Making Sense of Suicide Missions

By Diego Gambetta | Go to book overview

Last Testimonies

Attempting to ascertain the true emotions of special attack pilots from their last writings is problematic. While pilots generally left behind final statements, frequently they had been told to do so by their superiors in order that these documents might be publicly displayed as evidence of their heroism (Ohnuki-Tierney 2002: 21). Yasunaga says this is why they are all such 'splendid, noble things'; [pilot's would think] 'Ah! People are going to see my last writings! I'll produce a magnificent statement' (interview, June 2003). In the light of this, such writings are perhaps useful indicators of what pilots wanted people to think they felt, or what they thought they were expected to feel, but may not tell us much about what they actually did feel. Letters were heavily censored and are, therefore, also an imperfect source. Diary material is most likely to provide an accurate reflection of the mental state of Kamikaze pilots. Such diaries were strictly forbidden and kept in secret.

The most widely read collection of last writings is the book Kike Wadatsumi no Koe ('Listen to the Voices of the Sea Gods'a). This is a collection of diary, letter, and testimony material left by university student war dead, compiled shortly after the war. There was a very conscious selection bias, and material that might be interpreted as supporting militaristic or ultranationalist views was deliberately excluded. A sensitive analysis of the writings of five such university student pilots is given by Ohnuki-Tierney (2002). While these highly educated and intellectually cosmopolitan students left behind a fascinating collection of writings, they cannot be considered representative of Kamikaze pilots as a whole.

Bearing these caveats in mind, we can detect certain themes recurring among the documents that have survived. These include apologies for filial inadequacies despite great parental benevolence:

a There are two English translations of this book, Larteguy (1956) and Yamanouchi and
Quinn (2000). Translations used here are my own.

-35-

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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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