Who became kamikaze pilots, and how did they feel towards their suicide mission?
WHO BECAME KAMIKAZE PILOTS,
AND HOW DID THEY FEEL TOWARDS THEIR
This extended essay is about the Kamikaze pilots who made suicide attacks from the
air during the Pacific War. This paper aims to find who the pilots really were and how
they felt about their suicide mission. The hypothesis for the research was that any pilot
could become a Kamikaze pilot, and that the pilots probably felt scared, yet took the
responsibility to carry out their mission.
Most of the investigations were made through primary sources. Since the Kamikaze
attacks were made from bases in Kyushu, there are several museums there where
information may be found. There, the actual letters and diaries that the pilots had left
behind are displayed. Also, fifteen interviews with survivors of the attacks, relatives and
other people related to the attacks were made. Since the Kamikaze attacks were made
only fifty years ago, a great quantity of documents was available.
The time period in concern is from early 1944 to 1945, and the topic being the
Kamikaze pilots, and the region of research was within Japan, mainly Kyushu.
The conclusion of this extended essay was that the pilots were ordinary, average young
men of the time who volunteered, and that most felt that their dying in such a mission
would improve the war situation for the Japanese. However, exactly how the pilots felt
could not be fully understood by a student researching the topic fifty years after the
In blossom today, then scattered:
Life is so like a delicate flower.
How can one expect the fragrance
To last for ever?
--Admiral Onishi Takijiro
During World War II in the Pacific, there were pilots of the Japanese Imperial Army
and Navy who made suicide attacks, driving their planes to deliberately crash into
carriers and battle- ships of the Allied forces. These were the pilots known as the
Kamikaze pilots. This essay focuses on how they felt about their suicide mission.
Because right-wing organizations have used the Kamikaze pilots as a symbol of a
militaristic and extremely nationalistic Japan, the current Japanese respond to the issue
with ignorance and false stereotypes and with generally negative and unsympathetic
remarks. The aim of this essay is to reveal the often unknown truth concerning the
pilots, and above all to give a clearer image as to who the pilots really were.
The hypothesis behind the question, "Who were the Kamikaze pilots and how did they
feel towards their suicide mission?" is that any pilot devoted to the country, who
volunteered and was chosen felt scared, yet took the responsibility to carry out his
The death of Emperor Taisho may be the point when Japan had started to become the
fascist state that it was during the Pacific War. Although the military had been active
ever since the Jiji period (1867-1912) in wars such as the Sino-Japanese War
(1894-1895), and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), it became extremely active
when Crown Prince Hirohito became Emperor Showa. Coup d'etats became frequent,
and several political figures were assassinated. By Emperor Showa's reign, the military
had the real authority.
According to those who have lived through the early Showa period (1926-1945), the
presence of Emperor Showa was like that of a god and he was more of a religious
figure than a political one. In many of the haiku that the Kamikaze pilots wrote, the
Emperor is mentioned in the first line.
Systematic and organized education made such efficient "brainwashing" possible. In
public schools, students were taught to die for the emperor. By late 1944, a slogan of
Jusshi Reisho meaning "Sacrifice life," was taught.
Most of the pilots who volunteered for the suicide attacks were those who were born
late in the Taisho period (1912-1926) or in the first two or three years of Showa.
Therefore, they had gone through the brainwashing education, and were products of
the militaristic Japan.
Censorship brought restrictions on the Japanese people. The letters, diaries, and
photographs of individual soldiers were all censored. Nothing revealing where they
were, or what they were doing concerning the military, could be communicated.
Major restrictions were placed on the press, radio and other media. The public was not
to be informed of defeats or damage on the Japanese side. Only victories and damage
imposed on the Allies were to be announced.
Another factor that created the extreme atmosphere in Japan were the "Kenpeitai," a
part of the Imperial Army which checked on the civilians to see if they were saying or
doing anything against the Emperor or the military.
Since the time of feudalism, especially during the Tokugawa period, a warrior must
follow the Bushido. This Code, and a culture which viewed suicide and the death of
young people as beautiful were factors contributing to the mass suicides.
