History, Reviews

Review: Ohnuki-Tierney, Kamikaze Diaries

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The August 20 edition of the Sunday Telegraph ran a review of Kamikaze Diaries: Reflections of Japanese Student Soldiers—Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney’s presentation of diaries and correspondence left by members of the tokkotai and other Japanese student soldiers who perished during the Second World War. The review further contributes to an ongoing debate about the motivations of these soldiers and the possible similarities between their behavior and that of modern day suicide bombers. Max Hastings writes for the Sunday Telegraph:

Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney is successful in convincing the reader that some of those who threw themselves against American and British forces were cultured young men with minds of their own, rather than mindless fanatics.…
[However,] the book argues that the kamikaze pilots were quite unlike modern Muslim suicide bombers. I disagree. Self-immolation, in 1945 as today, is a tactic of the weak against the strong. Some Japanese military leaders convinced themselves that a heroic human spirit could compensate for hopeless material weakness. They were wrong. The last letters of young Japanese mirror the despair of modern suicide bombers. They simply strove to make the unbearable tolerable.…
Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney’s point that many kamikaze were not volunteers, and would have preferred to live, makes their sacrifice seem more moving, but no more sympathetic. The suicide pilots proved formidably effective defenders of their homeland. They contributed mightly, however, to creating a climate in which two atomic bombs seemed a reasonable means of curtailing grotesquely extravagant resistance to an inevitabe outcome.

Hastings, like other reviewers of this book, demonstrates the deeper significance of the Kamikazi Diaries for our own times.
Read the preface to the book.