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Kamikazes and their perspective(s)

Last July I posted a comment on Bruce Schneier’s blog about Kamikaze pilots and their love/loyalty to their family, as opposed to a devotion to their Emperor or nation:

I recently heard a compelling radio report that interviewed Kamikaze pilots who survived. They discussed their reasons for “volunteering” and the shame involved in surviving or never having a chance to fight. It radically changed my understanding of why/how these men chose self-sacrifice as a form of attack — often as a measure of loyalty to help protect their family. This idea of extended honor and preservation through personal sacrifice seems like the sort of glorious afterlife theme I often hear with regard to today’s Islamic bombers, although they seem to infer radical Islam is the family (since parents are unaware to avoid detection or because of their natural objections to the conflict).

I probably could have been a little more clear, but the point I was trying to make is that personal sacrifice is justified by some kind of attachment to principle and purpose. The Allies almost invariably portrayed the kamikaze pilots as men with feverish devotion to an evil leader. What if they were portrayed as men devoted to protecting their families and their livelihood (as if a common perspective were possible at the time)? I went on to say:

Ohnuki-Tierney’s book (Kamikaze, Cherry Blossom, and Nationalism) on the “tokkotai” or “special attack corps” echoes this theme. She discusses the way in which the Kamikaze were told by the state that they needed to “volunteer” to “defend their country against American invasion”, but they ultimately carried with them a variance of religious, philosophical, and utopian ideologies that they individually used to justify self-sacrifice. She even goes so far as to suggest that many of the pilots borrowed Christianity from Europe to provide them with a model of sacrifice for others and the notion of life after death.

This suggests that the men were indeed thinking individuals that not only had to be persuaded/enlisted to sacrifice their lives, but that their individuality stuck with them until their last moments.

The Guardian Unlimited just posted a story called “We were ready to die for Japan” that is based on an interview with a pilot that survived. The survivor reinforces this notion of individual agents struggling with the ethics of suicide attack:

He has little time for the notion that the young men who flew into enemy warships did so happily in a selfless display of loyalty for the emperor.

“We said what we supposed to say about the emperor, but we didn’t feel it in our hearts,” he said. “We were ready to die, but for our families and for Japan. We thought people who talked seriously about wanting to die for the emperor were misguided.

“It was more like a mother who drops everything when her child needs her. That’s how the kamikaze felt about their country.”

In a literal sense, the idea of “mother” might seem appropriate, but what if the word is interpreted as a more general concept such as “caregiver” or “provider”? The article continues:

Mr Hamazono is certain that, had he been able to see his mission through to its conclusion, his final words would have had little to do with Japan’s wartime state Shintoism or its spiritual figurehead.

“Mother … that’s the only word. You have only seconds left,” he said. “The idea that we laughed in the face of death is a myth.”

Not an easy problem to solve, clearly, from a general perspective and it begs the question of how to understand the majority feelings and perhaps try to change them so that hope replaces hopelessness, trust replaces fear. One has to wonder if a similar perspective for today’s bombers will surface fifty years from now? In a nutshell, what/who is really winning hearts and minds in modern conflict? Someone suggested to me that many of the suicide bombers and soldiers recruited/trained by al Qaeda may in fact come from families who have already been forced to make sacrifices as non-combatants, or come from orphanages in remote and depressed regions around the world. In that sense, the idea of defending one’s “mother” takes on a strange twist since the more conflict in a region the more orphans in want of a mother…

How should we define “family” and what is justified to defend it/them?

Posted in History, Security.


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