- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

ZUSHI, Japan Former kamikaze pilot Kenichiro Onuki, 80, believes only 10 percent of his World War II brothers-in-arms shared the same fanaticism as the terrorists who caused havoc last week in the United States.

"Only about 10 percent of the pilots were real volunteers, and those 10 percent probably had something in common with the fanatics that crashed their planes in New York," Mr. Onuki said of his wartime colleagues.

"That 10 percent died for the emperor without thinking about anything, with no worries.

"They have something in common, if we are talking about their blindness," Mr. Onuki said of the airline hijackers who rammed passenger jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, and those who were foiled in a fiery crash in rural Pennsylvania apparently because of resistance aboard United Flight 93.

Mr. Onuki survived only because his aircraft, carrying a 550-pound bomb and just enough fuel to get him over the target American warships engaged in the Battle of Okinawa in April 1945 was shot down during his mission. After an emergency landing on an island, Mr. Onuki was rescued by Japanese troops.

"There are two types of Islam the extremists and the moderates. In my day, too, some people were fanatical supporters of the emperor," he said in an interview with Agence France-Presse. But in his view, the difference is that last week's attacks in the United States were not the same as war.

"This is not a war. Those are guerrilla acts, … terrorism," said the retired architect.

Mr. Onuki is living in quiet retirement with his wife on the Pacific coast about an hour south of Tokyo, near the historic town of Kamakura, but he still is haunted by memories of the 1,300 kamikaze pilots thrown into the battle for Okinawa, of whom only 17 survived.

"It is awful to remember the past. I never talked to my wife or my daughter about it. I want to forget the past," he said.

At the same time, Mr. Onuki is eager to set the record straight about the "Tokkotai" the special attack unit, as the kamikaze corps was officially called portrayed in history books and the popular imagination as heroes, happy to die for their country.

"For 20 years, even before I became a kamikaze, we were taught that we were the sacred children of Emperor Hirohito. The whole country was centered on the emperor, including the education system.

"For the Japanese at that time, the emperor was a god … He was like God for the Christians; it was the way Muslims believe in Allah.

"The army at that time was a gigantic organization with the emperor at the top. Every member of the army had to [subordinate their lives to following] orders. When a soldier was given an order, that meant it came from the emperor."

It is for that reason, said Mr. Onuki, that the kamikaze pilots a unit formed in October 1944 as Japanese forces were being defeated in the Philippines were not volunteers.

"Under that kind of organization, the kamikaze was no volunteer unit. Even though people appeared to volunteer, in practice they were ordered to join," he said.

Recruits, often students ages 17 to 23, had to complete forms specifying whether they were volunteers with passion, simply volunteering or did not want to volunteer, Mr. Onuki said.

"Those who refused to become kamikaze were sent to the most dangerous fronts and died anyway. The worst thing was that if you refused: The army went to your family to tell them, and told your village about it, so that your loved ones had to live in shame."

In the month leading up to his suicide mission, young pilot Onuki was tormented by a dilemma, the old man recalls, wanting to use his aircraft to escape but fearful of reprisals against his family.

"I came to the conclusion I could sacrifice my life not for the emperor, which would be ridiculous but for my family, my country, the mountains, the rivers," Mr. Onuki said.

Even now, this octogenarian with a gentle, smiling face, bears a bitter grudge against the officers who sent the kamikaze pilots to certain death, knowing the war already was lost.

"Their plans were totally ineffective, disastrous. Only 30 planes succeeded in crashing into U.S. ships out of a total of 1,300," Mr. Onuki said. [According to the World Book Encyclopedia, kamikaze planes sank 30 American warships and damaged 350 others in the Battle of Okinawa.]

"What I cannot stand is that those officers giving the orders spoke badly about kamikaze and goaded them, saying the pilots would never kill anybody, that they would do better than us."

Today the same people and their ideological heirs try to glorify the kamikaze, "saying how loyal they were, to shift attention because they don't want to admit that their plan was [expletive deleted]," Mr. Onuki said bitterly.

"Almost none of the kamikaze died happily, willingly it was against their will. I have a feeling of regret and mortification, and I want to pass that on to the next generation."

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