Kamikaze
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Kamikaze
by Yasuo Kuwahara and Gordon T. Allred
Ballantine Books, 1957, 187 pages

This review covers the sixth edition of the book published in 1982.

This novel has been considered since its publication to be an autobiography of Yasuo Kuwahara's 18 months in the Japanese Army. Originally published in 1957, this paperback book supposedly represented the first detailed autobiographical account in English by a kamikaze pilot. The book's seven editions with over 500,000 copies sold through the beginning of 2007 attest to its enduring popularity, and a 50th-anniversary edition was published in April 2007 by American Legacy Media. However, the authenticity of events, places, and people described in this book cannot be confirmed. The article Ten Historical Discrepancies (October 2006) summarizes the most significant inconsistencies between the book's statements and historical facts.

Gordon T. Allred wrote Kamikaze based on information provided to him by Yasuo Kuwahara. The web site created by American Legacy Media for the 2007 edition of Kamikaze contains extensive excerpts from Allred's Master's thesis, which describes in detail how he worked with Kuwahara to write a magazine article and this book. Allred writes in Author's Vital Explanation that Kuwahara's high school acquaintances in Hiro contended in 1998 "that he had never won a national glider championship or been in the Japanese Army Air Force." The article Ten Historical Discrepancies provides substantial additional evidence to support their statements. Kuwahara almost certainly never flew an Army plane, and this book should be considered as fiction rather than a personal narrative of Kuwahara's service in the Japanese Army.

Although Kamikaze may not be an autobiographical account, the details provided by Kuwahara for the book's incredible events and Allred's crisp writing style and engaging dialogues make this a fascinating book. The novel's descriptions of Army flight training and kamikaze squadrons have some basis in history, but the specific accounts contained in this book most likely never happened.

The Japanese military during World War II employed harsh punishment to ensure unquestioning obedience of its men and to develop their fighting spirit. However, the young men who entered the military right out of high school and college experienced doubts and fears as they remembered the love and security of their families and friends. This book contains both gut-wrenching descriptions of brutality and tender scenes of support and love. Yasuo Kuwahara relates his intense experiences during his 18 months in the Japanese Imperial Army Air Force, including his assignment as a kamikaze pilot. The last half of the book focuses on his personal experiences related to the kamikaze squadrons rather than providing a detailed history of Japan's kamikaze operations.

After Kuwahara wins first place at the national glider competition while still a 15-year-old high school student, an Army Air Force recruiter visits his family to encourage him to enlist. In February 1944, he starts harsh basic training for three months at Hiro Army Air Base near his home, followed by six months of flight school. Next he learns to fly fighters, and he soon shoots down his first two enemy planes.

Kuwahara's skill and success as a fighter pilot lead him to an assignment as an escort plane pilot to protect other planes in kamikaze units sent to attack American ships off Okinawa. On one mission he witnesses from his escort plane the death of his best friend from high school as he crashes into and sinks an enemy tanker. After Kuwahara observes the results of the diving planes, an American fighter hits his own plane, but he manages to escape to a Japanese Army air base in Taiwan and later returns to mainland Japan. He gets assigned to crash a plane into the enemy fleet on a mission scheduled to depart on August 8, 1945, so he receives a home leave pass for the two days before his scheduled death. On the morning of August 6, he just happens to go to Hiroshima to visit a friend before returning to his family's home. He somehow survives the atomic bomb dropped at 8:15 a.m., and the war soon ends as he continues to suffer from the bomb's horrifying effects on his body.

When Kuwahara enters the Army and arrives at the base, he soon realizes that recruits face brutal discipline at the hand of the hancho (non-commissioned officer, or sergeant in Army). Day after day the hancho inflicts harsh physical punishment on the trainees for the slightest infraction. He beats many of them into unconsciousness with a ball bat, slams their faces against the wall, and flails them with a bamboo rod. The Army officers carry out this beating and terrorizing of trainees in order to instill unquestioning discipline and to cultivate a fierce fighting spirit, but nine men commit suicide at the base while Kuwahara is there for his three months of basic training. During his subsequent six-month flight training, the ruthless beatings and intense humiliation continue under a new hancho nicknamed the "Praying Mantis" for his appearance and vicious nature. When Kuwahara follows the plane of his hancho too closely in a training game of follow the leader, Kuwahara gets locked in the guardhouse for four days, where the hancho beats him again and again with a thick wet rope.

