by Andy Nowicki
Lately, I have been reading The Divine Wind, a book which details the kamikaze campaign launched by the Japanese air force during the waning months of World War II.
Kamikaze literally translates to "divine wind"; the word obtains its origin from a legend of two mighty typhoons which were ostensibly sent by the gods to protect Japan from Mongol invasions in the thirteenth century. Of course the definition of the term with which we're most familiar is the one synonymous with "suicide pilot."
From late 1944 onward, many young Japanese men were willing to give their all, literally, in an effort to repel the encroaching enemy from invading their homeland. It was believed – it was fervently hoped against hope – that such missions would rescue the Empire of Nippon from ignominious defeat and inglorious ruin.
Kamikaze pilots attempted to collide their planes into American aircraft carriers, with an eye toward inflicting as much damage as possible. The "Yanks," like most Westerners, were astonished and appalled by these fierce and relentless attacks; something about the very notion of deliberately causing one's own fiery death – that is, not just being willing risk one's life, as is common in wartime, but striving to die on purpose – simply did not compute in the Occidental mind. Suicide, after all, has long been understood to be a sin against nature, forbidden by divine authority ("O, that the Everlasting had not fixed his canon 'gainst self-slaughter!"); much as we sometimes chafed against life, we still generally held it our duty to go on until we no longer could.
For the Japanese, however, there was absolutely no shame in giving one's life for Emperor and country. Such was in fact held to be the most glorious of destinies. The pilots manning these planes were generally quite young; in choosing to become kamikazes, they made a conscious decision to sacrifice not only their immediate lives, but also the futures that surely lay ahead of them. Yet for all that, they appeared to have few misgivings, taking patent pride in their role as "human bombs," and never shrinking from their targets.
What was going through their heads during the crucial days leading up to their terminal sorties? Did they have any doubt that the culmination of their existence was to crash and burn on a chunk of metal in the middle of the bleak Pacific ocean? These questions should fascinate and enthrall everyone contemplating the notion of sacrifice for a greater good: namely, of protecting and defending a worthy civilization from infiltration, assault, and targeted destruction.
The most compelling section of The Divine Wind is the last chapter, which includes actual letters that kamikaze pilots sent home to their parents prior to launching their final missions. I have selected excerpts from five of these letters, and committed them to audio. One can see that these men range widely in personality and belief; one of them even sounds quite cynical, attacking "wily politicians" and expressing skepticism in the myth of "the purity of (his) ancestors," and "feeling a strong attachment" to life, earnestly asking, "Is that a weakness on my part?"
Others, however, are more uncomplicatedly devout in their zeal. "Please congratulate me," one writes. "I have been given a splendid opportunity to die... I wish that I could be born seven times, each time to smite the enemy!"
Andy Nowicki's Soundcloud page: https://soundcloud.com/jnow1101
The Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II by Capt. Rikihei Inoguchi and Cdr. Tadashi Nakajima, with Roger Pineau