Suicidal Warfare: An Honorable Death Essay

1024 words - 4 pages

In the midst of World War II, with Japanese victory seemingly far off and their unwilling to surrender, the Japanese resorted to a technique never before seen in war. Between October 1944 and August 1945, More than 3,000 Japanese Army and Navy pilots died intentionally by crashing their planes into allied ships. These warriors are often known as the kamikaze. Kamikaze is a Japanese word that translates into Divine Wind. The kamikaze warriors committed the ultimate act of sacrifice for their country and were glorified for doing so. Suicide in warfare and terrorism is a very lethal tactic and is becoming increasingly prevalent today. Understanding the reasons as to what lead to the birth of the kamikaze can help us understand the allure and success of suicide warfare. Scholars have attempted to explain the phenomena as the result of brainwashing, extreme poverty, emotional dysfunction, or a feeling of despair. That formula can also be applied to the reason why the Japanese resorted to suicide as a military tactic. The Japanese samurai warrior tradition, economic necessity during the war, and sheer desperation contributed, largely, to the birth of the kamikaze.
Suicide used as an act of terrorism can be seen as far back as the first century AD with the Jewish Zealots and Sicarii, the Ismaili Assassins of the twelfth century, and the anti-colonial movements in Malabar. The use of suicide in these cases are largely seen as the result of early education, the appearance of charismatic and ambitious leaders, disputes over occupied territory, and religion used to manipulate followers to kill in the name of god. The Japanese were no exception to this pattern. The Japanese Samurai tradition and the Bushido code of ethics promoted suicide as a solution for problems. Suicide does not carry the same stigma as it does in Europe and in the Americas. Suicide is seen as acceptable and an honorable way out. A warrior’s self-destruction was accepted as a release from shame, an act of honour and courage, and an ultimate proof of integrity. Therefore, the act of suicide in war and terrorism is presented as the absolute sacrifice leading immediately to the ultimate reward. There was a preparedness to die for many of the Japanese warriors during World War Two. The thought of ascending straight to heaven because they died for their country was a popular belief among the kamikaze and can be seen in the names of some of the kamikaze attack units: Heaven’s soldiers, loyalty to the Emperor, Thunder gods, and Utmost sincerity. Although the kamikaze was dedicated to a nationalistic rather than a religious cause, those soldiers who died in battle were enshrined and became national gods. Initially, many of the young warriors volunteered for the kamikaze missions. To die for your country, your emperor, and ascend to heaven was the most enchanting part of being a kamikaze warrior and many young men jumped at the chance to die a glorious death.
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