Although it was only from 1944 that the General Staff had considered mounting
organized suicide attacks, "suicide attacks" had been made since the Japanese
attack on Pearl Harbor. Two types of suicide attacks had been made. The first was
an organized attack which would, in 90% of the cases, result in the death of the
soldiers. However, if the plan had worked on the battlefield as it did in theory, there
was some possibility that the soldiers would survive. The other type of suicide
attack that had been made was completely voluntary, and the result of a sudden
decision. This was usually done by aircraft. The pilots, finding no efficient way to fight
the American aircraft, deliberately crashed into them, and caused an explosion,
destroying the American aircraft as well as killing themselves.
Because these voluntary suicide attacks had shown that the young pilots had the spirit
of dying rather than being defeated, by February, 1944, the staff officers had started to
believe that although they were way below the Americans in the number of aircraft,
battleships, skillful pilots and soldiers, and in the amount of natural resources (oil, for
example), they were above the Americans in the number of young men who would fight
to the death rather than be defeated. By organizing the "Tokkotai," they thought it
would also attack the Americans psychologically, and make them lose their will to
continue the war. The person who suggested the Kamikaze attack at first is
unknown, but it is often thought to be Admiral Takijiro Onishi. However, Onishi was in
the position to command the first Shinpu Tokubetsu Kogekitai rather than suggest
In October, 1944, the plans for the organized suicide attacks became reality. Having
received permission from the Minister of the Navy, Admiral Onishi entered Clark Air
Base prepared to command the first organized suicide attacks. Onishi had not
thought the organized suicide attacks to be an efficient tactic, but that they would be a
powerful battle tactic, and he believed that it would be the best and most beautiful
place for the pilots to die. Onishi once said, "if they (the young pilots) are on land, they
would be bombed down, and if they are in the air, they would be shot down. That's
sad...Too sad...To let the young men die beautifully, that's what Tokko is. To give
beautiful death, that's called sympathy."
This statement makes sense, considering the relative skills of the pilots of the time. By
1944, air raids were made all over Japan, especially in the cities. Most of the best
pilots of the Navy and the Army had been lost in previous battles. Training time was
greatly reduced to the minimum, or even less than was necessary in order to train a
pilot. By the time the organized suicide attacks had started, the pilots only had the
ability to fly, not to fight. Although what happens to the pilot himself in doing the suicide
attack is by no means anywhere near beauty, to die in such a way, for the Emperor,
and for the country, was (at the time), honorable.
One thing that was decided upon by the General Staff was that the Kamikaze attacks
were to be made only if it was in the will of the pilot himself. It was too much of a task
to be "commanded."
The first organized suicide attack was made on October 21, 1944 by a squadron
called the Shinpu Tokubetsu Kogekitai. Tokubetsu Kogekitai was the name
generally used in the Japanese Imperial Navy and Army. The public had known them
as the Tokkotai, the abbreviated form. Tokkotai referred to all the organized suicide
attacks. Shinpu is what is better known as Kamikaze. The captain of the first
attack was to be Captain Yukio Seki.
How was Captain Seki talked into such a task? According to the subcommander of the
First Air Fleet, Tamai, who brought the issue up to Captain Seki, the Captain had in a
short time replied "I understand. Please let me do it." According to another source,
the reply that Captain Seki gave was, "Please let me think about it one night. I will
accept the offer tomorrow morning."
The document which seems to have the most credibility is the book, The Divine Wind
by Captain Rikihei Inoguchi and Commander Tadashi Nakajima. According to this
account a graduate of the Naval Academy, Naoshi Kanno, was originally nominated as
the leader of this mission. However, he was away from Mabalacat on a mission to
mainland Japan. Therefore, to take Kanno's place Captain Seki was chosen, and was
called to Commander Tamai's room at midnight. After hearing of the mission, it
appears, Seki remained silent for a while, then replied, "You must let me do it."
