The Kamikaze: Samurai Warrior A New Appraisal

CSC 1995





John A. Forquer


United States Marine Corps

Military Issues Paper submitted to the Faculty

of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College

in partial fulfillment of the requirements for AY 1994-95

March 1995

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and

do not reflect the official policy or position of the

Department of Defense or the U.S. Government

Title: The Kamikaze: A New Appraisal

Author: Major J.A. Forquer, United States Marine Corps

Thesis: The WWII Kamikazes have been revered as the epitome of military discipline

and soldierly repute. The Kamikaze story also has a dark side. An analysis of the

leadership behind the development and continued employment of the Kamikaze tactics

reveals the calculated choice to sacrifice the flyer's lives for a "glorious death" not

possible victory.

Background: Prior to WWII, Japanese military leaders studied and worked tirelessly at

refining the science and art of their profession. During WWII, these leaders employed

their skills with great success against the moth-balled military of the United States.

When victory turned in favor of the United States, Japanese leaders departed from a

logical, methodical approach to war. The leaders increasingly relied on the Samurai

spirit to bridge the disparity of manpower and industry between Japan and the United

States. Japanese leaders, even after recognizing their impending defeat, were unable to

face it. They hid behind and ultimately disgraced, the Bushido Code. These leaders

sought to sacrifice an entire nation, not for victory or peace, but for glorious death.

Recommendation: History must clearly depict the entire Kamikaze story. Many pilots

were truly heroic. However, the leadership that developed and continued the employment of

the Kamikaze tactic demonstrates the failure of men. Their disregard for human lives as

illustrated by their continued use of Kamikaze tactics in the face of certain defeat, should be

recorded and used as a learning tool. A thorough understanding of this leadership failure

may serve to prevent it from being repeated.

Many discussions of the Japanese Kamikaze pilots focus almost exclusively

on the bravery and sacrifice of these pilots. While these pilots were respected and

revered, they were only one part of the Kamikaze legacy. The darker side of the

Kamikaze story involved the leadership behind the tactic. This paper focuses on

the leadership which developed, implemented and condoned the continued use of

the Kamikaze tactic. Part I provides background information on the influence of

Japanese history and culture on the Japanese military. Part II traces the events of

World War II that led to the development and expanded use of the Kamikaze

tactic. Part III covers the employment of the Kamikaze tactic. Part IV provides a

brief conclusion.

I. Japanese History, Culture, and The Military

A collection of ancient principles called the Bushido Code governed the

conduct of the ancient Japanese warrior known as the Samurai. These principles

emphasized honor, courage, loyally, self-sacrifice, unquestionable reverence for

the emperor, and contempt for defeat. This philosophy became inculcated into

the Japanese culture and national ideology. The Bushido Code continued to

influence the Japanese culture into the twentieth century.

During World War II, a new breed of Samurai warrior emerged, the

stone-laced Kamikaze. The term Kamikaze means "Divine Wind." It evolved

from the great storm of 1281 that occurred on the eve of the Mongol's planned

attack on Japan. This storm prevented the massive Mongol armada from certain

conquest of Japan. Accordingly, the Japanese viewed this fortuitous storm as

clear evidence of heavenly intervention. They attributed the salvation of the

Empire to the Kamikaze.

The World War II Kamikaze tactic, unlike its namesake, was not developed

as a means to save the Empire but instead was intended to buy Japan time to

rebuild their military. This World War II tactic required and celebrated suicide.

The notion of celebrated suicide was not adverse to Japanese culture as the

Japanese did not attach a disgraceful stigma to suicide. Suicide in Japan was both

commonplace and preferred over a life of shame. Suicide was a respected

response to tragedy, humiliation or the desire to share the fate of a respected

man's death. The Kamikaze tactic, therefore, was embraced by many Japanese

people. This tactic was also consistent with the Bushido Code's requirement of


The Japanese military also applied other principles of the Bushido Code.

In keeping with the code, this totalitarian system demanded courage, devotion,

and obedience. The system yielded a military characterized as rigid, extremely

disciplined, and unquestionably devoted. Not surprisingly, the Japanese employed

harsher disciplinary methods than any other World War II force. Even the

infamous severe discipline of the Prussian army before 1870 was mild in

comparison.1 The Japanese commonly applied brutal corporal punishment for

even minor infractions. They believed such punishment to instill a boundless

respect for authority and the chain of command. A young naval recruit named

Saburo Sakai described his experience as a naval recruit:

The petty officers would not hesitate to administer the severest beatings to

recruits they felt deserving of punishment. Whenever I committed a

breach of discipline or an error in training, I was dragged physically from

my cot by a petty officer. "Stand tall to the wall! Bend down, Recruit

Sakai!" he would roar. "I am not doing this because I hate you, but

because I like you and want you to make a good seaman. Bend down!"

