids out to die? I can't imagine sending someone else to a pointless death for a lost cause.

On the other hand, things probably looked very different at the time. The U.S. treated Japan extremely generous after 1945, but how would you know that as a Japanese officer at war? The U.S. was bombing all Japanese cities and quite literally killing their wives and children. Maybe then you start to think that making the U.S. pay a too heavy price for the battle of Okinawa and show fanaticism through Kamikaze tactics will make the U.S. loose heart. And thus a price worth paying. The horrible logic of war.

11 ( +12 / -1 )

He did not know then if anyone had dared to refuse. He learned later that the few who did were simply told to pick the right answer.

Compare that with yesterday's

(Education Minister) Shimomura added that his request (to fly the flag and sing Kimigayo) does not impinge on a university’s freedom and that it is up to each institution to make an appropriate decision.

Plus ça change...

16 ( +21 / -5 )

First-born sons weren’t selected, to protect family heirs in feudalistic-minded Japan.

Giving the first-born a higher status than the other brothers and sisters has always bothered me. And it still happens in Japan today. Honestly, what makes the eldest the better one? It's outdated thinking.

5 ( +10 / -5 )

The most important thing is not to romanticize their legacy but to humanize it. This was not a great or noble achievement. It was simply a way a small group of men led and ended their lives. We need to mourne their loss, not celebrate their sacrifice. Otherwise we will repeat the same mistakes again.

13 ( +13 / -1 )

offer a different portrait — of men driven by patriotism, self-sacrifice and necessity.

They were brainwashed and peer pressured into killing themselves. There was no honor, it was a desperate military tactic that was orchestrated by creating an environment that it was honorable to kill themselves.

Whoever came up with the word "the divine wind" knew what to call it in order to sell it. There is no history previous to this of anything like this so it was all just made up. You're not brave in killing yourself you are stupid.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

It's really sad what 'trusted' leaders do to their people sometimes.

5 ( +5 / -1 )

JeffLeeJun. 18, 2015 - 05:39AM JST A tragedy there was basically no dissent among the Japanese people at the time, and no one stood up to the madness. The lesson from this should be: don't keep silent if you think your govt is in the wrong, regardless of what nationalistic pressures are at work.

Sure, because that would have changed everything... just look at Ferguson.

-5 ( +2 / -6 )

"We typically use today's thinking to judge the past...."

I cited Nazi Germany as a comparative example, which matches the time trajectory to a tee.

1 ( +2 / -2 )

How much of mythological "honor" and "duty" and "courage" and "loyalty" are really being strongly advised to "choose correctly"?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Very interesting. We need more veterans speaking out like this. I don't see much difference between kamikaze pilots and radical jihadists (at least terms of end consequence). Both are just people being manipulated, one by a chauvinist government, the other by a radical religious sect.

2 ( +5 / -4 )

In the episode in the 1970s ITV series "The World at War" on the Japanese home front, they talk about how neighbourhood associations, tonari-gumi, basically bullied ordinary Japanese into going along with the gradual militarization of everyday life. Once the news of glorious victories started coming through, first in Manchuria, that created its own momentum.

The start of that episode also mentions that many zealous members of the Japanese armed forces came from areas like Tohoku which in the 1930s had suffered repeated crop failures. It may be unfair, but it is easy to imagine such people from inaka, most of were still living lives largely untouched by modern technology, to believe that an Emperor living in a city far away was a deity worthy of whatever sacrifice was necessary. I can't see such an idea emanating from the more working-class areas of Tokyo or in particular Osaka.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

I think we have to be very aware of what right wing Japanese nationalists are doing with the story of the kamikaze pilots.

Basically they are using the kamikaze to put a heroic gloss on Japan's WW2 actions and deflect attention away from atrocities committed by Japan's military.

Something like... look at the heroic, selfless kamikaze pilots, look at their sacrifice, look at how they gave everything for their country, remember them and be proud (but don't remember things like, for example, the actions of Japan's military on the island of Nauru).