The reason this is the most credible document is because it had been written by
Captain Rikihei Inoguchi, who was actually there with Tamai and Seki, and named the
first unit, Shinpu. It is doubtful that there was a flaw in his memory since the book was
published in 1959, only 14 years after the war.
In any case, Captain Seki agreed to lead the first Kamikaze attack, and, on October
25, 1944 during the battle off Samos, made one of the first attacks, on the American
aircraft carrier Saint Lo. Twenty-six fighter planes were prepared, of which half
were to escort and the other half to make the suicide mission. That half was divided
into the Shikishima, Yamato, Asahi and Yamazakura.
The youngest of the Kamikaze pilots of the Imperial Army was 17 years old, and
the oldest, 35. Most of them were in their late teens, or early twenties. As the
battle in Okinawa [April to June 1945] worsened, the average age of the pilots got
younger. Some had only completed the equivalent of an elementary school and middle
school combined. Some had been to college. There was a tendency for them not to be
first sons. The eldest sons usually took over the family business. Most were therefore
the younger sons who did not need to worry about the family business.
Most of those who had come from college came in what is called the Gakuto
Shutsujin. This was when the college students' exemption from being drafted into the
military was lifted, and the graduation of the seniors was shifted from April 1944 to
Many of these students were from prestigious colleges such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Keio,
and Waseda Universities. These students from college tended to have more liberal
ideas, not having been educated in military schools, and also were more aware of the
world outside of Japan.
Where were the pilots trained? All the pilots involved in the "Okinawa Tokko" had
been trained in/as one of the following: The Youth Pilot Training School, Candidates for
Second Lieutenant, The Imperial Army Air Corps Academy, Pilot Trainee, Flight
Officer Candidates, Special Flight Officer Probationary Cadet, Pilot Training Schools,
or Special Flight Officer Candidate.
Since the Kamikaze attacks were to be made only if the pilots had volunteered, and
could not be "commanded," there were two methods to collect volunteers. One was for
all pilots in general, and another was for the Special Flight Officer Probationary Cadet
(College graduates) only. The former was an application form, and the latter was a
survey. The survey asked: "Do you desire earnestly/wish/do not wish/to be involved in
the Kamikaze attacks?" They had to circle one of the three choices, or leave the paper
blank. The important fact is that the pilots were required to sign their names. When
the military had the absolute power, and the whole atmosphere of Japan expected men
to die for the country, there was great psychological pressure to circle "earnestly
desire" or "wish." The Army selected those who had circled "earnestly desire." The
reason that the Special Flight Officer Probationary Cadet had to answer such a survey
rather than send the applications at their own will was probably because the military
had known that the students who had come from college had a wider vision, and would
not easily apply for such a mission. For the regular application, the Army was confident
that there would be many young pilots who would apply. They were correct. Every
student of the 15th term of the Youth Pilot Training School had applied. Because there
were so many volunteers, the military had decided to let the ones with better grades go
There are several factors which made so many young pilots volunteer for such a
mission. Extreme patriotism must have been one factor for sure. Added to that, there
was the reverence for the Emperor, a god. Some say that it was generally believed that
if one died for the emperor, and was praised in Yasukuni Shrine, they would become
The effect of the brainwashing that the military had done to the students is surprising.
The pilots felt it was "obvious" that they were to take part in the Kamikaze attacks.
Most pilots mention in letters that they were happy, and proud of being given such an
honorable mission. It is true also that they believed that if they took part in the mission,
it might improve the war situation for Japan.
What the military education was like was described in a diary kept by Corporal Yukio
Araki, from the time he had entered the Youth Pilot Training School, until the night
before his original date of departure for Okinawa.
Since anything written was checked by one of the military staff, nothing that would
upset the military or contradict the ideas of the Japanese government could be written.
However, more importantly, because of the lack of privacy, personal emotions could
not be written. Therefore, in Corporal Araki's diary, very rarely can anything "personal"
be found. The first several days in the Training school, he simply lists the subjects that
were studied that day, and what was done for physical training. Later on he mentions
what was done for training, the events that took place, and other things he had done.
However, most of what he wrote was about the "warning" he received. The
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