The Divine Wind
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 16 Nov 2006
It had not occurred to me until I was almost half way through the book the Divine Wind: Japan's Kamikaze Force in World War II that what I was doing was probably bad luck of some kind. You see, I was reading this on a flight to Japan. Thankfully, I am not one to believe in luck, and the plane touched down at Narita International Airport just fine. The book, as it turned out, was as enjoyable as the flight.
The authors, Captain Rikihei Inoguchi and Commander Tadashi Nakajima, were officers intimately involved with special attack units; Inoguchi's nephew Satoshi Inoguchi, in fact, was a kamikaze pilot who gave his life in an attempt to crash-dive into an American ship. As such, the one thing that stood out to me immediately was the chapters on kamikaze doctrine. From how pilots were instructed to approach targets to the preferred locations to strike, the book provided details that was both informative and chilling.
The technical details on how to carry out a special attack, however, quickly were drown out in my mind by a rush of emotions. There were so many stories told by Inoguchi and Nakajima that could easily brought anyone to tears. For instance, Nakajima told of a mechanic who made a point of spending significant amount of time cleaning and polishing the cockpits of the aircraft he was responsible for. When asked why, he said that the aircraft were to become the pilots' coffin, so that they should be maintained most meticulously to honor them. Needless to say, the pilots were touched, and in turn brought tears to the mechanic's eyes on many occasions as well. When Inoguchi spoke of his brother going down with the battleship Musashi and his nephew sacrificing himself as a kamikaze pilot ten days later, I could not help it but put down the book, lean back in my seat, and ponder what must had gone through their minds as they died for their profession and for their country. Nakajima put it very well later in the book. He said "[t]he cherry blossoms had fallen, but the trees were fresh and green." The pilots had since been gone, but their stories remained alive through book such as this. The sacrifices of the special attack pilots, regardless of being in vain or not, epitomized the spirit of the Bushido of the time period.
Of course one must realize that the version of Bushido versed by the Japanese commanders at that time was often criticized as a grossly corrupted one. Inoguchi openly brought up the argument of Prime Minister Kantaro Suzuki's argument that the systematic exploitation of young pilots in kamikaze units was a fatalistic and needlessly cruel tactic that only wasted Japan's youth without achieving anything strategically. It was "a product of defeat", said Suzuki. Though short, counterpoints such as Suzuki's criticism served as the book's attempt to keep the readers critical of the different perceptions on the philosophy of special attacks.
The final chapter of the book contained a collection of letters pilots had written before they had embarked on their missions. As I read them, I really wanted to say these pilots were selfless patriots, but at the same time I could not help but feel the naïveté and the exploitation of it.
If a book could trigger my emotion or put me in deep thought, I consider it a good book. The Divine Wind did both. Without a doubt the scale of the special attacks made this episode of human history alarming, especially in light of recent terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, the spirit of the pilots who volunteered to certain death was something that reflected the strength of the human will. "A world without strife will come only when every man has learned to curb his desires", said Inoguchi. "Assuming that the strongest of these is a man's desire to live, you may say this desire cannot be governed. Therefore, if our wish is for a peaceful world, it would be well to study the spirit of the kamikaze pilots." If you had not yet begun to study the spirit of the kamikaze pilots, the Divine Wind is an excellent starting point.
In blossom today, then scattered:
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945