The Chiran Tokkō Heiwa Kaikan museum in Kagoshima is presenting the kamikaze as glorious young men sacrificing their lives, but at the same time gives a very biased right-wing account of Japan's role in WW2.

It claims that Japan was forced into the war against the Western countries and makes no mention of Japan's atrocities.

Japanese school children visiting this facility will get the impression of Japan as a victim of WW2 and the kamikaze as heroes protecting innocent Japan.

It's ridiculous.

And what's more, the museum sneakily doesn't translate it's biased version of the war into English, so foreign visitors have no idea of the kind of nonsense they are pushing.

Even the museum's name is changed in English, with the "tokko" (special attack) part ommitted so it just becomes the Chiran Peace Museum.

Well done, Japan. Remember the heroic kamikaze pilots and watch movies showing them as tragic heroes.

But forget or deny any atrocities...

13 ( +17 / -5 )

Ishiwara,

I have corrected your last sentence

The horrible logic of Japan at war

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

@maxjapank:Giving the first-born a higher status than the other brothers and sisters has always bothered me. And it still happens in Japan today. Honestly, what makes the eldest the better one? It's outdated thinking.

Local customs and traditions. “Higher status” for the first-born son usually comes with expectations that he will take over the family business, that he and his wife will take care of the aged parents and live with them in the family house. Although times are changing and fewer first-born sons live with their parents they (or in many cases their wives) take care of the aged parents. In return, the eldest son inherits the family home and quite often other assets which belonged to the parents after they pass away. However, there are cases when the “privilege” is bestowed on the child (most often son) who does take over his father’s business and takes care of his parents. He does not have to be the first son.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Many thanks to Yuri Kageyama for this story. Thank you!

5 ( +5 / -0 )

"There is no glory in war. That's just something they tell soldiers so they will risk their lives." ....... Brunwulf Free-Winter

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I cited Nazi Germany as a comparative example, which matches the time trajectory to a tee.

So? You can not make the comparison without taking into account the cultural and historical differences as well. You are using western or European logic to make your point, and it's off the mark, hence my citing the country across the Sea of Japan as an example. (Which btw is closer culturally than trying to compare Germany and Japan)

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

Choiwaruoyaji thanks for the information. It doesn't surprise me at all. This is what I worry about for Japan with Abe and his glorious or beautiful vision of Japan.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

While the Japanese had 'volunteer' kamikaze units, the Germans and Russians used penal battalions in the field - basically poorly armed (or in the case of Russians unarmed) troops sent into battle on suicide missions. Very civilised.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

There was a kamikaze pilot employed at the company where I worked, here in California. He had landed his plane on a carrier, instead of crashing it, and then got out and surrendered. Of course he couldn't go back to Japan after the war, because he would have been killed as a traitor, so he was allowed to stay in the states. He died of cancer at the age of 58.

I have read that later on the cockpits of the kamikaze planes had to be welded shut, to prevent the pilots from landing and getting out.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Sad

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have read that later on the cockpits of the kamikaze planes had to be welded shut, to prevent the pilots from landing and getting out.

Welding them shut just made it more difficult to get out, not land. It was all a part of the brainwashing process. Different era, different set of values, but sadly the same "lives" that were uselessly lost.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

It beffudles me how these people have no sense of the sovereign-self. It is taken and abused at leisure by anybody with some bit of power/seniority, without so much as a why. It's always the curt and ubiquitous " Hai !!" that has been their doing. Conformity has killed the individual self in Japan.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

JeffLeeJUN. 18, 2015 - 05:39AM JST A tragedy there was basically no dissent among the Japanese people at the time, and no one stood up to the madness. The lesson from this should be: don't keep silent if you think your govt is in the wrong, regardless of what nationalistic pressures are at work.

Even in Nazi Germany, there were several assassination attempts against Hitler. The last attempt involved around 2,000 people, including top-ranking officials.

