On Thursday, August 14, I wrote my thoughts on the JAJournal about the History Channel special on the Kamikaze, Divine Wind, the suicide attacks by Japanese pilots against the allied fleet during WWII. I received a comment from Capstew and present both sides in the form of a dialogue, with additional responses from me inserted… Go to JAJournal for the original post…
Onigiriman: Sleetse reminded me of the Kamikaze special on the History Channel this weekend. Although I’m an alledged “Japanese expert” I was suprised to learn that the Japanese had kamikaze torpedos–ningen gyorai, in Japanese. It had never occcured to me before, but watching the desperation of these Japanese militarists conjured images of the suicide bombers in Israel, Palestine and of course the WTC, vicitim of a 747 kamikaze attack.
Capstew: Wait, so you think the ningen gyorai did it voluntarily rather than under extreme duress?
O-man: Well, the similarities are unnerving to me: They did anything to save their land from occupation; they did anything to try and stop an enemy that was obviously superior in power and technology; they did anything in the name of religion and their religious leader, Hirohito: as emperor, he was the leader of the Shinto faith, the foundation of Japanese history, ideals, and identity at the time.
Cap: One difference I see between the Japanese and the hijackers and suicide bombers is that in Japan the State mobilised their propaganda machine and cut off all means of dissent. So the young men might have been flying off to their doom “voluntarily” but evidence such as their diaries written prior to their missions suggest it was a forced voluntarism.
O-man: True, the extant documentation–diaries, letters–suggests that they were reluctant to die, but nonetheless they went. Were they simply feeble lambs unable to voice their opinions? Or did they believe in something that compelled them to follow orders without question, a belief in some vague national policy?
Cap: Japan’s colonization policies were not all that popular with Japanese people for quite some time, mostly as it was so costly and provided hardly any benefits except for international prestige–not as important if you are starving and having to sell your own daughters into prostitution–which indicated that the people did not necessarily agree with the govt’s foreign policies.
O-man: Indeed, but I was referring more to the policy of Japanese identity, of their “special” place in the world, their belief in their “uniqueness” and their direct relationship to their gods. Couldn’t this belief–it was national policy to propagate this identity through education–have influenced their worldview, and hence their decision-making mechanism despite the presence of an understanding of morality or decency?
Cap: I would argue it was the military leaders who felt desperate at the end, especially as some of them realized from the beginning that Japan could never win in a conflict with the U.S. from whom they received money, fuel, scrap metal etc that financed a great deal of the colonization process to begin with. Maybe the ningen gyorai were a symbolic act of desperation knowing the State was about to be humiliated.
O-man: But according to the History Channel (and I realize that we shouldn’t consider them to be the end all of historic knowledge), at least one pilot of a suicide torpedo was a technician who designed the ningen-gyorai. He was neither a military leader or a politician, but he insisted that only he was able to pull it off successfully, according to the History channel, that is. Of course, there is no doubt that he felt pressure beyond just his identity…
Cap: The hijackers obviously were under severe duress to act the way they did but it was not the action of the state that made them that way.
O-man: You’re right, of course, but I believe their actions are guided by their identity, like in Japan; that they must act in a certain way under prescribed circumstances. In Japan, this identity was developed and nurtured through the state–i.e. education. In the Middle East, their identity is developed through religion, and nurtured through certain sects of Islam into characteristics that can lead to violence and hatred. And the connection between religion and state is not as clear cut as it is in the West. This perspective could alter my perception of the Middle East situation…
Cap: How exactly has your view of the Middle East situation changed?
O-man: Well, I’ve always had an empathy for the Japanese people of WWII, mostly because I’m Japanese, or at least that’s how I thought. But, now, I’m beginning to think that perhaps it’s because the Japanese were trying to compete with the West, that they felt inferior and were desperately trying to be “as good” as them, as I try to be “as good”, “as acceptable” as my non-Asian American counterparts. Do citizens of the Middle East see themselves as inferior? In terms of technology and material lifestyle, I would think that they would have to. But they also probably see themselves as superior in other abstract forms related to their identity: spirituality and race. Kinda like Japan in WWII, or to a degree maybe even today? To be frank, this kind of makes me feel uneasy, ‘cuz I had mostly thought of suicide bombers as ignorant maniacs… I think I have to re-evaluate this particualr notion… Not that I agree with their actions, or even sympathize… But further thought might help me grasp the underlying reasoning for their action, and this will hopefully promote better understanding. Well, a guy can hope, right?