Captain Inoguchi and Commander Tadashi Nakajima
Among those of us who were there, in the Philippines and at Okinawa, I doubt if there is anyone who can depict with complete clarity our mixed emotions as we watched a man about to die—a man determined to die in order that he might destroy us in the process. There was a hypnotic fascination to a sight so alien to our Western philosophy. We watched each plunging kamikaze with the detached horror of one witnessing a terrible spectacle rather than as the intended victim. We forgot self for the moment as we groped hopelessly for the thoughts of that other man up there. And dominating it all was a strange admixture of respect and pity—respect for any person who offers the supreme sacrifice to the things he stands for, and pity for the utter frustration which was epitomized by the suicidal act. For whatever the gesture meant to that central actor out there in space, and however painful might be the consequences to ourselves, no one of us questioned the final outcome of the war now rushing to its conclusion. This “Divine Wind,” this Kamikaze, this Special Attack Corps, was just another form of banzai charge, made by men experiencing the bitterness of defeat and unwilling to accept that reality.
But why this suicidal tactic? How could, not one man, but several thousand men seek certain death? Did these men, in the words of Admiral Ohnishi, think themselves “already gods without earthly desires”?
It is certainly “not that the enemy was more courageous than we. One of the earliest lessons one learns in battle is that courage is a very common human quality. Mute evidence is the story of our own Torpedo Squadron Eight at Midway, and the unforgettable picture I once observed on board the Essex when I watched the 20-millimeter gun crews stand unflinchingly to their guns until enveloped in flames, in an effort to beat off a kamikaze.
But there was a fundamental difference in the heroism of the opposing warriors. The Japanese resolutely closed the last avenue of hope and escape, the American never did. To the Western mind there must be that last slim chance of survival—the feeling that, though a lot of other chaps may die, you yourself somehow are going to make it back.
No one has yet successfully explained to the Western mind this Japanese phenomenon of self-immolation, and perhaps it is not given to the Westerner to understand it. Hence, as we read this dramatic, gripping story of the Kamikaze Corps as it comes from the lips of those who personally acted out the great tragedy, we seek vainly for the key to the enigma.
One of the Japanese authors makes the statement, “. . . No man welcomes death. . . . But it is more understandable if one bears in mind that, considering the heavy odds our fliers faced in 1944, their chance of coming back from any sortie against the enemy carriers was very slim regardless of the attack method employed.” Yet the answer is not there. Neither is it in the letters to home and loved ones from those about to die, though these letters haunt one with their poignancy.
Sometimes these letters are utterly beautiful.
“We are 16 warriors manning the bombers. May our death be as sudden as the shattering of crystal.”
Sometimes they are deeply touching:
“My greatest regret in this life is the failure to call you ‘chichiue’ (revered father). I regret not having given any demonstration of the true respect which I have always had for you. During my final plunge, though you will not hear it, you may be sure I will be saying ‘chichiue’ to you and thinking of all you have done for me.”
And always they are tragic:
“I am a human being and hope to be neither saint nor scoundrel, hero nor fool—just a human being. As one who spent his life in wistful longing and searching, I die resignedly in the hope that my life will serve as a human document.”
“The world in which I lived was too full of discord. As a community of rational human beings it should have been better composed. Lacking a single great conductor, everyone let loose with his own sound, creating dissonance where there should have been melody and harmony.”
Such are the fleeting glimpses of tortured souls that we catch behind the façade of this extraordinary history.
Any way one looks at the Kamikaze Corps, there is stark tragedy. For whatever the private motivations or official explanations for the kamikaze, and however fascinating they may be, the key question for the pragmatic military man must be—was it a successful tactic?
My answer is an unqualified no. True, the Special Attack Force—the Kamikaze—did tremendous damage. It sank a lot of ships and damaged a multitude of others. It killed and wounded thousands of men— inflicted more casualties in the U. S. fleets off Okinawa than the Japanese Army did to the invading troops in the long battle ashore. Typical of the nightmare it made of destroyer picket duty was the destroyer man on picket station who, with grim humor, painted an arrow on his deck pointing off to the side, with the huge letters, “Carriers that way!”
But by that time Japan was already hopelessly worsted, and even in its flaming sacrifice the Kamikaze Corps sank no U. S. warship of cruiser size or larger. That, in a way, is the real tragedy of the kamikaze, as far as its pilots were concerned—that this extraordinary tactic was not conceived until it was already too late for even the most desperate measures to stay the inevitable defeat of Japan.
C. R. Brown
Vice Admiral, U. S. Navy