If you do that, you will get ridicule. Just ;look at US when GW announced to invade Iraq, some people did voice out their objections; but they were being harassed and/or threatened by others.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Their deaths were not in vain if their story is told, and the folly of Imperial Japan's war is remembered. I would like to hear their stories in person. These pilots deserve far more respect than the politicians in power today.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

He had landed his plane on a carrier, instead of crashing it, and then got out and surrendered.

Sounds fishy to me. Hard to believe that a bomb-laden enemy plane would be allowed to land on an allied carrier. How could carrier officials be assured the pilot wouldn't set off his explosives after landing?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

"Hard to believe that a bomb-laden enemy plane would be allowed to land on an allied carrier."

He would release his bombs well beforehand in an empty area of water. That his plane was unarmed could be easily spotted by the ship's crew, since the big bombs were strapped to the planes' exterior.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

To paraphrase Sherman:

“The only way the people of Japan can hope to live in peace and quiet...., which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and was perpetuated in pride"

0 ( +1 / -2 )

"Americans called it the Baka bomb"

Because they are both arrogant and stupid. Americans have no any serious moral background to sacrifice lives for Motherland. Their military strategy and tactics equal to behavior of school bully. Leading a big crowd and attack a single, small country.

-3 ( +4 / -6 )

"Americans have no any serious moral background to sacrifice lives..."

How many other countries in modern times have formally created suicide squads? None? Well, I guess the whole word lacks "a serious moral background"....except Dai Nippon, naturally.

2 ( +2 / -2 )

@Thunderbird2" the Germans and Russians used penal batallions in the field-basically poorly armed (or in the case of Russians unarmed)troops sent into battle on suicide missions".

I have some questions. Did Germans and Russians fight each other by naked hands ? If so, how did "unarmed Russians" stop NAZIs, turn them back, storm Berlin and defeat ? Where did you study history, in America, right ?

-2 ( +3 / -4 )

@yamashi

Did Germans and Russians fight each other by naked hands ? If so, how did "unarmed Russians" stop NAZIs, turn them back, storm Berlin and defeat ? Where did you study history, in America, right ?

He said used. Used doesn't mean used exclusively... Reading comprehension is important.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

There was a kamikaze pilot employed at the company where I worked, here in California. He had landed his plane on a carrier, instead of crashin

g it, and then got out and surrendered.

1glenn - highly unlikely. Ive read several history books, seen several documentaries, etc on the Pacific War and never heard of such a thing. As ToshiYori suggests, a Japanese plane would have been blown to pieces before being allowed to land on a US carrier.

Whoever told you that one was pulling your leg.

3 ( +4 / -0 )

clamenza

The pilot actually worked at our company. It was common knowledge among all of the employees, and I have very little doubt as for the story's veracity. As for seeing things like this in documentaries, I saw a case in a doc where they showed a clip of a Japanese pilot waving from the water after landing his plane there, and getting out. There is a saying about Truth being stranger than Fiction. I found that among actual veterans of WW II, the strangeness of many of their stories was amazing.

We also had a German Wehrmacht veteran employed at our company who told me that he had fought against Brits and Americans, and killed some. We had a Pole who had aided the allies, and he could not be fired without prior approval from the U.S. government. We had an American who was 4F for color blindness, so he enlisted in the British paratroopers up in Canada. He took part in Operation Market Garden. The British paratroopers were dropped at "A Bridge Too Far," and were not relieved in time. This particular American was badly wounded, and was found by the Germans after he laid in a ditch for two days. His leg was badly infected. The Germans saved his leg by letting maggots eat away the bad parts of his leg tissue. The only pain killers available were aspirin. Our Dad was in the merchant marine from 1938 until 1946. Their ship was chased by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Baja California, and in the Atlantic by a German commerce raider. Because their ship was a fast transport, they were able to outrun their pursuers. One time a torpedo went under their ship while in convoy, and sank the ship next to them. One time while in convoy, as the sun went down, they had tankers at all four points. By the morning German submarines had sank all four tankers. Dad was at Alexandria port during the Battle of El Alamein, where they unloaded tanks, planes, and food for the Brits, and was on a tanker during the D-Day landings. Dad told me the trick they figured out for protecting themselves from German Stuka dive bombers while in British coastal waters.