Although this book contains vivid descriptions of air battles and physical punishments, Allred focuses on developing the personal side of the characters. For example, his portrayal of two women close to Kuwahara illustrates the loneliness and suffering of Japanese women during the war. When his older sister Tomika washes his back during a brief return home after basic training, she wails piteously after seeing the many lash marks all over his back. While stationed at Oita Air Base to fly escort for kamikaze missions, he meets a sensitive 24-year-old hostess named Toyoko who reminds him of his older sister Tomika. They comfort one another with long conversations together for a few short weeks, but they sleep in separate rooms at her apartment. Soon after they verbally express their love for each other, he leaves on his final escort mission to Okinawa and never sees Toyoko again.

Kamikaze pilots in this novel had two types of attitudes toward death. Kuwahara describes these two groups, the kichigai (madmen) who sought honor and immortality by dying and the sukebei (libertines) who did not believe in death for death's sake. The attitudes of some pilots fluctuated between these two beliefs. Although Kuwahara would willingly have died to save his countrymen, he found himself more aligned with the second group. He reflects several times on the words of the mother of a comrade who had his leg amputated after being shot down in an air battle, "Why don't you forget about honor and glory? Only seek to preserve your own lives. There is nothing honorable in dying for a lost cause!" (p. 111). Of course, in the harsh repressive environment of the military, most soldiers never openly expressed that they wanted more to live than to die for the emperor. The author does not describe any significant anti-war sentiment that existed in the Japanese military, but he does relate an episode where one pilot crashed into the base's main hangar and left behind a letter describing the stupidity of the war.

The seventh edition of Kamikaze published in 2007 contains minor wording changes throughout the book in comparison to the sixth edition published in 1982. Kuwahara passed away in 1980, and Allred made the changes for the 2007 edition of Kamikaze. The front of the 2007 edition contains "A Vital Explanation" by Allred and a "Publisher's Note," both which try to provide some support for the story's historical authenticity and to defend claims that Kuwahara fabricated the story. The number of chapters and their titles remain the same, but a few paragraphs have been added in various places. For example, Allred added a letter to Toyoko written by Kuwahara when he returns to Hiro to wait for orders to sortie on a kamikaze mission. The last part of the letter contains the following words:

But always remember, Toyoko . . . that whatever happens, I will always love you. I will always be here somewhere, like the wind among the lanterns. Perhaps some night I will come to ring the chimes on your balcony. I pray that you will remember me when you hear them ringing, and when you hear waves along the shore. Most of all, I pray that you are safe and well. I pray for your eternal happiness.

The article Ten Historical Discrepancies was written in October 2006 based on the sixth edition of the book published in 1982. A couple of changes have been made in the 2007 edition that affect the historical analysis in the article. First, the 2007 edition gives the full name of Tatsuno as Tatsuno Uchida (2007, p. 7), whereas the 1982 edition only used the name of Tatsuno. This addition of Tatsuno Uchida adds more confusion, since both Tatsuno and Uchida are family names. All others in the Army are referred to by their family names, but the 2007 edition uses Tatsuno throughout the book other than the first mention of his name. This mixing of family names for others in the Army with one given name (Tatsuno) does not make sense. The second change that affects the article's historical analysis is the omission in the 2007 edition of the sortie date from Oita Air Base of Tatsuno's kamikaze squadron. The 1982 edition specifically indicates the date as June 10, 1945 (p. 162), but the 2007 edition does not mention a date.

This intense novel written by Gordon T. Allred based on stories from Yasuo Kuwahara reveals the human nature of the kamikaze pilots who sacrificed themselves for their country. Allred writes, "The 'mad, fanatic Jap' was too often a schoolboy, enmeshed in the skein of fate, not above weeping for his mother" (p. 11). Kuwahara leaves us with an image of kamikaze pilots as brave young men who had feelings, fears, and foibles like all of us.