- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

BANGKOK The suicide pilots who slammed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing more than 5,000 people, may have felt a similar devotion to their politics, religion and ideals as Japan's kamikaze pilots who acted similarly in the final defense of their homeland at the close of World War II, and expressed their feelings in letters home.

Young pilots of Japan's Special Attack Force aimed their "Zeke" or Zero fighter planes at U.S. battleships and other targets, dropping bombs and then crashing at high speed on the ships' decks. The bombs and burning gasoline penetrated the decks of some warships, killing more than 2,000 Americans, though none managed to sink a U.S. aircraft carrier, their principal targets.

Wartime Japanese hailed the suicide squads as "special attack forces of the wind of the gods" abbreviated as "Tokkotai" and foreigners called them kamikaze, a Japanese phrase meaning "divine wind." The allusion is to the typhoon that destroyed the Mongol fleet of Kublai Khan in 1281 during its attempted invasion of Japan.

According to published postwar accounts, 2,198 Japanese pilots sacrificed themselves in planes filled with only enough fuel for a one-way trip.

Imperial Navy Vice Adm. Takajiro Ohnishi is credited with the idea of kamikaze squads.

He is reported to have said as Japan's military position was crumbling: "There are only two sorts of airmen in the world winners and losers. And though Japan is suffering from a serious shortage of trained pilots, there is a remedy for this.

"If a pilot, facing a ship or a plane, exhausts all his resources, then he still has one left: The plane as a part of himself, a superb weapon. And what greater glory can there be for a warrior than to give his life for emperor and country?"

Japan turned to suicide pilots because of U.S. air superiority and its own lack of materiel. Its top officers realized that training pilots to dive-bomb their planes was easier and quicker than developing new fighter planes and training pilots for air-to-air combat.

A small number of kamikaze pilots survived, mostly because their planes were shot down before reaching their targets, or crashed because of engine trouble.

A British Broadcasting Corp. broadcast recently said: "The similarities between the kamikaze pilots and the modern Islamic volunteer sometimes known as fedayeen are disturbing. Both groups were handpicked and trained after being brought up in a culture where self-sacrifice was revered."

Andrew Silke of Leicester University in England, a specialist in the psychology of suicide bombers, told the BBC: "There are definite parallels. Neither of these groups were crazy people. They were simply angry, desperate and highly committed."

The oldest kamikaze was 35 and the youngest was 17, though most were in their late teens or early 20s, said Mako Sasaki, a Washington-based researcher who examined letters, diaries and documents of kamikaze pilots and interviewed survivors and relatives.

The Massachusetts-based Concord Review published her findings under the title: "Who Became Kamikaze Pilots and How Did They Feel Towards Their Suicide Mission?"

"People say that our feeling is of resignation, but they do not know at all how we feel, and think of us as a fish about to be cooked," kamikaze pilot Shigeyuki Suzuki wrote to his parents shortly before dying.

"Young blood does flow in us. There are persons we love, we think of, and many unforgettable memories. However, with those, we cannot win the war," Mr. Suzuki added.

Kamikaze pilot Toshio Anazawa wrote his fiancee, "Have courage and forget the past. You are to create a new future. You are to live from moment to moment, in reality. Anazawa no longer exists in reality."

Japanese researcher Ichiro Ohmi also visited the homes of kamikaze pilots and collected haunting, emotional letters, including one by pilot Teruo Yamaguchi, a 23-year-old university graduate, who died when he nose-dived his plane off Okinawa.

Mr. Yamaguchi wrote his father: "As death approaches, my only regret is that I have never been able to do anything good for you in my life.

"I was selected quite unexpectedly to be a Special Attack pilot and will be leaving for Okinawa today. Once the order was given for my one-way mission, it became my sincere wish to achieve success in fulfilling this duty. Even so, I cannot help feeling a strong attachment to this beautiful land of Japan. Is that a weakness of my part?

"On learning that my time had come I closed my eyes and saw visions of your face, mother's, grandmother's and the faces of my close friends. It was bracing and heartening to realize that each of you wants me to be brave. I will do that! I will!

"My life in the service has not been filled with sweet memories. It is a life of resignation and self-denial, certainly not comfortable."

His letter also expressed deep nationalism, Shinto spiritual beliefs, nostalgia for his youth and confidence "that a new Japan will emerge."

Isao Matsuo of Nagasaki perished in a kamikaze attack in the Philippines. Mr. Matsuo, 23, wrote his parents: "Please congratulate me. I have been given a splendid opportunity to die.

"This is my last day. The destiny of our homeland hinges on the decisive battle in the seas to the south where I shall fall like a blossom from a radiant cherry tree.

"I shall be a shield for the Emperor and die cleanly along with my squadron leader and other friends. I wish that I could be born seven times, each time to smite the enemy. How I appreciate this chance to die like a man!"

Mr. Matsuo added: "Our goal is to dive against the aircraft carriers of the enemy. Movie cameramen have been here to take our pictures. It is possible that you may see us in newsreels at the theater."

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