I was too young to take part in WW II, but I got to talk to many veterans (from both sides) after the war was over. The stories they told me were absolutely amazing. I also traveled to Germany, and was surprised to see how many men were missing legs or arms. There were a few such veterans in the States, but the number in Germany was staggering.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

1glenn - Again, I'm read up enough about the war that I would have heard of such an incident. Unless you can give me a link to this supposed landing, Its all a big put-on.

I knew a friend's uncle who after a few beers claimed he was abducted by aliens on a hunting trip. Does that mean its true? No..

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I visited the Kamizake museum located in Chiran, Kyushu, the site of former pilot training base. I listened to a docent speak about his experience before the war ended. I walked around viewing the many family memorials to their sons. A very moving and enlightening experience for me. The streets have lanterns along the roadside leading to the former training base engraved with family names of pilots that were sent on their missions and did not return. Regarding the environment and culture I heard and read about the Hoshidan in Tule lake Segregation Center during WWII advocating for Japan to win the war through morning exercises and regime that attracted a subset of those who were interned in the center. I read about the kachigumi (winning side) and makegumi (losing side) stand-off in the Japanese-Brazilian community, another micro-community in the agricultural center near Sao Paulo,Brazil. The stories in what I will call the micro-communities are enlightening, amazing, and provide a sense of what was and still is, as I look around and read the news.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There is now also a Soka Gakkai International (SGI) that had spread to 192 countries and s 2nd SG University in the USA. . Many thanks to the members that survived WWIi and some imprisoned members died.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This broke my heart. It's a very human story.

Every country has fallen for similar propaganda from their own government. From the time of Horace: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. "It is sweet and right to die for your country."

Wilfred Owen, a poet who died in the First World War wrote:

"If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, my friend, you would not tell with such high zest to children ardent for some desperate glory, the old Lie; Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori."

And yet this quote appears in WWI memorials in English churches and at Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1854, Tennyson wrote of the Crimean War: "Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die." Almost 100 years later it was applicable to the kamikaze pilots of Japan.

And one final, modern quote, from Paul Weller: "You choose your leaders and place your trust , as their lies wash you down and theor promises rust..."

2 ( +3 / -1 )

The different of time and place, that day is the country with border still exist. Nowadays, we can converse in this virtual world without a border. We can understand and we does not need to be afraid to speak out. In real world, the border has became thin but still not many people still can't see. The world keep changing for the better of tomorrow. Its statistical. We can forgive the people who deserve to be forgive but we will never forget the act. We should always working for a better tomorrow. So be nice and say no to war.

1 ( +1 / -1 )

The pilot actually worked at our company. It was common knowledge among all of the employees, and I have very little doubt as for the story's veracity.

1glenn: sorry the story does not pass the smell test, whatever people wanted to believe. A Japanese plane approaching the ship in the kamikaze period would have been blown out of the sky.

But such a case would have been documented so I would be delighted to be proved wrong.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I have read a considerable amount about WW2 over the years - and particularly the war in the Pacific because my own Dad was involved as a pilot on the British aircraft carrier the Ark Royal. However this revelation is new to me. And shocking it is.

As we are seeing currently with the ISIS thugs, they invite young men and women to die by suicide, simply to serve the selfish needs of their leaders. And this revelation about the recruiting of the Kamikazi pilots, is no different.

As the topic of the Japanese government apologising for their behaviour in WW2 is so topical to the moment, I would suggest they owe an apology to the Japanese people at the same time. And the best starting place for this would be by throwing out the Japanese Royal Family - who cowardly supported and went along with this appalling behaviour. Furthermore everything they own should be sold and used to pay reparations and compensation, to all those families affected - Japanese or not.

