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When 21st century people think about the word Kamikaze, the image that comes to mind is a fanatic group of the Japanese Armed Forces whose members were willing to lay down their lives for the purpose of demonstrating extreme devotion for a particular cause. Kamikaze fighter pilots are therefore lumped into the same category as Islamic extremists. However, a relatively new documentary film reveals another side to the story (Wings of Defeat).
For the purpose of accurate historical documentation of the Second World War, it is important to point out that Kamikaze fighters are not comparable to religious extremists, because they plunged to their deaths on the strength of a military command.
The realization was made after watching the said documentary film, especially in the episode that featured the Kamikaze pilot Kazuo Nakajima (Wings of Defeat). Kazuo Nakajima revealed that they were soldier obeying orders. He refuted the idea that they were fanatics. In fact, Nakajima expressed how much he loathed the former Emperor of Japan. He pointed the blame at Emperor Hirohito. Nakajima said that the country’s top leader had the power to end the war six months earlier (Hasegawa 2900. If Japan surrendered to the Allied Forces six months earlier, there was no need for Kamikaze pilots to die in vain.
Nakajima’s testimony strengthened the argument that if these men were under able leaders, there was no need to embark on suicide missions (Nakamoto 210). At the same time, his testimony magnified Emperor Hirohito’s pride and vanity. Japan’s top leader during World War II was desperate and his solution was to send young Japanese soldiers into a fiery and cataclysmic death (Stille 368). However, he did not have to do that only if he had the moral fortitude to accept defeat. Nakajima’s bitter response summed up the world view of Emperor Hirohito, because he treated soldier’s lives like waste paper (Wings of Defeat).
The proponent of this study decided to choose this particular episode because it provides clear evidence that Kamikaze pilots were forced to die against their will. It is therefore difficult to develop a positive narrative to describe the contribution of the Kamikaze pilots in World War II history. On the other hand, one can argue that there is at least one redeeming quality of the Kamikaze pilots, and it was their burning patriotism that enabled them to make the ultimate sacrifice (Zaloga 4). At the same time, commentators and historians can reinterpret the meaning of the term Kamikaze based on the testimonies of the Kamikaze pilots. Thus, at the end they can be portrayed as heroes who fought for a lost cause (Kuwahara and Allred 19).
The episode that featured Kazuo Nakajima enabled a change of perspective and a reinterpretation of the meaning of the word Kamikaze. These men must not be branded as fanatics and lumped together with the religious extremists that plague the contemporary world. A deeper analysis of their actions will reveal that they were following orders. Kazuo Nakajima clarified that they questioned the wisdom and the sincerity of Emperor Hirohito when he did not end the war six months earlier, because there was no need to send young pilots to their tragic deaths. It is therefore important to change how the world sees them, because they need to be celebrated as heroes, patriots willing to die for love of their homeland.
Hasegawa, Tsuyoshi. Racing the Enemy. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005. Print.
Kuwahara, Yasuo and Gordon Allred. Kamikaze. Clearfield, Utah: American Legacy Media, 2007. Print.
Nakamoto, Jack. Jack’s Japonica. New York, NY: Xlibris, 2011. Print.
Stille, Mark. The Imperial Japanese Navy in the Pacific War. New York, NY: Osprey Publishing, 2013. Print.
The Wings of Defeat. Ex. Prod. Linda Hoaglund. Morimoto, Risa.: Edgewood Pictures, 2007. DVD.
Zaloga, Steven. Kamikaze: Japanese Special Attack Weapons 1944-45. New York, NY: Osprey Publishing, 2011. Print.