- Did WWII Kamikaze Pilots Differ
From Palestinian, Al Qaeda killers/
"One-third of the men on the ship
were lost," retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Robert H. Spiro Jr.
recalled of one attack. "So, it was personally devastating. It was
heartrending. At the same end, for a few hours we saw blood. The ship
was on fire. We thought the bow was going to break off."
The similarities don't end with the
images and emotions. Looking back at Japan's infamous kamikaze, they
seem more related to the pilots of al Qaeda than most Japanese today
would like to admit.
They were fanatically devoted to their
emperor, who was considered a god at the time. They were motivated by
self-righteous anger against the West.
"Many Japanese do believe that
they fought a just war," said Gregory Clark, president of Tama
University in Japan. "[They believe] that they were fighting under
extreme odds. And that anything was justified in the attempt to win this
war, in which they were clearly the weaker power. And that included
‘No Other Way
to Fight Back’
More than 5,000 kamikaze died before
the end of the war, and 20,000 were still awaiting missions. But a
handful who did take off on suicide missions are still alive today.
"We had no other way to fight
back," said Kenichiro Onuki, a volunteer who crash-landed before
reaching his target. "This was the only way to prevent the U.S.
military from advancing into our homeland." Another survivor,
Kensuke Kunuki, said through a translator: "I had no fear. I wanted
to sacrifice my life."
Kunuki suffered terrible burns when
his plane was forced down by mechanical problems. He said his first
thought at the time was that he wanted to try again because he hadn't
killed any Americans.
‘They Were Not
In a new book on the kamikaze, Hideaki
Kase, an outspoken Japanese nationalist, said there was no truth to the
wartime propaganda that portrayed the kamikaze as a fanatical cult. He
says they were no different than American youths who gave their lives in
desperate military campaigns.
"They were not fanatics,"
Kase said. "They were not brainwashed. They were ordinary, young
kids." Even today, he says, the West has difficulty grasping the
notion that suicide is a noble act in some cultures. "Suicide can
be honourable, positive, if that act was committed for the family or for
the community or for the motherland," Kase said, adding that
"patriotism — yes, patriotism" drove the kamikaze pilots.
Patriots? Immediately after the war, a
demoralized Japan saw the kamikaze as symbols of military madness. The
very word "kamikaze" became a synonym for crazy, reckless behaviour.
Yet few Japanese could ignore the fact
that the kamikaze spirit was deeply ingrained in the Japanese psyche —
duty, loyalty, sacrifice for the good of the group. Half a century
later, the kamikaze are no longer viewed in such black-and-white terms.
Rare colour images of the suicide
attacks from American archives are now included on popular videos in
Japan. They are among a flood of retrospective books, documentaries and
commercial films that portray the kamikaze more heroically.
Most of the kamikaze took off on their
one-way missions from bases on Japan's southernmost island of Kyushu,
and the largest base was in the town of Chiran.
Today, Chiran has become a testament
to Japan's renewed fascination with the suicide pilots. It's now home to
the country's largest kamikaze museum, which attracts nearly 1 million
visitors a year. Many are moved to tears by the haunting faces of the
boys about to die and the emotional poems and farewell letters they
"At the moment of death," a
visitor remarked, "they must have been calling out for their
The museum has become a favourite of
Japanese nationalists, who want Japan to stop apologizing for the war
and to build a strong military again. For them, the kamikaze embodied
Japan's samurai warrior spirit and should be idolized.
Not Back Down’
That's exactly what Akihisa Torihama
hopes will never happen. He is the grandson of Tore Torihama, a woman
once called the kamikaze's "mama-san." She ran a small
restaurant in Chiran where many of the pilots had their last meals and
confided all the things they could not say in their heavily censored
"My grandmother told me the boys
knew the war was lost, knew their lives were being thrown away by their
commanders," he said through a translator. "They flew their
missions because the social pressures on them were so great, they could
not back down."
Today, he has transformed the old
restaurant into an alternative kamikaze museum, to keep alive the
message passed on by his grandmother — that the suicide pilots were
not heroes, but the victims of fanaticism. And what's the verdict of the
surviving kamikaze? Kuniki says he has no regrets. "My nation and
my family were in danger," he said. "History will judge if we
were right or wrong."
But Onuki said it was wrong to waste
so many young lives. "Yes, we volunteered, but we
were ordered to volunteer,"
he said. "It could have taken real courage to disobey that
‘Not a Single
The surviving kamikaze, like most
Japanese, bristle at suggestions that the kamikaze were the same as the
al Qaeda suicide pilots. "They killed only military
personnel," Kase said. "Not a single civilian." That
distinction is not lost on Spiro, who as an American sailor who faced
the kamikaze in combat. "At least it was a military tactic and they
were not attacking our wives, children, friends, mothers," Spiro
Still, there's no question that recent
events have cast Japan's suicide pilots and their motivations in a very