The leading Japanese industrialists (including the Yakuza - many of whom are one in the same) and the Japanese Royal Family financially benefitted from WW2, and they were never penalized financially for that. General MacArthur agreed to that to gain their support after WW2.

Those financial penalties should start today.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@choiwaruoyaji

Ultimately Japan was forced into the Pacific War by American pressure, its ambitions and aggression in Asia, which had started decades before Pearl Harbor.

Had America kept to its own side of the Pacific, stuck to its treaties and accepted equality between races, war could have been avoided.

It's strange how difficult it is for Americans to accept their government's and leaders' responsibility and see the clear pattern and build up from Perry's aggression to proxy wars via the Chinese.

-8 ( +1 / -9 )

Japan had its own ambitions and was responsible for its own wars.

And lest we forget, the Philippines at the time was governed by the US, on that side of the Pacific - and Japan would had invaded it anyway for its strategic value.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"Japan knew very well what was likely to follow if it did not militarize in the way it did."

The Western powers never tried to colonize Japan or grab territory. They weren't interested: the country had no natural resources.

Ironically, the time Japan was colonized was right after ww2, 1945-49, a direct result of its own militarization. The foreign occupier rewrote its laws, reformed its land and industries and enforced democracy....and Japan has never been better.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The Kamikaze corps were formed to defend the Japanese occupation of the Philippines which had started 10 hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

@Aly Rustom

The most important thing is not to romanticize their legacy but to humanize it. This was not a great or noble achievement. It was simply a way a small group of men led and ended their lives. We need to mourne their loss, not celebrate their sacrifice. Otherwise we will repeat the same mistakes again

Absolutely. Acknowledge and mourne their sacrifice, but not glorify it a la The Eternal Zero.

Had America kept to its own side of the Pacific, stuck to its treaties and accepted equality between races, war could have been avoided

Japan's war against China was already well underway. Equality between races? Like that displayed by the IJA for the Chinese?

It's strange how difficult it is for Americans to accept their government's and leaders' responsibility and see the clear pattern and build up from Perry's aggression to proxy wars via the Chinese

Well yes it might have been better for everyone if Perry had stayed away; except for the fact that Japan would then have been forced open by the Russian guns of Admiral Putiatin, with who knows what results - likely quite similar ones. As for proxy wars via the Chinese; it was Japan attacked China. Japan started that 'proxy war'

Ultimately Japan was forced into the Pacific War by American pressure, its ambitions and aggression in Asia, which had started decades before Pearl Harbor

I know that the "[its] ambitions and aggression in Asia" in your sentence is supposed to mean "America's ambitions and aggression in Asia", but it is possible and more accurate to read it as "Japan's own ambitions and aggression in Asia, which had started decades before Pear Harbour". In other words, Japan forced the war upon itself by starting the war in the first place when it attacked China. You talk of American pressure - the blockades were a reaction to Japan's naked aggression in China, which by that time had already resulted in enormous destruction and loss of life. Nanjing was in 1937. The blockades came after that; Pear Harbour after that.

Japan didn't have to invade China; there was another choice. It wasn't necessary to invade China and start the chain of events that eventually led to young men flying their planes into ships instead of building families and living productive lives. I mentioned The Eternal Zero above with its final scene showing Miyabe smiling as he does just that, suggesting that was a better end for him than surviving and going home. Nonsense. My friend's grandfather trained as a kamikaze, but thankfully the war ended before he flew his mission, and his family (and my friend) are here today; a much better outcome. The kamikaze missions, like the war, were such a waste; and you can not blame America for making Japan attack China which is what started it all.

When you compare Japan society to American society, how could America make something that is more safe, civil, and efficient that itself? If America could make something that is more safe, civil and efficient why can't it make its own society like that? The answer to that lies in the remarkable nature of the Japanese people

Guffaw. The Japanese are no more or less remarkable than the Americans or anyone else. If they are so remarkable, why did it require outsiders to refashion Japan to make it into such a safe and civil place?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

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