The parallel seems too close to ignore — and, for headline writers, too good to resist. “Al Qaida kamikazes” slammed passenger planes into skyscrapers; “Palestinian kamikazes” blow up buses full of teen-agers in Jerusalem, and “female Chechen kamikazes” march into Russian schools, belted in dynamite.
“We learned how to do suicide missions from the kamikazes,” Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, told Japan’s ambassador to Lebanon in 2001.
Just don’t say that in front of a real kamikaze.
Believe it or not, some still live. Old men now, as youths they were prepared to give their lives, plunging planes into American warships to keep the Western barbarians away from Japan, but the war ran out before they got the chance.
Recently, a reporter from the Los Angeles Times tracked down some of the survivors and collected their views.
“When I hear the comparison, I feel so sorry for my friends who died, because our mission was totally different from suicide bombers,” said Shigeyoshi Hamazono, 81. “We did what we did for military purposes,” says Takeo Tagata, 88. “No matter what supreme ideas they talk about, suicide bombers are just killing innocent civilians, people who don’t have anything to do with their war.”
The kamikazes achieved legendary status for their myth-shrouded suicide missions. Yet American garrisons and Russian tank crews also knowingly fought to the death in that war. The casualty rates among British airmen in 1940 made their deaths no less certain, and their sacrifices no less deliberate, than those of the kamikazes.
Suicide attacks are not some distinct quality that unites the 9/11 hijackers and the Japanese pilots. Warriors fight other warriors — even when defeat and death are certain. It is a story as old as Roncesvalles, as old as Thermopylae. The difference, as the silver-haired suicide pilots of 1945 instantly and correctly discern today, is that the kamikazes attacked military targets, but “the main purpose of a suicide bomber is to kill as many innocent civilians as they can.” That, Hamazono said, “is just murder.”
Yet the LA Times, not content with this, keeps working the story around till it gets the opposite answer. Switching the topic from the tactic itself to the mindset of the young man willing to give his life, the reporter waits till he has got one of the old men to see an identification, and this becomes the conclusion of the article:
“The emperor was everything then, a god, divine,” explains Den, who has spent his adult life in politics and is a socialist member of Japan’s Upper House. Only the country’s surrender prevented his suicide mission.
Postwar Japan offered little consolation to the survivors. In a blackened ruin of a country, civilians saw the few thousand kamikazes in their midst as uncomfortable reminders of Japan’s folly, the ultimate caricature of the Japanese warrior as zealot. Kamikazes were regarded as having flown on emotional autopilot. They died, it was said, “like dogs.”
Yet Hamazono says: “I still don’t think it was a mistake. I’m proud that I flew as a kamikaze. And I’m glad I came back. We did what we did out of a love for our parents, for the nation.
“Just like suicide bombers,” he says, dropping his defenses for a moment. “We did it out of love for something.”