Making Sense of Suicide Missions

By Diego Gambetta | Go to book overview

1
Kamikaze, 1943–5

PETER HILL

From October 1944 to August 1945, over 3,000 Japanese army and navy pilots died attempting to crash their planes into Allied ships. Smaller numbers died manning weapons that were specifically designed for missions which offered no hope of survival for their operators. At the time of Japan's surrender, thousands of such weapons, along with their crews, were stationed in readiness for the defence of the homeland.

Although formally the term 'Kamikaze' refers only to the Shinpū ('divine wind') Special Attack Corps formed at the instigation of Admiral Onishi in October 1944, in this chapter it is used to refer to all premeditated suicide missions (SMs) conducted by the Japanese military during this period. The human-wave assaults by Japanese soldiers that characterized the defence of islands in the latter stage of the war are, however, excluded even though they resulted in almost certain death (the only soldiers to be captured were those too weak to blow themselves up). This exclusion is justified on the grounds that they were conducted by men already in battle and, given their refusal to surrender, facing imminent destruction. Although far less numerous, SMs were also conducted by other countries during the same conflict (see Appendix to Chapter 3).


Kamikaze Precedents

Throughout the Pacific War, aircraft crashed into enemy ships. Such attacks increased from the battle for Guadalcanal in the latter half of 1942. In many cases these planes or their pilots had suffered from enemy fire and were unlikely to make the journey back home. Some, however, were deliberate attacks by undamaged planes. Although the vast majority of these acts were committed by Japanese pilots, there are at least two incidents of deliberate suicidal attacks by US airmen on Japanese ships, one during the battle of Coral Sea in May 1942, the other at Midway the following month. In both cases witnesses claimed the pilots need not have died.

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Making Sense of Suicide Missions
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword v
  • Contents xi
  • List of Tables xii
  • List of Figures xiii
  • List of Contributors xiv
  • 1: Kamikaze, 1943–5 1
  • Appendix Poems and Songs 33
  • Last Testimonies 35
  • Names of Special Attack Units 40
  • Non-Japanese Suicide Missions of the Second World War 42
  • 2: Tamil Tigers, 1987–2002 43
  • 3: Palestinians, 1981–2003 77
  • Appendix: Data Quality and Sources 117
  • 4: Al-Qaeda, September 11, 2001 131
  • 5: Dying without Killing 173
  • 6: Killing without Dying 209
  • 7: Motivations and Beliefs in Suicide Missions 233
  • 8: Can We Make Sense of Suicide Missions? 259
  • Notes 301
  • References 337
  • Index 357
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