And with that he would swing a large stick of wood and with every ounce

of strength he possessed would slam it against my upturned bottom. The

pain was terrible, the force of the blows unremitting. There was no choice

but to grit my teeth and struggle desperately not to cry out. At times I

counted up to forty crashing impacts into my buttocks. Often I feinted

from the pain. A lapse of consciousness constituted no escape however.

The petty officer simply hurled a bucket of cold water over my prostrate

form and bellowed for me to resume position, whereupon he continued his

discipline until satisfied I would mend the errors of my ways.2

Like the disciplinary procedures, Japan's military award system and daily

expectations were also harsher than other World War II forces. The Japanese

award system only acknowledged individual performance posthumously. In

addition, Japanese leaders expected their soldiers and sailors to perform to their

absolute limits daily. They considered anything short of total and unselfish

dedication to the Emperor a disgrace.

The Bushido ideal of contempt for defeat also influenced how the Japanese

viewed combat. They regarded defeat in combat as the ultimate humiliation. The

Japanese expected a soldier or sailor to win, die by the hands of his enemy, or

commit suicide. Commanders who recognized imminent defeat in battle,

therefore, launched hundreds of soldiers in banzai charges into overwhelming

enemy machine-gun and artillery fire, knowing that the attack would be suicidal.

These commanders believed that such a drive embodied the spirit of the ancient

Samurai warrior and would result in a "glorious death."3 Military commanders

thought no greater honor could be bestowed upon them than the opportunity to

give their lives and the lives of their men for their emperor. Thus, soldiers

incapable of participating in these bonsai charges due to injury or sickness were

summarily executed.

Toward the end of the war, many in the civilian population adopted the

Kamikaze philosophy. Thousands of military and civilians viewed the imminent

defeat and the unconditional surrender of Japan as a disgrace. Accordingly, they

committed suicide.

II. Setting The Stage: Events Leading to the Development of the Kamikaze


The Japanese-military had service leaders but no unified commander. As a

result, the Japanese Army and Navy constantly battled over military strategy.

Only the Emperor could consolidate the efforts of the two services.

Unfortunately for Japan, the emperor behaved like a constitutional monarch. He

did not exercise his leadership until after the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs.

Continuous inter-service strife, therefore, plagued the Japanese military through

much of World War II.

Because of the unresolved disagreements between the army and navy and

many poorly conceived compromises, the military adopted two separate strategies.

The army adopted a strategy of a northward drive through China into Russia.

The navy planned to push southward against the U.S., Great Britain, and Holland.

This dual strategy forced Japan to attempt the impossible task of building a

military capable of matching the U.S. and Russia. The army's term for this

expansion, Hakko Tai, (meaning eight directions) stated the hope that the entire

world could be brought under Japanese control.4 However, a protracted war on

such a scale required an industrial capacity and resource base far beyond Japan's.

war on such a scale required an industrial capacity and resource base far beyond


Although Japan never had the resources for a protracted war, in the first

stages of World War II, Japan's military was well equipped, trained, and prepared

for war. Initially, the Japanese won several battles in their quest to rule the

world. These initial victories gave the Japanese false hope. They deluded

themselves into thinking victory was imminent. They planned and executed a

successful operation that proved to be the beginning of the end for Japan - the

bombing of Pearl Harbor. This attack woke the sleeping giant of the West (the

U.S.) and Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's worst nightmare became a reality. After

the U.S. declared war on Japan, the U.S. rapidly converted its unmatched

industrial capacity to war production and set it into accelerated motion.

With the U.S.'s entry in the war, victory no longer seemed imminent for

Japan. The defeat of Midway in 1942 started a series of defeats for Japan from

which it never recovered. Japanese defeats at Midway and Guadacanal, while

costly to both sides, were more easily absorbed by the U.S. with its vast

resources. Moreover, Japan could no longer protect its desperately needed supply

ships with the land-based aircraft previously launched from these islands. The

Japanese Navy could not meet this additional requirement because of its

numerous losses of carrier-based aircraft.

Several other factors also exacerbated Japan's deteriorating ability to wage

war against the United States. First, the allies developed superior weaponry,

particularly in air defense and radar. Second, the disparity in experience levels

between Japanese and American pilots consistently grew due to heavy Japanese

pilot combat casualties. These Japanese pilot losses were particularly high at the

battle for Saipan. While America lost 126 pilots, almost 500 Japanese pilots died.

This led to the American reference to the battle as the "Mariannas Turkey Shoot."

The battle for Saipan resulted in almost total annihilation of Japan's experienced

carrier-based pilots.

After the battle of Saipan, Japan struggled desperately to train new pilots

to fill this critical void. The Japanese sacrificed the quality of pilot training to

speed up the replacement process. Before the Pacific Campaign, Japanese pilot

training required 4OO flight hours as a prerequisite to the start of aircraft carrier

qualification training. Eight hundred hours of total flight time, according to flight

instructors and experienced pilots, was required to meet the minimum proficiency

for carrier operations. After Saipan, however, several factors prevented Japan

from meeting these standards: the impossible time required for such training and

the growing shortage of both fuel and pilot candidates.